Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature

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Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature

This page intentionally left blank  JEAN BAUMGARTEN     JEROLD C. FRAKES 1 3 Great Clare

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Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature

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Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature  JEAN BAUMGARTEN     JEROLD C. FRAKES



Great Clarendon Street, Oxford   Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide in Oxford New York Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto With offices in Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries Published in the United States by Oxford University Press Inc., New York © Oxford University Press 2005 The moral rights of the author have been asserted Database right Oxford University Press (maker) First published in English 2005 Originally entitled Introduction à la littérature yiddish ancienne by Jean Baumgarten © Les Éditions du cerf All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this book in any other binding or cover and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Data available ISBN 0–19–927633–1 EAN 978–0–19–927633–2 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd., King’s Lynn

Author’s Preface to the French Edition Yiddish language and literature, which were for a long time locked up in a complex network of prejudice and a priori associations with ideological debates and conflicts, and long considered an inferior component of Jewish culture, have never fully freed themselves from the accompanying cluster of preconceived notions. Thus the study of Yiddish has been surrounded by an emotional atmosphere, nourished as much by its detractors as by its partisans. The same may also be observed with respect to the earliest period of Yiddish literature, which, up until quite recently, was either unknown or neglected as a minor component of European Jewish culture. Everything pertaining to this field of research is thus confined in a space of narrow dimensions; sometimes subject to the individual, scholarly passions of specialists, sometimes it becomes merely the prey of those nostalgic for a vanished world. The reality of the languages and literatures of the diaspora has for several centuries been conceived from a romantic and folkloristic perspective, particularly on the part of militants, who, in their perception of traditional Jewish culture, project issues of identity and politics onto the material. That which has, since the nineteenth century, brought together numerous scholars interested in Old Yiddish, has more often than not been no more than a poorly disguised contempt for this literature, defined as the expression of an obsolete society, and as the manifestation of the darkness of the ghetto and of the obscurantism of an age gone by. By all evidence, such ideologically motivated ideas and judgements have changed considerably since the Second World War, and the study of Old Yiddish literature is now recognized as a field essential to the understanding of traditional Ashkenazic culture. The present project arose directly out of the transformations that have taken place in recent decades both in the field of Jewish studies and in the comprehensive conception of what has constituted European society during the modern period. One must acknowledge, however, that the current state of Yiddish studies remains quite precarious, at least in France. It is a marginal field, tolerated by the core disciplines, but not without certain stereotypes that have deformed their perception of it. Its contours remain blurred and its status ambiguous: first of all, quite simply, because, although the fact that a text was written in Yiddish may constitute a criterion of differentiation, that feature in itself does not suffice to constitute a specific field of study. From this perspective, then, Yiddish texts have no value except as they can be integrated into the complex totality of Jewish culture and can be linked with other constituent elements of European


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Judaism. Additionally, if one considers the complexity of the Yiddish compositions in their dynamic relations with Hebrew culture and other coterritorial, non-Jewish cultures, the longevity of this literature, which appeared in the Middle Ages and which has endured up to our own day, and the vast geographical area where Yiddish was spoken, including both western and eastern Europe, then one begins to comprehend the difficulties involved in delimiting this field which both transcends the partitions of its constituent disciplines and their divisions into cultural domains and crosses numerous fields of enquiry. It is thus a field which is sometimes associated with central issues and sometimes is relegated to the margins of existing disciplines and which thus can seem to lack a methodological foundation of its own. Hence the lack of definition that tends to make Yiddish studies fragile, a kind of cross-discipline that exists in the interstices of a multitude of disciplines such as history, linguistics, literature, religious and cultural anthropology, and folklore. The study of this literature presents numerous difficulties characteristic of interdisciplinary research at the crossroads of multiple fields of enquiry. In order to circumvent these diverse obstacles, it seemed necessary to take another approach to vernacular Jewish literature: first of all, by rejecting the pejorative conception of this literary corpus, considered as a diffuse, almost random, ensemble of texts, fixed in changeless forms and transmitted in a manner practically unaltered from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. From that perspective, early Yiddish texts would then be no more than simple witnesses to a society beyond the bounds of history. In fact, however, Old Yiddish literature resounds with issues central to Jewish society during the period of the Renaissance. The texts are constant witnesses to the conflicts and tensions characteristic of this era of crisis and innovation. The clearest conflict is that between the champions of orthodoxy, who attempt to confine the faithful to a passive role (or to a state of semi-ignorance), and the simple Jews who insist on a more active participation in religious life. This dichotomy, which imparts to the texts such a dynamic and vivid aspect, is at the core of many of the texts of Old Yiddish literature. The Jewish composition of vernacular texts is in this respect a reflection (one among many others, of course) of Jewish life at the time and reveals numerous key issues; in particular, the position of women, children, and the uneducated in the religious and cultural life of the society. By means of these texts, it is possible to identify the strategy employed by Jewish society, during this period of increasing instability and a basic questioning of the culture’s principal beliefs, to persevere, fight against ignorance, and transmit the fundamentals of Jewish traditions to the common people. One can thus better appreciate the enormous efforts expended on teaching morals, the desire for religious education, and the distribution of sacred texts which appear, beginning in the sixteenth century, just as does the affirmation of new forms of piety by those who had often felt banished to the margins of religious life. Yiddish texts thus cast no

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insignificant amount of light on Jewish spirituality at the close of the Middle Ages, a period marked by a profound desire to modify the means of the common people’s access to religious culture. The relegation of Yiddish texts to the category of popular literature, as opposed to the learned culture of Hebrew, has likewise long contributed to a distorted understanding of this literature. By contrast, my present purpose is to restore the Yiddish texts to the larger context by privileging complex and dynamic relations among various cultural registers: in the first place, because Yiddish texts, due to their dependence on, and dynamic relation with, Hebrew-language culture, integrate numerous forms and terms from learned rabbinical culture. It is not a matter of a simple and passive assimilation of literary models native to the context of learned culture, but of a broad spectrum of relations and reappropriations which range from simple adaptation to the creation of original texts based on a tradition common to the entirety of the Jewish people, which also includes rewriting a diverse set of features of Hebrew literature. One may likewise distinguish within Old Yiddish literature (to a degree that should not be overestimated, however) an echo of resistance to ideas originating among religious insiders and of religious conflicts which had split Jewish society since the Renaissance, particularly concerning the question of pedagogy and the transmission of the religious tradition. It has likewise often been maintained that Old Yiddish literature constitutes an autonomous domain, a virtually isolated collection of cultural artefacts, as opposed to other aspects of Jewish life, especially those centred around Hebrew. This conception, particularly influenced by ideological considerations, has contributed to a distorted image of vernacular Jewish literature. By contrast, my intention is to present a comprehensive approach to this literature: first of all, in its dynamic relations with the Hebrew tradition, with which it shares multiple points of contact (just as there are also concrete differences). My purpose will be to specify the articulation of these two creative registers in the context of an always bilingual, and generally trilingual Jewish society––Hebrew, Yiddish, and the coterritorial, majority language of the surrounding, non-Jewish culture. For, finally, Yiddish literature originated in the context of contact with non-Jewish surrounding cultures (in particular German culture), whose influence on its development and forms are not to be denied. It is also necessary to take into account the phenomena of cultural ‘porosity’ and cultural transference which from the outset characterize numerous Yiddish texts. Thus restored to a religious and comprehensive cultural context and to the perspective of the longue durée, from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, Yiddish literature cannot but appear more distinct in its unity and its internal logic. Contrary to certain fragmentary descriptions, born of onesided and derogatory assessments, I will attempt to demonstrate that cultural compositions in Yiddish bring into play an intricate web of complex factors,


Author’s Preface to the French Edition

historical and social as well as religious. Thus by means of a study of the system of production and marketing of books, focusing on authors and their audiences, as well as through an analysis of the form and content of the Yiddish works, I hope to offer a less constrictive view of vernacular texts, no longer considered from a strictly ideological perspective or according to restrictive a priori conceptualizations, but instead presented as a literature in its own right. It goes without saying that such a project could not have been carried out without the patient work of generations of scholars who have investigated Old Yiddish literature, beginning especially with Ber Borokhov, Israel Zinberg (Tsinberg), Max Erik, Elazar Shulman, and Max Weinreich, and extending up to our day with scholars at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, such as Dov Sadan, Chone Shmeruk, Chava Turniansky, and Sarah Zfatman. My study belongs to the tradition of their research which has contributed so effectively to a better understanding of a literary tradition that has, up until now, too often been misunderstood. It is both a duty and a privilege to acknowledge this debt to those scholars who opened the way to Yiddish studies and whose writings have revolutionized our conceptions of vernacular Jewish literature. It is likewise a pleasant duty to thank those who offered help and encouragement, during the entirety of this work: Astrid Starck, Sylvie Anne Goldberg, Alex Derczansky, Ron Barkai of Tel Aviv University, and Sylvain Auroux, director of the research unit Historie des théories linguistiques of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). In the course of several sojourns in Jerusalem I profited from the excellent working conditions at both the National and University Library in Jerusalem and the Centre Français de Recherche de Jérusalem of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. I sincerely thank their directors for their warm welcome and their assistance, which greatly contributed to the progress of my work on this project. Likewise I would like to thank Nicolas-Jean Séd and Mireille Le Flem, as well as the production staff at Cerf. Finally to my father, my wife Danièle, and our children François and Gabriel my sincere thanks also, for their assistance, their patience, and their encouragement.

Author’s Preface to the English Edition Since the completion of the original edition of this work at the end of the 1980s, the study of Yiddish has experienced a very noticeable development. It is now a recognized field in which numerous scholars in the disciplines of philology and the history of Jewish literature work throughout the world. As a result of the work of several generations of scholars since the end of the nineteenth century, early Yiddish has become a fertile field of research that is indispensable for a thorough knowledge of traditional Ashkenazic society. Moreover, specialists in other fields, such as history, Germanic philology, religious anthropology, and the sociology of knowledge and literacy in traditional societies, must now take this wealth of literary material into account in order to understand the many facets of Jewish vernacular languages and cultures in Europe. That which was a marginal field of Jewish studies even a century ago has been transformed into a field of research whose importance for an understanding of historical Ashkenazic culture can now no longer be denied. Many basic works of scholarship are, however, still lacking in early Yiddish studies, such as grammars, dictionaries, and handbooks on the language and literature. The present work attempts to delineate in broad strokes the history of early Yiddish literature and present as complete a panorama as possible of this still unfamiliar field of Jewish studies to the educated lay reader, to students, and indeed even to specialists in the field. Instead of aiming for an exhaustively comprehensive study, which, due to the sheer extent and complexity of the field, would have been impossible in a single volume, I have here attempted to disentangle from the complex cultural skein and draw forth the essential characteristics of early Yiddish literature and focus on the kinds of specific issues that they represent. I hope that this volume may contribute to research in this field and even stimulate readers to take up the exploration of the diverse and inspiring culture of early Yiddish literature, and that the many students and scholars now working on this material may continue to investigate this rich field of Ashkenazic culture that has thus far still yielded up only the tiniest portion of its treasures. That there is a second, revised edition of the book, and that it appears in English, is due to Jerold C. Frakes, to whom I express my gratitude for his work as editor and translator. I tender my thanks also to Jeremy Dauber, Eli Katz, Joseph Sherman, and Dov-Ber Kerler, whose cordial assistance, judicious counsel, and incisive critique have aided the progress of the project and improved the book in ways too numerous to enumerate. I also offer a warm expression of my thanks to the kind and expert staff of the Oriental Reading


Author’s Preface to the English Edition

Room of the Bodleian Library, especially Richard Judd and Silke Schaeper, the Skirball Foundation, and the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. I dedicate this second edition to Danièle, François, Gabriel; to Yuval; and finally also to Yael, Pascale, Celia, and Gabriele, as a friendly memento of our mutual sojourn in Oxford. Jean Baumgarten Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris Oxford, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies January 2004

Editor and Translator’s Preface Following the publication, almost fifty years ago, of an edition of the codex, Cambridge University Library .-.  (dated 1382), early Yiddish studies underwent a profound renaissance and transformation, manifested in the ensuing years in hundreds of articles, books, editions, and reviews in the fields of Jewish studies, linguistics, and particularly in German studies. The clichéd distortions––even in some scholarly circles––that Old Yiddish is simply German, or that its literature is purely derivative, have now all but disappeared in the face of the steadily accruing number of serious linguistic, philological, literary, and cultural studies of this significant body of texts that has in recent years reached the point that a new comprehensive survey of the corpus and the scholarship devoted to it is in order. Several decades before the publication of the Cambridge texts, especially during that brief but astonishingly fertile interwar period in Eastern Europe when Yiddish scholarship in a variety of fields flourished, there were several such attempts at partial and comprehensive synthesis: Elazar (Elias) Shulman’s Sfas yehudis ashkenozis usifruso (Riga: Levin, 1913), Max Weinreich’s Shtaplen: fir etyudn tsu der yidisher shprakhvisnshaft un literaturgeshikhte (Berlin: Vostok, 1923) and Bilder fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte (Vilna: Tomor, 1928), Max Erik’s Vegn altyidishn roman un novele: fertsnter-zekhtsnter yorhundert (Warsaw: Der veg tsum visn, 1926) and Di geshikhte fun der yidsiher literatur, fun di eltste tsaytn biz der haskole-tkufe (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1928), and Israel Zinberg (Yisroel Tsinberg’s) Altyidishe literatur fun di eltste tsaytn biz der haskoletkufe (2nd edn. Vilna: Tomor, 1933), vol. vi of Di geshikhte fun der literatur bay yidn, 9 vols. (Vilnius: Tomor, 1929–37), but no comprehensive history of early Yiddish literature has now been published for almost three-quarters of a century. The early essays in Chone Shmeruk’s brilliant collection, Sifrut yidish: perakim le-toldoteah (Tel Aviv: Porter Institute, 1978), are of the genre of literary history, but are not (and do not intend to be) broad enough in scope to constitute a comprehensive history of early Yiddish literature. During these decades numerous significant discoveries and/or publication of additional texts have radically altered the content and cultural scope of the corpus: among them the verse couplet from the Worms Makhzour of 1274, the eight texts of the Cambridge manuscript of c.1382 from the Fostat genizah in Cairo (noted above), the remarkable fable collection of the Ki-bukh that was published in Verona in 1595, and most recently the complete text of the magnificent Renaissance epic Pariz un Viene that was published in Verona in 1594. These texts, among others, significantly broaden the scope of early


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Yiddish literature and, most importantly (via the manuscript from the genizah), extend the beginnings of mature Yiddish literature back to a significantly earlier date than previously thought possible. Thus a serious gap in the scholarship has for decades severely hindered not just specialists in Yiddish studies, but also those in other fields of Jewish studies and in other national literatures of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, in linguistics, and the history of the biblical tradition, among others. One should also note that, as the above list of titles indicates, no comprehensive survey of early Yiddish appeared originally in a language other than Yiddish and Hebrew (Zinberg’s fine study has since been translated into English), which has also severely limited the accessibility of the field to many non-specialists. With the publication in 1993 of the exceptionally wide-ranging and thorough study by Jean Baumgarten, both of these problems have been solved at once. It is difficult to choose what the primary virtue of this book might be, for there are many. Fortunately the author conceives of his work, in the tradition of those scholars named above, not as a narrow, empirical and would-be asocial philological task (often the model in recent decades in the fields as conceived by German studies), but rather as the study of an entire culture via its literature, and thus he conceives of literature and its essential connection to social and historical processes in a broad sense. He begins the study with four chapters (approximately a quarter of the whole) addressing pertinent issues of the larger cultural context of the literature: the origin of the language and of the literature in the context of the development of European vernacular literatures during the Middle Ages, the manufacture and distribution of early printed books in Yiddish, and the role of lingua sacra–lingua franca (Hebrew–Yiddish) bilingualism in the development of early Yiddish literature. In treating the literature itself, he operates similarly, so that he deals not just with the typical secular genres of the European Middle Ages of epic, romance, prose narrative, and the late appearance of the drama, but also with biblical translation and commentary, with ethical and moral treatises, prayers, and the broad range of literature d’usage (medical, legal, historical, etc.) that give shape and contour to cultural history. In my review of the original edition of the book (Speculum 71 (1996), 682– 3), I noted both the immense breadth and depth of research demonstrated by the work and the scope of the documentation of that research in the notes and bibliography. In consultation with the author, I have in this revised edition endeavoured to verify and ensure the accuracy of titles, dates, names, and historical data in both the bibliographical references and elsewhere in a book that brims over with such data. It is indeed a daunting task, but one essential to the reliability and thus long-term utility of such a work of scholarship. In the course of his survey of the broad corpus of Old and Middle Yiddish literature, where many of the basic texts have not yet been competently edited, it is necessary for the researcher to deal directly with incunabula and manuscripts of texts as a matter of course. Thus in the original

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French edition, the author included hundreds of text citations from Old and Middle Yiddish, of course, but also from Hebrew, Aramaic, Italian, German, Latin, etc., all of which then appeared in French translation in the original French edition of the book. In all, some 20 per cent of the book consists of such text citations, which then constitutes a veritable labyrinth of bibliographical detail. In the present volume citations have been verified by comparison with the original source texts and translated into English directly from those texts. The Bible is cited from the Revised Standard Version; all other translations are mine. In a number of cases the original texts of quotations included in Dr Baumgarten’s French edition have defied all attempts to verify their accuracy (generally due to bibliographical imprecision), which has led to several modes of coping: in some cases it has been possible to locate citations of these Yiddish/Hebrew passages in previous works of scholarship (which, in turn, provided insufficiently precise bibliographical information to locate the passage in the original text), in which case I have translated from that citation and provided a reference to that publication. In a very few cases the author has provided me with a transcription of the original passage and its bibliographical information from his own notes, from which I have then translated and passed on the provided bibliographical information. In still fewer cases I have been unable by any means to verify passages cited in the French edition of the book. In some of these cases, I have, in consultation with the author, revised the presentation such that a similar, verified, passage could be included in place of the unverified citation; in other cases, where substitution was impossible or inappropriate, the unverified passage is marked with * and the English translation is based on the author’s French translation as it appeared in the French edition of this book. In the matter of issues concerning the presentation of Hebrew-alphabet texts, names, and book titles, another cluster of problems arises in a book such as this. In the original French edition, all Hebrew-alphabet material was either translated or transcribed into the Roman alphabet (or both), thus making the book accessible to the broadest possible Francophone audience. In general a comparable goal has been set for the English edition, but the difficulties involved in such a project are myriad and the solutions chosen for the English edition differ from those of the French edition; they must thus be explained here in some detail. The titles of publications of modern Hebrew and Yiddish scholarship are cited in the standard systems of Roman transcription (those of the Encyclopedia Judaica and YIVO, respectively). To impose Israeli pronunciation on pre-Israeli (in a practical sense: pre-1915) Hebrew, however, would be anachronistic, even ludicrous, particularly since the pronunciation of this Ashkenazic Hebrew is well documented (and still used for some purposes in the twenty-first century). The problem is easily demonstrated: how to represent the common name spelled mem-shin-he in Hebrew? Few informed readers of the present volume would hesitate for a


Editor and Translator’s Preface

moment in answering: it must be Moshé, or Móyshe, or Moses, the forms of, respectively, Israeli Hebrew, modern Yiddish, and English. Each choice has its motivations and, like it or not, its historical and even political ramifications. The choice of Israeli Hebrew, Moshé, for instance, immediately aligns one––willy-nilly––with the rabidly anti-Yiddish ideology of Zionism. The choice of the modern Yiddish Móyshe declares openly one’s alliance with the Yiddishist, and, up until recently, generally anti-Zionist, cause. Choosing Móyshe also indicates that one would choose Sóre, not Sárah, Yánkev, not Yaakóv, etc. Historically, however, there is perhaps no reason to choose either of these options over the other, since neither necessarily represents the actual phonetic realization of the name of any Ashkenazic Jew in the Old and Middle Yiddish periods who were named for the biblical figures Moses, Sarah, or Jacob, for early Yiddish was pronounced like neither Israeli Hebrew nor modern standard (YIVO) Yiddish. While linguists can reconstruct much about the various dialectal and historically developing pronunciations of the period, there was and is no single standard. In central Europe at least and until the eighteenth century, our hypothetical Moshé/Móyshe/Moses was almost certainly never addressed in any of these phonetic forms, but rather in the phonetic realization of early West Yiddish, which resembled Máushe, or, perhaps more likely Mó:ushe. Thus regardless of whether one chooses the Israeli Hebrew, the modern standard Yiddish, or the culturally equivalent English form, one is imposing a historically unjustifiable norm. For names I choose the English option here, for two reasons: it is no more nor less ideological in its consequences than the others, and it is after all the proper English form in a book in English. Perhaps it seems at this point that I have made too much of this simple point, but one must recall what was said at the outset––and what will become immediately apparent upon opening the book to practically any page––this ‘problem’ arises dozens of times on most pages. This choice (and the one to be discussed next) quite simply determines the reader’s perception of the material discussed in the course of the book. Perhaps even thornier than the issue of how to present names is how to deal with book titles, which obviously do not have convenient non-translated English forms. Most early Yiddish texts bear titles that derive either directly from Hebrew or Aramaic, or from this Semitic component of Yiddish, which immediately adds the complication of the relationship of Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation to the entire mixture (not entirely absent from the above discussion of traditional Jewish names either, of course). There were for instance a number of early Yiddish commentaries on the Mishnaic tractate Avot, entitled Midrásh le-pirkéi avót (Israeli), or Mídresh le-pírke óves (modern standard Yiddish), or Mídrash le-pírkey óvous (traditional Ashkenazic). As was also the case with the names discussed above, it again seems to me that neither Israeli Hebrew nor modern standard Yiddish is appropriate in rendering the titles of early Yiddish texts. In most cases there is no possibility here

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of slicing through the Gordian knot by imposing English on the problem, for a mere translation of the title into English instead of (and not in addition to) the original title generally obscures rather than clarifies (except in cases like the Maase-bukh, where one of the forms––in its modern Yiddish realization Mayse-bukh––has been adopted into English scholarly usage on the text). It seems most appropriate here to try and approximate a standardized Ashkenazic Hebrew form (for those texts that have such a title; in the French edition, the problem of the Roman-alphabet form of both names and titles was left unaddressed, and the usage was rather inconsistent with respect to both names and titles). For the Germanic components of titles, the transcription process is anything but straightforward. Numerically the vast majority of published Roman-alphabet transcriptions of early Yiddish that have appeared in scholarly and quasi-scholarly publication of the last century have been produced by Germanists who have not simply transcribed but often have come close to translation of the original text into a perceived form of late medieval German (e.g. schön for the various early Yiddish spellings of the word shin-jod-waw, shin-waw-jod-nun, or shin-waw-nun, which has become sheyn in modern standard Yiddish). That will obviously not do here. Instead, I have opted to recognize the linguistic commonplace that graphemic systems are as a rule quite conservative and thus often do not directly account for innovative phonetic developments in the language. Thus in those very few cases in which such a choice is necessary in this book, I transcribe not Germanized schön but YIVO-ized sheyn, except in those cases where it is clear that early Yiddish pronunciation differed significantly from modern Yiddish (particularly with respect to some few vowels and diphthongs, e.g. early Yiddish shoun vs. YIVO shoyn) (as also in the aforementioned example: Mó:ushe, not Móyshe). The process having been explained at such length, however, the reader should nonetheless realize that there is very little in the way of non-Semitic components in early Yiddish titles. Beyond that, there are only occasional individual early Yiddish words that occur in the text. After so much introduction, the principles of transcription employed in the present volume are in fact quite simple and can be reduced to: Modern (post-1915) Hebrew: standard Encyclopedia Judaica (EJ) system. Modern Yiddish: standard YIVO system. Pre-modern Hebrew: standard principles of traditional Ashkenazic phonology. Pre-modern Yiddish is transcribed according to YIVO principles modified to account for what can be reconstructed as the phonology of early Yiddish (e.g. shoun not YIVO shoyn). Names are spelled according to the standard English form of EJ. Unquoted words that have become naturalized in English are used in their anglicized forms. My rule of thumb here is: if it can be used in English


Editor and Translator’s Preface

unitalicized, then its common English spelling (usually borrowed from biblical studies or Israeli Hebrew) is used (e.g. Torah, Yom Kippur). The titles of pre-modern Hebrew books written beyond the confines of Ashkenaz (whether temporally or geographically; i.e. ancient or Sephardic texts) are cited in Israeli transcription, as the default ‘nonAshkenazic’ mode. But when the topic at hand is an Ashkenazic translation of or commentary on such texts, that is, when such titles are ‘embedded’ in an Ashkenazic cultural context, an Ashkenazic transcription is generally also added in parentheses: thus Pirkei Avot or simply Avot, but Reb Anshel’s commentary on Pirkei Avot (Pirkey ovous). Such a complex practice makes for some problems for the reader: on any given page there may well be book titles in Ashkenazic Hebrew, quoted words in quasi-YIVO-ized Old Yiddish, anglicized traditional Jewish names, for instance: Zevi Hirsch b. Jerahmiel Khotsh (or Hotsch) wrote the books Seyfer ˙ (translated in early Yiddish as Taytsh-zouhar) and Segulous unakhlas Tsvi refuous. Let the reader be forewarned: s/he is here entering orthographically difficult territory. That difficulty is not contrived by either the author or the editor/translator, but rather reveals the cultural, linguistic, and orthographical layering that is historical Ashkenazic culture, whether expressed via Hebrew or Old Yiddish language and literature. It would be both inaccurate and a mystification to claim that the languages of this culture cannot be rendered into the Roman alphabet, but one should note that any attempt to transmit the linguistic data of one culture in an alphabet devised to represent the language of another culture tends toward some elements of distortion of some types of information (phonetic or otherwise). The hybrid system here employed is intended specifically to diminish that cultural distortion at the risk of requiring the reader to ‘shift gears’ orthographically with some regularity. One final complication must also be explained here: in the original French edition, the author also included not just French translations of pertinent excerpts from early Yiddish literature, but in the case of some few selections (primarily poetic passages), he also provided Roman-alphabet transcriptions of the original texts. As the complicated explanations above, as well as the transcriptions scattered through the field of early Yiddish studies, demonstrate, no single and simple system of transcription for specifically Old and Middle Yiddish texts has been devised that represents them adequately to the broad audience that might have recourse to them. In the end, those who wish to read early Yiddish texts in the original language must do so in the Hebrew alphabet in which they were written––not because those texts must be guarded against direct access by ‘outsiders’, but for the same reason that, for instance, anyone not willing to settle for reading Tolstoy in translation will learn not just the Russian language, but necessarily, automatically, and without even imagining an alternative, also the Cyrillic alphabet in which Russian

Editor and Translator’s Preface


is written. Thus after careful consideration, I decided to eschew transcriptions in the English edition and instead provide the original Hebrew-alphabet texts of those passages cited in transcription in the French edition. In the present volume then these few citations are presented both in English translation and in the original Hebrew-alphabet text, all of which I have edited anew from manuscript and/or early print. Some readers might object that if some text excerpts are presented in the Hebrew alphabet, then one might as well have eschewed all transcription and simply printed all originally Hebrew-alphabet texts, words, phrases, titles, names, etc., in the Hebrew alphabet. In his wide-ranging overview of several centuries of literary and cultural history, however, the author seeks a broader audience than would have been comfortably addressed by that method. Thus here those readers without a knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet can still have access to the content of the entire book, for even those passages here cited in the Hebrew alphabet are also presented in a parallel English translation. Finally, one might note that in following this practice of transposing into the Roman alphabet Hebrew-alphabet names, titles, and occasional individual words, while also including selected text excerpts in the original Hebrewalphabet text, there is a precedent of some note: the English translation of Israel Zinberg’s Di geshikhte fun der literatur bay yidn, which follows the same practice. In the decade since the publication of the original edition, there has been much further work in the field of early Yiddish, not least by the author himself. It seemed then appropriate for the English edition to reflect the progress in the field: two stages of revision have thus been carried out in preparing the English edition. First, in addition to translating the book, the editor/translator has undertaken a number of modifications to revise the book for an anglophone audience: as noted above, text citations have been verified and translated from the original source language, and the text excerpts transcribed in the French edition are here edited in the Hebrew alphabet; in addition, bibliographical data have been verified, corrected, and standardized according to the format of the Modern Language Association; references to manuscripts, their repositories and signatures have been standardized; numerous sections of the book have been revised and (generally) expanded for the sake of clarification and accuracy based on more recent research. Finally, a glossary has been added, for as the reader will notice on practically every page, there is a specialized vocabulary employed to analyse and discuss the various aspects of Jewish culture herein treated. While most readers will be familiar with some of these terms, only experts will know them all. These terms are thus glossed in place in the text and the recurring ones are also collected into a glossary at the end of the book for the sake of convenient reference. That glossary should, however, be considered very strictly a tactical guide to these terms as they are used in this volume only and not as a comprehensive lexicon of the terms in their inevitably broader range of meanings


Editor and Translator’s Preface

as they appear throughout the Jewish tradition. All revisions have been undertaken by the editor/translator with the approval of the author, who has also contributed not a few revisions and clarifications. The result is the revised, second edition. In 2001–2, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Skirball Foundation (Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies), and the Zumberge Research and Innovation Fund (University of Southern California) generously supported this project, too, and enabled its completion. My thanks are also due my editor, Hilary O’Shea, Enid Barker, and the staff at Oxford University Press, for seeing a most difficult project through all stages of the publishing process. Without the generous aid of librarians expert in the field of Ashkenazic studies and a number of colleagues who have provided encouragement, information, and constructive criticism at particular moments or over the course of a longer period of time, no such project would have been possible. Of particularly aid were Richard Judd, Doris Nicholson, and the staff of the Oriental Reading Room in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and, in alphabetical order: Jeremy Dauber (Columbia University), Edward Fram (University of Be’er Sheva), Mirjam Gutschow (Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana), Eli Katz (University of California, Berkeley), Dovid Katz (Universitetas Vilniaus), Benjamin Richler (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem), Benjamin Sadock (Columbia University), Joseph Sherman (Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies), Barry Trachtenberg (SUNY Albany), and most of all, Jean Baumgarten (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris). Jerold C. Frakes University of Southern California

Contents Abbreviations 1 The Invention of a Language: Yiddish among the European Vernaculars 2 The Emergence of Yiddish Literature and the Crisis in Jewish Society 3 The Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books 4 Bilingualism and the Development of Old Yiddish Literature 5 Yiddish Bibles 6 Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish 7 Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco 8 Books of Morality and Conduct Ethico-Mystical Treatises in Yiddish The Books of Custom and Conduct: Minhogim sforim 9 Prayer in the Vernacular Tkhinous ‘Prayers of Supplication’ Yiddish and Bilingual Rites of Daily Prayer (sidurim) and Holiday Prayers (makhzourim) 10 Yiddish Narrative 11 Terrestrial Suffering in a Topsy-Turvy World Megilas Vints: An Historical Poem on the Pogrom in Frankfurt am Main in 1616 Yiddish Medical Texts (Fourteenth–Eighteenth Centuries) Purim-shpil and the Jewish Carnivalesque Tradition


1 26 38 72 82 128 163 207 237 248 260 274 285 296 328 328 341 359

Conclusion: From the Old to the New


Glossary Bibliography Index

388 391 445

Abbreviations BB Bek BGDSL BH BM BT EJ Er EYT Git HUCA JJS JT Ket Kid M Meg MGWJ MHG Ned OHG Pes REJ Sanh Shab St. CB St. Serapeum

Taan Yad Yev ZGJD

Bava Batra Bekhorot Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur Bibliotheca hebraea, ed. Johann Christoph Wolf, 4 vols. (Hamburg 1715–33) Bava Metsia Babylonian Talmud Encyclopedia Judaica Eruvin Early Yiddish Texts, ed. Jerold C. Frakes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) Gittin Hebrew Union College Annual Journal of Jewish Studies Jerusalem Talmud Ketubot Kiddushin Mishna Megila Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums Middle High German Nedarim Old High German Pesahim ˙ des Études Juives Revue Sanhedrin Shabbat Moritz Steinschneider, Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in bibliotheca bodleiana (Berlin: Friedlaender, 1852–60) (citation by catalogue item number) Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Jüdisch-Deutsche Literatur nach einem handschriftlichen Katalog der Oppenheim’schen Bibliothek (in Oxford) mit Zusätzen und Berichtigungen’, Serapeum 9 (1848), 313–36, 344–52, 363–8, 375–84; 10 (1849), 9–16, 25–32, 42–8, 74–80, 88–96, 107–12 (with index, 54–5, 57–9, 68–70); rpt. as book: Moritz Steinschneider, Jüdisch-Deutsche Literatur (Serapeum, Leipzig 1843–1849) (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1961) (citations by item number) Taanit Yadaim Yevamot Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Judentums in Deutschland

Citations from the Bible are from the Revised Standard Version (RSV).

 The Invention of a Language: Yiddish among the European Vernaculars

Contrary to common opinion, there was interest in Yiddish even before the nineteenth century, when a number of scholars associated with the Wissenschaft des Judentums began the scholarly and philological study of vernacular Jewish languages and literatures. The Yiddish language had already experienced its first linguistic study during the Renaissance, when some European scholars began to consider the possibility of using vernacular languages as vehicles of study and scholarship, and when grammarians began to codify the grammatical structure of those languages. This early recognition of Yiddish must be linked with the interest in vernaculars that emerged at the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the first grammars of the principal languages of Europe were published.1 At about the same time that these first treatises on European vernaculars were appearing, the first bibliographies, systematic grammatical studies, lexica and brief collections of texts in Old Yiddish were published. The language became the object of theoretical reflection, which then helped to provide some measure of order and form in matters of orthography. While such changes naturally took their own specific forms in Jewish culture, they must be viewed in the context of the larger process of the vernacularization of knowledge that had begun during the European Middle Ages. It was during this period that the distinction was established between, on the one hand, the vernaculars,2 which were viewed as unstable, lacking grammatical rules, and limited to the register of speech, and, on the other hand, the classical languages, such as Latin, which were viewed as literary languages, endowed with a grammar and stable rules of usage. The vernacular was long banned from the realms of literature, scholarship, and the university. One may note, however, a development in such thought that ushered in a progressive recognition of the vernaculars as languages of knowledge, 1

See, especially, Anders Ahlquist, ‘Les Premières Grammaires des vernaculaires européens’, in Sylvain Auroux, ed., Histoire des idées linguistiques, ii: Le Développement de la grammaire occidentale (Liège: P. Mardaga, 1992), 107–14. 2 Dante, who contributed to enhancing the prestige of the vernacular, also notes this opposition of the vernacular––‘which we acquire without any rule, by imitating our nurses’ (De vulgari eloquentia, 1. 1, ed. Aristide Marigo, 4th edn. (Florence: Le Monnier, 1968)––and the classical languages, especially Latin.

The Invention of a Language

study, and literary expression.3 Beginning in the eighteenth century this distinction resurfaces in somewhat different form in the opposition of national languages to regional speech and dialects, which were viewed as having neither rules nor grammar. Such was also the case with Yiddish, which up through the nineteenth century and lingering on among some even at the close of the twentieth century was often stigmatized as a ‘hybrid jargon’ or as a form of ‘corrupt German’. As was the case with other European minority languages and Jewish languages of the diaspora, the status of a language in its own right was long denied to this vernacular of the European Jews.4 A tradition of the linguistic study of Yiddish emerged during the Renaissance period, which documents a concern in Ashkenazic Jewish society with the role of the vernacular, its characteristic traits, and its relationships with coterritorial and other Jewish languages (e.g. Hebrew).5 Let us recall that the first codifications of Yiddish appeared at the same time that the major European vernaculars were also receiving their first linguistic treatments. Some scholars thus maintained that all languages were organized according to systems of grammar and that a vernacular was no less susceptible to codification than were the classical languages.6 Jewish communities thus experienced a development parallel to that of other traditional 3 See Mirko Tavoni, ‘La linguistica rinascimentale’, in Storia della linguistica, ed. Giulio C. Lepschy, vol. ii (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1991), 169–312. 4 See Jean Baumgarten, ‘La Définition nationale de la langue et de la littérature yiddish chez les savants de la Wissenschaft des Judentums (XIXe–XXe siècle)’, in Philologiques III: La Notion de littérature nationale dans l’espace franco-allemand, ed. M. Werner and M. Espagne (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1993), 405–29; Tavoni, ‘La linguistica rinascimentale’. On the development of modern literary Yiddish, see the definitive study by Dov-Ber Kerler, The Origins of Modern Literary Yiddish (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999). 5 On this tradition, see Ber Borochov, ‘Di bibliotek fun yidishn filolog: fir hundert yor yidishe shprakhforshung’, Der Pinkes 1 (1913), (separate numbering within volume) coll. 1–66; Karl Habersaat, ‘Materialien zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’, Orbis 11/1 (1962), 352–68; idem, ‘Zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik: eine bibliographische Studie’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 84 (1965), 419–35; Max Weinreich, ‘Studien zur Geschichte und dialektischen Gliederung der jiddischen Sprache, erster Teil: Geschichte und gegenwärtiger Stand der jiddischen Sprachforschung’, 3 vols. (diss. Marburg, 1923), published as: Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung, ed. Jerold C. Frakes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993); idem, Shtaplen: fir etyudn tsu der yidisher shprakh-visnshaft un literatur-geshikhte (Berlin: Vostok, 1923). 6 See Louis Kukenheim, Contributions à l’histoire de la grammaire italienne, espagnole et française à la Renaissance (Amsterdam: N.v. Noordhollandsche uitgevers maatschappij, 1932); G. A. Padley, Grammatical Theory in Western Europe 1500–1700: Trends in Vernacular Grammar, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985–8); W. Keith Percival, ‘The Grammatical Tradition and the Rise of the Vernaculars’, in Current Trends in Linguistics, vol. xiii: Historiography of Linguistics, 2 vols., ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (The Hague: Mouton, 1975), 231–75; idem, ‘Renaissance Linguistics: The Old and New’, in Studies in the History of Western Linguistics in Honour of R. H Robins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 56–68; L. Giard, ‘Du latin médiéval au pluriel des langues: le tournant de la Renaissance’, Histoire, Épistémologie, Langage 6/1 (1984), 35–55. On the subject of French, see C. Longeon, ed., Premiers combats pour la langue française (Paris: Livre de poche classique, 1989).

The Invention of a Language

European societies, which had undergone two significant changes: first of all, the supremacy of Latin, the sacred and international language, had been severely compromised by the rise of the vernaculars. One witnesses a readjustment of the respective roles of the languages and a determination to increase the role of the vernaculars. Latin gave up a portion of its domain, while the vernaculars were freed from their imposed state of inferiority and rose to the rank of languages of culture and scholarship. Secondly, the distribution of printed books, especially in the vernacular, modified the means of access to knowledge and called into question the cultural monopoly of the educated elite in the realm of letters. A similar development may be noted within traditional Jewish society: alongside Hebrew and Aramaic, which up to this point had been the only languages employed in the transmission of texts central to the Jewish tradition, Yiddish developed as a literary language and even encroached somewhat upon the domain of Hebrew, although the sacred language never lost its dominant position.7 Moreover, as a result of the development of the printing press, literature in the Jewish vernaculars was distributed thoughout the various European Jewish communities. Before the first half of the sixteenth century, practically all Jewish books were printed in Hebrew. Such books circulated principally in the world of scholars and the educated. From that time on, however, the demand for books in the vernacular grew. Thus books in Ladino were printed for Marranos in Italy who wished to reestablish contact with the sacred tradition and strengthen their religious practice.8 Between 1552 and 1555, collections of Judaeo-Spanish prayers were thus published in Ferrara,9 and in 1556 there followed the important Biblia en lengua espanola, published by Abraham Usque, followed by Consolaçam as tribulaçoens de Ysrael (1553), published by Samuel Usque. Bilingual liturgical collections were also published in Judaeo-Italian, for instance, in Bologna (1538) and Mantua (1561).10 The printing of books in Yiddish responded to this same demand for the distribution of sacred texts among those Jews who, due to an imperfect knowledge of Hebrew, had grown more distant from Jewish traditions. This increase in the number of 7 See Chone Shmeruk, Sifrut yidish: perakim le-toldoteah (Tel Aviv: Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, 1978); Yiddish translation: Prokim fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte (Tel Aviv: I. L. Perets, 1988) (the Yiddish volume presents revised versions of most of the essays, and differs as well in replacing two essays of the original edition with two other essays). 8 See Haïm-Vidal Sephiha, Le Ladino (judéo-espagnol calque): structure et évolution d’une langue liturgique, 2 vols. (diss. Sorbonne, 1979 (Paris III) ) (Paris: Association Vidas Largas, 1979). 9 The Libro de Oraciones de todo el año and the Sedur de Oraciones des mes of 1552, edited by Yom Tov ben Levi Athias; the Mahazor. Orden de Roshasanah y Kipur (1553), the Psalterio de ˙ David in Hebrayco dicho Thehylim (1553), and the Orden de Oraciones de mes (1555) by Abraham Usque. The Catholic offensive embodied in the Counter-Reformation would have as one of its consequences the discontinuation of publishing books in the Jewish vernacular in Italy. 10 See Giulio Busi, Edizione ebraiche del XVI secolo nelle biblioteche dell’Emilia Romagna (Bologna: Analisi, 1987).

The Invention of a Language

Yiddish books had a direct effect on the religious life of the Jewish population. While cultural communication and liturgical practice may not have undergone radical change, they did nonetheless experience a remarkable development. The great interest in ancient and oriental languages, such as Aramaic, Arabic, and Turkish, the rediscovery of the Jewish grammarians David Kimhi and Saadia Gaon, the desire to know the Old Testament in the ˙ original, speculations on the origin of languages and the mystery of the Hebrew alphabet connected with Christian cabbalism, stimulated the study of Hebrew, but also, as a side-effect, the study of Jewish vernaculars.11 The emergence of a grammatical tradition in Yiddish is one of the direct consequences of the interest in Hebrew studies which was manifested among Renaissance humanists. The tolerant attitude, full of curiosity concerning Jewish texts such as the Zohar, that we find in Guillaume Postel, Joseph Justus Scaliger, and Johannes Buxtorf, among other scholars, well illustrates the change in attitude on the part of some Christians toward the thought and languages of the Jews.12 In the German lands, where the first treatises on Yiddish appeared, there are numerous factors that must be taken into account. It is necessary to recall the influence of the Reformation, which assigned a central role to prayer, sermons, and mystical revelation in the vernacular. Martin Luther criticized the gap that had developed between the knowledge of the educated elite and the culture of the people who lived in semi-ignorance, sometimes even in great spiritual and religious poverty. Luther made use of his Muttersprache (native language) for spreading the basic elements of his doctrines and for writing pamphlets, whose great impact is now well known.13 It is not without significance that 1534 was the year of publication of both Luther’s translation of the Bible and the first known printed book in Yiddish, the Mirkeves ha-mishne (‘The Second Chariot’), a bilingual Hebrew-Yiddish biblical 11 See Jerome Friedman, The Most Ancient Testimony, Sixteenth Century Christian Hebraica in the Age of Renaissance Nostalgia (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983); Louis Kukenheim, Contributions à l’histoire de la grammarie grecque, latine, hébraïque à l’époque de la Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 1951): S. Kessler Mesguich, ‘Aspects et tendance de l’enseignement de l’hébreu en France, du Moyen Âge à la fin du dix-septième siècle’, Pardès 12 (1990), 108–21. 12 See Jean Baumgarten, ‘L’Étude de la langue yiddich à la Renaissance (XVIe et XVIIe siècle)’, in Astrid Starck, ed., Westjiddisch: Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit/Le Yiddish occidental: Actes du Colloque de Mulhouse (Aarau: Sauerländer, 1994), 99–112; François Secret, Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Duno, 1963; rpt. Milan: Arché, 1985). On the texts from this period that treat Yiddish, see Jerold C. Frakes, Isagoge in linguam hebraeogermanicam: The Study of Yiddish During the Age of Humanism (forthcoming), which includes a study, editions, and English translations of the relevant texts. 13 On the relations between the Reformation and the emergence of the vernacular as a language of culture and a vehicle for the transmission of religious traditions, see Guy Bedouelle and Bernard Roussel, eds., Le Temps des Réformes et la Bible, Bible de tous les temps 5 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1989); and Padley, Grammatical Theory in Western Europe, ii. 244–318.

The Invention of a Language

concordance, published in Cracow. Numerous works in both Latin and German include information about the Yiddish language, while books in Yiddish, especially the translations of the Bible known by the name Khumesh-taytsh,14 were published in the principal German-speaking cities that had been won over to the Reformation, among them: Constance, Augsburg, Zurich, Strasbourg, and Basel.15 In Protestant colleges and theological faculties, Hebrew was taught as an indispensable means of access to the divine word and the Old Testament, but in addition German was also taught, a new development linked with the pedagogical reform that took shape during this period.16 The purpose was to promote the knowledge of canonical Jewish texts in their original language, with the specific goal, one should note, of being better able to refute the ‘errors’ of Jewish religion. In this context and from this perspective, Yiddish also played a pedagogical role, a minor one, to be sure, but one that should not be ignored. The texts that treat the Jewish vernacular are never linguistic studies that attempt to define the actual phonological, morphological, and syntactic characteristics of Yiddish or to systematize its rules of usage and linguistic practice. Most often they are simply brief tracts intended to be used as introductions to the basic rules of the language for self-study, so that one could learn acceptable pronunciation and reading skills, and, secondarily, perhaps also writing and translating. From this pedagogical perspective, Yiddish was viewed particularly as a step toward Hebrew, that is, as a tool designed to facilitate the student’s gradual progress from German via Yiddish to the Hebrew and a comprehensive reading of the Old Testament. In the structure of Yiddish, a language not without kinship to Middle High German, but written in the Hebrew alphabet, one sees that it can only play a peripheral and minor role for students of theology: Yiddish is considered a simple supplement or a preliminary training tool for the study of Hebrew, the primary language of the sacred texts of Judaism. Thus the Lutheran Paulus Fagius could write in his preface to Elia Bahur Levita’s Shmous devorim/ ˙ Nomenclatura hebraica, a Yiddish–Hebrew–Latin–German dictionary, published in Isny in 1542:

14 On the Yiddish translations of the Bible, and on translation methods, see Shloyme Noble, Khumesh-taytsh: an oysforshung vegn der traditsye fun taytshn khumesh in di khadorim (New York: YIVO, 1943); Nechama Leibowitz, ‘Die Übersetzungstechnik der jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, dargestellt an den Psalmen. 1. Teil: Syntaktisch-stilistische Untersuchung’ (diss. Marburg, 1931). 15 On the history of Hebrew printing and the Yiddish publishing in Basel during the Renaissance, see Joseph Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke 1492–1866 (Olten: Urs Graf, 1952). 16 See Rudolf von Raumer, ‘Der Unterricht im Deutschen’, in Karl von Raumer, Geschichte der Pädagogik vom Wiederaufblühen klassischer Studien bis auf unsere Zeit, 3rd edn. (Stuttgart: S. G. Liesching, 1857–61), iii. 75–175. On the pedagogical reform by Wolfgang Ratke and the teaching of German, see Erika Ising, Wolfgang Ratkes Schriften zur deutschen Grammatik (1612–1630) (Berlin: Akademie, 1959).

The Invention of a Language Ad lectorem

En $oDQH IW$oL DYMLTX nomenclaturam hebraicam Heliæ Leuitæ Hebræi, quam ille superiori anno cum mecum in Germania esset, me hortatore, pro tyronibus et studiosis linguæ hebraicæ obiter congessit, Et quia totus in hoc incumbo, ut quibuscunque rationibus possum, sanctam linguam apud eius studiosos, pro mea uirili commendem ac promoueam. Arbitratus autem fuerim istud ipsum etiam aliquo modo fieri, si quod in alijs linguis facimus, etiam in lingua ʃancta rerum uocabula hebraice sonare discamus: curaui, ut libellus iste, quem in eum usum Helias confecit, in communem studiosorum utilitatem excusus prodiret: qui ut eo gratio esset, adiunxi ipse hebræis latina et germanica uocabula, que iuxta seriem alphabeticam hoc ordine collocantur. Primus ordo continet germanica uocabula, hebraicis tamen typis, quibus Iudæi Germani cum germanica scribunt, utuntur. Secundus ordo purè hebraica. Tertius latina. Quartus ordo nostra germanica. Quod si hanc meam operulam studiosis gratam esse intellexero, operam dabo, ut à me quoque breui habeant librum colloquiorum hebraicorum, nec non et conscribendarum epistolarum. Vale. Ex Isna Mense Iulio, anno salutis M. D. XLij // To the reader: Behold, student of the holy language, here is a Hebrew glossary which at my suggestion the Jew Elia Levita has compiled for novices and students of the Hebrew language during his spare time in the past year when he was with me in Germany. And because I dedicated myself completely to this project to the best of my abilities and to the extent of my powers, I recommend and promote the holy language among those who study it. Now I think that this goal would be attained, were we to do that which we do with respect to other languages, in learning to pronounce the names of things in the holy language. That is why I have taken care to publish for the common use of students this little book which Elia has written to that end. And so that it would be more pleasant still, I have myself added to the Hebrew words the Latin and German words, which one finds in alphabetical order. The first column consists of German words in Hebrew letters as used by the German Jews when they write this language; the second is purely Hebrew; the third is Latin; the fourth is German. If I should know that this modest book would find favour among students, I would apply myself straight away to furnishing them with a Hebrew conversation book and even a guide to writing letters.17

Here we must note the parallel role assigned to European vernaculars by numerous Renaissance pedagogues, who considered the mastery of German, French, or English a means of access to a better knowledge of Latin. The acquisition of the grammatical rules of the living language was to function as useful practice for learning Latin grammar. In the eyes of Christian humanists there was an identical relation between a knowledge of Yiddish and the comprehension of Hebrew. Manuals of German grammar were published during this same time 17 At the end of Levita’s Shmous devorim is found a brief conversation guide, just as in the Sofo beruro of Nathan Nata (Nosn Note) Hanover. In Johannes Buxtorf ’s Thesaurus grammaticus linguæ sanctæ hebrææ, the paragraph devoted to Yiddish (‘Hebræo-germanica’) includes an example of a letter: Formula epistola familiaris et modi scribendi inter Judæos usitati.

The Invention of a Language

period that had as their purpose to teach ‘the art of speaking properly’ (Kunstsprache), and were intended especially for instructional use in Protestant universities.18 One cannot but note the obvious relationship between these earliest grammars and primers of the German language and the texts concerning Yiddish, especially in the description of the alphabet, the system of consonants and vowels, and the analysis of the parts of speech.19 An additional important factor was the development of the publishing industry, which promoted the printing and distribution of treatises on the Hebrew language and the Jewish vernaculars. The existence of private collections among humanists, in which were found manuscripts and printed books in Semitic languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Samaritan, etc.) and in the Jewish vernaculars (Yiddish, Ladino, etc.), stimulated an interest in both Jewish languages and their standardization, while at the same time promoting the compilation of the first printed bibliographies and collections of texts. The first bibliography of Yiddish books was published in Johannes Buxtorf ’s Thesaurus grammaticus linguæ sanctæ hebrææ (Basel, 1609).20 The author explains: Etenim characteres ejus scripturæ accuratè nosse, non solum ad Germanica legenda prodest, sed et ad Hebræa ipsa manuscripta. Testantur id Bibliothecæ principum, et vel una maximè Illustrissimi Electoris Palatini, aliarumque Academiarum inter Christianos, in quibus aliqua manuscriptorum Hebraicorum copia est: testari poterunt id singuli, qui manuscriptos libros Hebraicos habent. Hi non tantum quadrato biblico, sed et Germanico charactere exarati sunt. At quotusquisque inter nostros reperitur, qui eos vel legat vel intelligat? In talibus autem, quin multa arcana contineantur, quæ historiam Hebraicam mirificè illustrarent, si à peritis legerentur, nihil est dubitandum. Sic Judæi in literis quotidianis familiaribus et quibuslibet scriptis suis, communiter hodie eodem charactere utuntur. Ista legere nemo poterit nisi hujus scribendi rationis peritus. Testis sit pulvis, qui tales libros ubertim operit. A good knowledge of the Hebrew letters is not only useful for reading JudaeoGerman, but also that which is written in Hebrew. This is demonstrated in the libraries 18

For example, Laurentius Albertus, Teutsch Grammatik oder Sprach-Kunst (Augsburg, 1573). Padley, Grammatical Theory in Western Europe, iii. 244–318; Heinrich Weber, ‘Die Ausbildung der deutschen Grammatik (einschließlich der niederländischen)’, Histoire, Épistémologie, Language 9/1 (1987), 111–31; Erika Ising, Die Anfänge der volkssprachlichen Grammatik in Deutschland und Böhmen. Dargestellt am Einfluß der Schrift des Aelius Donatus ‘De octo partibus orationis ars minor’, pt. i: Quellen (Berlin: Akademie, 1966). 20 In the chapter entitled ‘Lectionis hebræo-germanicæ usus et exercitatio’, p. 648. There he makes reference to such books published in Basel as, for example, the Maase bukh (1602), the Brantspigel (1602), the Frawen büchlein (1602), collections of prayers (Machsor [sic]) (all according to Buxtorf ’s orthography), Tefilo mi-kol ha-shono, Birkas ha-mozoun, Slikhous and to such biblical lexica as the Seyfer lekakh tov and the Seyfer shel Rebi Anshel. The principal references to books in Yiddish are found in the following bibliographies: Conrad Gesner, Bibliotheca universalis (Zurich, 1545); Carlo Giusepe Imbonati, Mogeyn ve-kherev u-milkhomo: bibliotheca latino-hebraica (Rome, 1644); Johannes Buxtorf, De abbreviaturis hebraicis (Basel, 1613); Giulio Bartolloci, Kyrias seyfer: bibliotheca magna rabbinica, 4 vols. (Rome, 1675–93); Jacques Le Long, Bibliotheca sacra (Paris, 1709). 19

The Invention of a Language

of princes, of the illustrious Elector of the Palatinate, and in other Christian academies, where there is found a multitude of Hebrew manuscripts. Individuals who have Hebrew books and manuscripts also confirm this observation. These books are written not only in the biblical square script [square rabbinical script], but also in German characters [Ashkenazic cursive]. How few there are among us who can read or understand them. There is no doubt but that such books contain numerous secrets which would illuminate Hebrew history in an exceptional manner, provided they were read by experts. In their daily letters and other diverse writings, the Jews generally make use of these same letters. Therefore, nothing can be read without a certain knowledge of this script, as is witnessed by the dust which these books collect everywhere.

Also to be taken into account is the development of popular Jewish literature in Yiddish and the increase in popular books in small formats that were distributed by pedlars and bookshops in the Jewish communities of central and eastern Europe. This development stimulated the systematic study and analysis of the language of the Ashkenazic Jews.21 From the time of the Reformation, the conversion of Jews played a decisive role in the production of texts concerning the Yiddish language. In addition to the publication of theological texts intended to refute the ‘errors’ of Judaism and bring Jews back to ‘the straight and narrow path of the Christian faith’. Protestants printed Yiddish translations of the gospels, breviaries, and missals, and polemical anti-Jewish texts, in which one finds glossaries or brief treatments of the Jewish vernacular intended for missionary pastors assigned the duty of preaching and evangelizing in the urban ghettos and villages inhabited by Jews. According to the formulation of Johann Heinrich Callenberg, it was a matter of ‘promoting the recognition of Jesus Christ among the Jewish people’.22 In the eighteenth century, at the Institutum judaicum in Halle, which was devoted to the study of Judaism, this tradition culminated in the printing of Christian literature in Yiddish and promoting the activity of Lutheran missionaries among the Jews.23 A similar missionizing impulse is discernible in the Catholic sphere during the Counter-Reformation and in the foundation of the Jesuit order, which set about publishing breviaries and the New Testament, but also grammars of 21

Jean Baumgarten, ‘Les Livres populaires yiddish dans les communautés juives d’Europe’, Histoire, Épistémologie, Langage 12/1 (1990), 55–76. 22 Johann Heinrich Callenberg, Kurtze Anleitung zur Jüdischteutschen Sprache (Halle: Jüdisches Institut, 1733; rpt. in Hans Peter Althaus, ed., Johann Heinrich Callenberg and Wilhelm Christian Just Chrysander, Schriften zur jiddischen Sprache, Quellen zur Geschichte der jüdischen Sprache 3 (Marburg: Elwert, 1966) ), p. 8 (1733); p. 12 (1966). 23 Johann F. A. de Le Roi, Die evangelische Christenheit und die Juden in der Zeit der Herrschaft christlicher Lebensanschauungen unter den Völkern, 3 vols. (Karlsruhe: H. Reuther, 1884–92), i. 246–69. On the tradition of missionary grammars, see Althaus, Schriften zur jiddischen Sprache; Friedrich Christian Benedict Avé-Lallemant, Das deutsche Gaunerthum in seiner social-politischen, literarischen und linguistischen Ausbildung zu seinem heutigen Bestande, 4 vols. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1858–62), iii, 218–29; Max Weinreich, Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung, 121–64.

The Invention of a Language

the languages of Asia and the American Indians.24 Doctrinal treatises were also published, in order to help priests of the missionary orders preach in vernacular languages, to convert and reconquer territory given over to superstition, paganism, and even heresy. These books often ended with glossaries and brief tracts that provided the rudiments of the grammar of the vernacular language. Unlike Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, whose grammatical traditions had already begun in antiquity, most vernacular languages had, up to the period of the Renaissance, still not been subjected to either practical or theoretical linguistic analysis.25 It is thus interesting to observe what formal criteria, principles of classification, and models are employed in the first analyses of the Ashkenazic vernacular. Two essential traits characterize the treatises on Yiddish published by Christians, beginning in the Renaissance. First of all, it is a matter of quite static descriptions of the language, intended primarily for the specific purpose of deciphering and understanding Yiddish texts. The authors did not attempt either to analyse linguistic structures or to extrapolate the formal rules necessary for comprehending the workings of the vernacular or for practising ‘the art of fine speaking’. The authors were content to provide brief information about correct pronunciation and Hebrew–Roman alphabetical correspondences that were necessary for students of Hebrew, so that they could familiarize themselves with a language closely related to German but written in Hebrew characters. Secondly, it is not a matter of distinguishing between correct and incorrect forms, and thus of establishing grammatical rules of ‘proper usage’, but rather simply of defining Yiddish as a ‘deviation’ or a ‘corruption’ of German, which was considered an elegant and pure language. Finally, the texts of humanists, theologians, and Christian Hebraists concerning Yiddish are characterized by several rather precisely defined categories whose models were to be found in German grammars of the Renaissance period. These treatments, whether in Latin or German, included a description of the letters of the alphabet and a classification of the vowels and diphthongs, designed to teach acceptable pronunciation of the sounds,26 followed by some brief remarks on specific issues concerning the relationship of Yiddish and German, and a small collection of texts, including letters, prayers, translations of scripture (such as some Psalms or selections from the Pentateuch), such that one might have some practice in reading the Bible. The first listings of the parts of speech did not appear 24

This was especially the role of the Sacræ Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, which published numerous alphabet books, manuals, dictionaries, and grammars, especially in Semitic languages. 25 Kukenheim, Contributions à l’histoire de la grammaire grecque, latine et hébraïque. 26 Equivalent to the sections which one finds in the German grammars, which include chapters entitled ‘Beschreibung der Buchstaben’ (‘description of the letters’) or ‘Laut und Buchstaben Lehre’ (‘rules of sounds and letters’).


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until the seventeenth or eighteenth century, particularly in the grammars of the missionaries.27 The first primer is found in the works of Johann Boeschenstein, Elementale introductorium in hebraeas litteras teutonice et hebraice legendas (Augsburg, 1514), which presents the letters of the Hebrew alphabet followed by comments on particular aspects of their usage.28 From this time on, those who published such texts insisted on employing different fonts, distinguishing between rabbinical square script, which Paulus Fagius,29 for instance, termed scripturam assyriacam or ksivo osuris, and Ashkenazic cursive, termed ksivo ktono, mashait/masket or Kurrent Schrift.30 Fagius’ presentation of the consonants of the ‘alphabetum hebræo-germanicum’ is as follows (from Compendiaria): b d f g h j k 27

beth daleth fe, veth and waw gimel he jod kaph

In the survey of these early treatments of Yiddish that follows here, I make no attempt to correct either the recurring imprecision in descriptions of the language or even the outright mistakes and misrepresentations; their Roman-alphabet transcriptions are here preserved. 28 Refer to the bibliography below for bibliographical information concerning the sixteenthand seventeenth-century books consulted and cited. Johann Boeschenstein was one of the pioneers in the study of Hebrew in Europe. He taught in Ingolstadt, Augsburg, Regensburg, Wittenberg, Heidelberg, Antwerp, Zurich, and Nuremberg. Among his students were Ulrich Zwingli and Johannes Reuchlin. He is especially to be noted as the author of a treatise on Hebrew grammar (Hebraicae grammaticae institutiones, 1514), a Latin edition of Moses Kimhi (Rudimenta hebraica, 1520), German translations of Jewish prayers (Tefilous ho-ivrim, ˙ 1525), and grace after meals (1530). The question of his origins has provoked great discussion. While he himself fiercely denied any Jewish ancestry, Sebastian Münster, on the other hand, calls him baptizatus judaeus ‘baptized Jew’. Melanchthon likewise considered him a Jew and remarked that for some period of time Boeschenstein lived on income earned by reciting Psalms in the synagogue in Regensburg for any of the faithful who requested it of him. He relates that in 1518 Boeschenstein affixed to the door of an inn in Regensburg a proclamation on which was written: ‘I, Johann Boeschenstein, will teach, for a modest sum of money, anyone who wishes, to write and read Hebrew in six days. He who so desires should present himself at this inn.’ See Joseph Perles, Beiträge zur Geschichte der hebräischen und aramäischen Studien (Munich: T. Ackermann, 1884), 27–30; Moshe N. Rosenfeld, Der jüdische Buchdruck in Augsburg in der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts (London: private printing, 1985), 6, 21–33. 29 On Paulus Fagius, see Chapters 3 and 7, pp. 46 and 167. In both his ‘De variis literarvm figuris sev notvlis’, from Compendiaria isagoge in linguam hebræam (Constance, 1543) and ‘Svccincta ratio legendi hebræo-germanica’, from Prima qvatvor capita Geneseos (Constance, 1543), he presents brief information about Yiddish orthography and pronunciation. 30 On the history of this script, common for popular Jewish books in Yiddish, see Herbert C. Zafren, ‘Variety in the Typography of Yiddish, 1535–1635’, Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1982), 137–63, and idem, ‘Early Yiddish Typography’, Jewish Book Annual 44 (1986), 106–19.

The Invention of a Language l m n p r s t vv x z c


lamed mem, final mem nun, final nun pe resh samekh, s[h]in, zayin31 teth double waw koph+shin tsade tsade

In his ‘Lectionis Hebræo-Germanicæ Usus et exercitatio’, Johannes Buxtorf presents a brief paragraph concerning the five final letters (kaph, mem, nun, pe, tsade; often known by grammarians as kam’nappes or kemanpaz).32 In his Elemental | oder lesebüchlen (Hundsfeld, 1543), Paul Helicz also distinguishes between the final and common forms of these consonants (here––final | common): schlechte kof | krumme kof, geschlossene mem | offene mem, schlechte nun | krumme nun, pe | fe, schlechte czadick | krumm zadick [sic].33 The so-called begadkefat consonants are also treated separately by some of these early scholars, that is, the consonants beth, gimel, daleth, kaph, pe, taw, whose ancient pronunciation as stop or fricative was determined by their phonetic environment in Hebrew. In Yiddish the situation is quite different, such that the letters simply represent different phonemes without allophonic variation dependent on phonetic environment; they are generally distinguished by diacritical marks added: thus, for instance, a kaph with a raphe (a line over the letter34) = ch; likewise a beth with a raphe = v. As many of these early scholars of Yiddish indicate, three consonants in Yiddish have multiple phonetic realizations: beth: b, v, f; f at the beginning of a word could be written with waw, pe, or beth. kaph: k, q, and kh. Buxtorf explains that kaph without raphe is found only in Hebrew words. pe: p or ph, f, ff; double pe represents pf, ph, or pff. In ‘Svccincta ratio legendi’ he also adds shin = sch. From his Thesaurus Grammaticus Linguæ Sanctæ Hebrææ (Basel, 1609). Wagenseil reports that these letters are called, respectively: schlechte Cóf, geschlossen Mèm, schlechte Nùn, Uffé, and schlechte Záddik by the Jews; see ‘Bericht wie das Jüdisch-Teutsche zu lesen’ (Königsberg, 1699). 33 Max Silberberg, ed., Elemental- oder Lesebüchlein des Paul Helicz (Breslau: Verein jüdisches Museum, 1929). 34 According to Buxtorf, transversa virgula. According to Elias Schadeus, a Lutheran missionary and Hebrew teacher at the university of Strasbourg, überzwerch strichlein. See his Mysterium (Strasbourg, 1592), which includes a chapter entitled ‘Ein gewisser Bericht von teutschhebräischer Schrift, deren sich die Juden gebrauchen’. 31 32


The Invention of a Language

Additionally: taw is not used in Yiddish except in words from the Semitic component, generally at the beginning or at the end of a word (taw nunquam in Germanicis vocibus usurpantur (‘taw is never used in German words’), says Buxtorf). To be noted is that pe can represent b; teth the sound d; zayin the sound s: koph the sound g; shin the sound z. Other phonemes: shin + pe is sp, shin + teth is st (Boeschenstein); koph + shin is x (Fagius, Compendiaria). Paulus Fagius identifies the vowels of Yiddish as follows (Compendiaria): aleph (a), ayin, jod (e), jod (i), waw, aleph + waw (o), waw (u). Wagenseil also identifies only five simple vowels, represented by four graphs: aleph (a or o), ayin (e), jod (i), waw (u and o) (‘Bericht’). Helicz omits a altogether and classifies the remaining vowels as: ayin (e), jod (i), aleph (o), waw (u), waw + jod (ü). Thomas Blebelius lists the vowels as: aleph (a), ayin (e), jod (i), waw with holem (o), waw (u), waw + waw (w).35 Buxtorf distinguishes four Yiddish ˙ waw (u/o), jod (i/e), ayin (e), aleph (a). August Pfeiffer explains that vowels: the aleph rarely represents o, and that ö is represented by ayin.36 Elias Schadeus insists on the differences between Hebrew, which makes use of vowel pointing to identify the vowels, and Yiddish, in which vowel pointing is rarely used. It is used only when there would otherwise be semantic ambiguity; for example, mem + jod + resh could represent meer with a sere or mir with a ˙ hirek (ch. 2). ˙ The representation of the diphthongs of Yiddish differs dramatically, depending on which scholar is describing them. Fagius lists them as: aleph + waw + jod represents au; waw + jod likewise represents au. ayin + waw + jod + jod represents eu.37 jod + jod represents ei or ai.38 jod + aleph represents ie. waw + jod represents œ. Helicz’s list, on the other hand, consists of the following: waw + jod represents ü. jod + jod represents ei. aleph + waw + jod represents au and eu. 35

Thomas Blebelius, ‘Isagoge brevissima exhibens rationem legendi et scribendi Hebræogermanicum, cuius usus hoc tempore frequens est’, in Compendium Hebrææ Lingvæ ex Grammatica Blebelii Quanta heri potuit brevitate & perspicuitate collectum, et ad puerilem institutionem ominino accommodatum (Wittenberg, 1594). 36 August Pfeiffer, Critica Sacra de Sacri Codicis Partitione, Editionibus variis, Lingvis Originalibus et illibatâ Puritate fontium (Dresden, 1680). At the end of the volume there is a section entitled ‘De lectione ebræo-germanico’. 37 In ‘Svccincta ratio legendi’, Fagius indicates that eu is represented by aleph + waw + jod + jod. 38 In ‘Svccincta ratio legendi’, Fagius indicates that ai is represented by aleph + jod.

The Invention of a Language


Johannes Meelführer39 lists them as follows: aleph + waw represents au. aleph + jod represents ai. ayin + jod represents ei, as do jod + jod and aleph + jod + jod. waw + jod represents ô (probably = ö) or ü. Wagenseil and Buxtorf distinguish among only three diphthongs, albeit somewhat differently: Buxtorf identifies the diphthongs as jod + jod (ei), waw + jod + jod (eu/ew/ü/ö), waw + jod (au/aw).Wagenseil, on the other hand, lists them as waw + jod (ü/ö/eu/au), waw + jod + jod (eu/ew), and jod + jod (ei). As do most of the other scholars, Johannes Boeschenstein notes that the vocalic onset of a word (in principio) is indicated by a silent aleph preceding the vowels jod and waw and the diphthongs double jod, waw + jod. Several of the scholars note a further set of orthographic rules: The letters heth and taw are only used in Yiddish words from the Semitic ˙ of Yiddish (the sound t is normally represented by teth). component Sebastian Münster adds samech to these letters used for Semitic.40 As Boeschenstein explains: ‘haec tria elementa non scribuntur nisi in lingua sancta’ (‘these three letters are not written except in the Holy Language’) and Johannes Buxtorf comments on heth: ‘nullum habet ˙ usum in Germanicis’ (‘it has no use in German words’) and on taw ‘hujus usus in Germanicis nullus est’ (‘its use for German words is nil’). The absence of the vowels a and e at the beginning or in the final (i.e. unaccented) syllables of certain types of words, where Yiddish represents no vowel, as in morgn or vatr. The absence of the letter he in certains words such as German geht, which is represented in Yiddish by gimel + ayin + teth. The presence of a silent aleph at the end of certain words. Paulus Fagius speaks here of ornament (ornatus causa). In the Seyfer midous (Isny, 1541), edited by Fagius, this silent aleph is designated by the equivalent Yiddish expression (tsirung); as in lob’. A silent aleph is also inserted into 39

‘De Scriptura Judæorum’ from Grammaticæ Hebrææ compendiosa institutio (Ansbach, 1607). 40 Sebastian Münster, Institutiones grammaticae in hebraeam linguam (Basel, 1524). This text includes a chapter entitled ‘De lingua vernacula Hebraicis scribenda characteribus’. In another work by Münster, Dikduk delishan arami [sic] (Basel, 1527), there is some attempt to compare the languages. Thus, the author explains that ‘our writers tend to mix Aramaic words with Hebrew words. Exactly as in our day: if they do not know how to translate a Hebrew word, they make use of the vernacular (Spanish or German)’. In another passage, in speaking of the relationships among Aramaic, Chaldean, and Hebrew, at the time of the Jewish return to Israel following the Babylonian exile, he explains that the Jews brought the Aramaic language with them, ‘exactly as, if one were to give to our German Jews the possibility of settling in the Holy Land, they would make German the vernacular, for only a small number of them would be able to speak Hebrew’.


The Invention of a Language

words in which there appear three waw in a row, such as in the nouns, vv’undr (the aleph thus appears between vv and u). Double consonants are never written or marked by a dagesh in Yiddish words (contrast, for instance, with German Müller). The appearance of a prosthetic daleth in verbal forms that begin with erin standard German, such as dertseyln (vs. German erzählen). Such a prosthetic d is also found in Bavarian dialect. Apocope in words such as Yiddish un (cf. German und). Syncope in Yiddish words such as az and azo (cf. German als and also). Substitution of letters in such words as Yiddish mir (cf. standard German wir), which is in fact a common dialectal variation in German. The existence of diminutives with -lekh (equivalent to -lein), such as kindlekh, meidlekh. In turning to the grammars compiled by the missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one notices that while a number of rules and definitions which are simply taken from earlier texts appear again, there are also several important modifications of that earlier tradition. First, the representation of the phonological system of Yiddish demonstrates some modification, since these texts document the period of transition from Middle Yiddish (1500–1750) to early Modern Yiddish (since 1750).41 Secondly, in the description of the parts of speech, there appears a series of a priori linguistic assumptions regarding the nature of the Yiddish language, whose echoes are still detectable up to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly among the German scholars and philologists associated with the Wissenschaft des Judentums.42 Yiddish is defined as a vermischte Sprache ‘mixed language’.43 Several observations follow from this postulate: Yiddish is considered as a ‘deviation’ from German, the normative, pure language. 41 I adopt here the periodization of the language as defined by Max Weinreich, who distinguished three periods in the history of Yiddish: Old Yiddish (1250–1500), Middle Yiddish (1500–1750), and Modern Yiddish (since 1750); see his Geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh: bagrifn, faktn, metodn, 4 vols. (New York: YIVO, 1973), ii. 383–9; English: History of the Yiddish Language, ed. and transl. Shlomo Noble with the assistance of Joshua A. Fishman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 719–33. 42 Thus Leopold Zunz, in his work Die Gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden (Berlin: Asher, 1832), 438–42, speaks of Yiddish as a hybrid and composite dialect. This idea continues to appear even up to our own time, for example, in the work of A. Zivy, who comments: ‘JudeoGerman is a heterogeneous mixture of the most diverse linguistic elements, which the Jews have adopted and preserved in the lands of the diaspora. Judeo-German does not possess an actual grammar any more than does any other dialect. In most cases, it is a matter of corrupted German and an arbitrary combination of diverse roots, for which no rules exist’ (Elsässer Jiddisch: Jüdisch-deutsche Sprichwörter und Redensarten (Basel: Victor Goldschmidt, 1966), 5). 43 Johann Heinrich Callenberg, Kurtze Anleitung zur Jüdischteutschen Sprache (Halle, 1733). On this Protestant theologian, see Althaus, ‘Nachwort’, in Callenberg and Chrysander, Schriften zur jiddischen Sprache, 283–94.

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Johannes Jacob Schudt speaks of a grob und verdorben teutsch ‘crude and corrupted German’.44 Yiddish is defined as a ‘corrupted language’, impure, based on a system of ‘deformations’, ‘alterations’, and ‘corruptions’ of German. As Callenberg remarks: ‘Eine geringe Vermischung macht keine eigene Sprache’ (‘a simple mixture does not make an independent language’). Christian Möller insists on the fact that the Jews write the words according to their corrupte Ausrede ‘corrupt pronunciation’.45 Schudt explains that the German Jews have eine sonderliche lächerliche Ausrede ‘curious, ridiculous pronunciation’. He brands the pronunciation of the Jews ‘coarse and defective’, especially the e equivalent to i (e.g. mein liben––mein leben, mihl––mehl), a characteristic which in fact corresponds to a dialectal characteristic of the time among the non-Jewish German-speaking inhabitants of Frankfurt.46 This characteristic resulted in a merciless indictment of Yiddish by Johannes Christoph Wagenseil: Mit keiner Sprach sind die Juden jemals | so | wie man zu reden pflegt | lästerlich | als mit unserer Teutschen umbgangen | dann sie haben solcher einen gantz frembden Thon und Laut gegeben | die guten teutschen Wörter gestümmelt | geradbrecht | verkehret | neue uns unbekandte erdacht | wie auch unzählich viel Hebreische Wörter und Red-Arten in das Teutsche gemischet | daß solcher gestalt | wer sie Teutsch reden höret | nit anderst glaubt als sie reden pur lauter Hebreisch | indem fast kein einiges Wort verständlich fürkommet. The Jews have never treated any other language so––to use the conventional expression––blasphemously as they have our German language, for they have given it a completely foreign intonation and accent; they have mutilated, fragmented and inverted the good German words and invented new ones unknown to us, as well as mixed into German innumerable Hebrew words and phrases, so much so that whoever hears them speak German can only imagine that they are speaking pure unadulterated Hebrew, in which not a single intelligible word occurs.47 44 Johannes Jacob Schudt, Jüdische Merkwürdigkeiten, 4 vols. (Frankfurt am Main, 1714–18; rpt. Berlin, 1922). This survey of Jewish history and customs notably includes a chapter entitled, ‘Von der Franckfurter und anderer Juden Teutsch-Hebräischen Sprache’ (pt. ii, bk. vi, ch. 16, pp. 281–96). 45 Christian Möller, Sifrey ha-bris khadosho: Novum Testamentum hebræo-teutonicum (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1700), unpaginated. This book includes a chapter entitled ‘Bericht wie das Jüdisch-Teutsche zu lesen’, the majority of which is simply plagiarized from Wagenseil’s ‘Bericht’. 46 For Heinrich Heine claims: ‘Here in Frankfurt the noble caste of traders meet to make their deals and talk their gibberish (und schachert und mauschelt); for that which we call mauscheln or talk jargon in northern Germany is nothing other than the common speech of Frankfurt, which is spoken by both uncircumcised and circumcised’; cited by Lazar S¸aˇineanu (Lazare Sainéan/ Shayn), Studiu dialectologic asupra graiului evreo-german (Bucharest: E. Wiegand, 1889); expanded French translation by the author: ‘Essai sur le judéo-allemand et spécialement sur le dialecte parlé en Valachie’, Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 12 (1903), here 100. 47 See Johannes Christoph Wagenseil, ‘Fürtrag’ to the Belehrung der Jüdisch-Teutschen Redund Schreibart (Königsberg, 1699), unpaginated (quaternio ). On Wagenseil, see Josef Weissberg, ‘Johann Christof Wagenseils “Bericht wie das Jüdisch-Teutsche zu lesen” ’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Sprache 25 (1966), 154–68.


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Wilhelm Christian Justus Chrysander drew up a list of other ways that Jews had of corrupting German.48 First of all by the multiplication of syllables (Vermehrung), for instance in the word dererben (‘inherit’),49 which is, in German, ererben; or gefinden (‘find’), in German, finden; secondly, by the principle of confusion (Verstämmelung), as in the words az, German als, or aso, German also; by transposition of letters (Verwechslung), as in mir for wir, nicks for nichts or leyen for lesen; and finally, by deformation in pronunciation (Verziehung). Caspar Calvör likewise speaks of a verkehrte Aussprache (‘corrupted pronunciation’). Thus one puts an o in place of a (Isroel, Israel), an e in place of a (fregen, fragen), an ei in place of a (Yeikev, Jakob),50 an aa in place of au (glaab, glaub)51; finally, by means of the omission especially of short e or syllable-final e.52 The same notion of mixture is also applied to one aspect of the Hebrew component of Yiddish, by means of which Germanic inflectional endings are added to Hebrew substantives. One thus finds verbal forms deemed hybrids, such as akhlen (‘eat’), which derives from the Hebrew root akhal to which has been added the verbal suffic -n. The same principle applies to darschen (‘preach’), which comes from Hebrew darasch; badken (‘inspect’) from Hebrew badak. Calvör makes similar comments regarding the forms of compound analytic verbs, such as mauchel zeyn (‘excuse’), composed of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ and the Hebrew substantive mauchel; or nistar werden (‘disappear’). In these early studies, the pronunciation of Yiddish is likewise treated in terms of its deformation of Hebrew and German. Callenberg notes that taw is pronounced s, as in bereshis (‘in the beginning’) or kosev (‘writing/ document’). Vowels are treated similarly: haarets is pronounced hoorets (‘the land’), kokav is pronounced kokov (‘star’), hepets is pronounced heipets ˙ ˙ 48 Wilhelm Christian Just Chrysander, Jüdisch-Teutsche Grammatick (Leipzig: Johann Christoph Meisner, 1750); rpt. in Callenberg and Chrysander, Schriften zur jiddischen Sprache. Chrysander remarks (p. 3 (1750); p. 217 (1966)): ‘Since the Jews consider German a pagan language (Heydensprache), they do not think it worth learning in an accurate manner. They write without grammar. They do not always distinguish number and gender, and substantives from adjectives, etc. Since they care little for accuracy in our language, they are even less concerned with its purity. The Polish Jews contribute not a little to the corruption, both written and oral, of German words. They come to Germany frequently in order to educate Jewish children. There is an element of dominance involved, when the Jewish nation everywhere, even beyond Germany, diverges from the language of the country and uses words which they have misshapen, distorted and torn to bits.’ He identifies three reasons for the Jewish corruption of German: the love of the Hebrew language, the tendancy to cultivate distinctive modes of life, and the desire to prevent Christians from understanding them. 49 The distorted transcription of Yiddish words employed by the authors treated in this section is preserved for the sake of clarity in characterizing their work. 50 This phonetic realization is also a characteristic of the Bavarian dialect of the Lech valley region. 51 Also characteristic of the Swabian dialect of German. 52 This item is in fact a matter of several distinctive features common to several German dialects.

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(‘desire’/‘will’). Calvör and Wagenseil both note that Christians designate such Jewish pronunciation mauschel or mauscheleien (derived from the name Moses: Moushe, Moushele), which means ‘speak in the manner of Moses’, that is, as the Jews. Beyond Hebraisms and Germanized words based on Hebrew roots, some authors, including Chrysander and Wagenseil, note the use of sonderliche Wörter (‘peculiar words’). These are a collection of nouns borrowed from Romance languages, such as Old French, or Middle High German, which have been preserved in Yiddish, while they are no longer in use or have become obsolete in the modern source languages, such as, ette for Vater (‘father’), belzel for Töchterlein (diminutive for ‘daughter’ < Latin puella), leien for lesen (‘read’ < Latin legere), enk for euch (‘you’ plural; also found in the Austrian and Tyrolian subdialects of Bavarian), breyleft or brauloft for Hochzeit (MHG brutlouft, Dutch bruiloft, Franconian brautlauff, Rhenish brulof, Saxon broleft), bentschen (< Latin benedicere) for segnen (‘bless’), and oren (< Latin orare) for beten (‘pray’). The earliest observations on Yiddish dialects began to appear at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. One can of course already note some dialect information in the texts of the humanists and the Christian Hebraists of the Renaissance. Thus, for instance, in the Yiddish texts of Elia Levita, one notes the influence of High German dialects (Swabian and Bavarian); in Schudt’s Jüdisch Merkwürdigkeiten, there is some attention to the speech of the Jews of Frankfurt am Main. These authors are nonetheless unaware of the distinctions among the large-scale dialect territories of Yiddish. It is not until the missionary grammars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that these dialect territories begin to be differentiated. Thus Callenberg and Calvör explain that ‘the German words used by the Jews are borrowed from diverse German dialects (Hochdeutsch ‘High German’, Plattdeutsch ‘Low German’, and even Holländisch ‘Dutch’/‘Low Franconian’)’. There were also other Christian authors drawn to an interest in Yiddish, in general by theological or social motives. While they are not works written by philologists, these treatises are nonetheless of clear significance, for they contain valuable information concerning the representations of Jews in the West during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and many a pertinent observation on Jewish languages. Among these texts one should note those designed as self-study manuals for learning Yiddish. Written primarily by merchants, in German and for a popular audience, these booklets proposed to teach the rudiments of the language necessary for conducting business transactions. The oldest text of this type is the Elemental / oder lesebüchlen (Hundsfeld, 1543), by Paul (Asher) Helicz, a converted Jew and the first translator of the New Testament into Yiddish (Cracow, 1543).53 This book 53 The original title is Elemental oder Lesebüchlein. Doraus meniglich mit gutem Grund underwisen wirt. Wie man deutsche büchlen Missiuen oder Sendbriue, Shuldbriue so mit ebreischen oder


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includes brief information useful for merchants, such as the numerical equivalents of the Hebrew letters, a very few comments on the vocabulary of monetary terms, weights and measures, along with the names of the months. It also provides two sample texts: the pater noster and a letter of credit, both in German written in the Hebrew but in an orthography and with a vocabulary inconceivable in the Yiddish of the period. In this same vein, one should note the work by Eberhard Carl Friedrich Oppenheimer Hodejus EbraeoRabbinicus, Kürtze und deutliche Anweisung, wie . . . die . . . Bücher und Briefe, Contracte, Handschriften, Wechselzettle usw. des heutigen Judenteutsch zu lesen und zu verstehen (Leipzig, 1731).54 Other such works existed in the Jewish world, such as that of Shabbetai b. Joseph Bass, Masekes derekh erets (Amsterdam 1680), which is both a travel guide and a brief treatment of the Yiddish language.55 Certain books of this type are addressed to rather a specialized audience, such as the Vol-eingerichtete Buchdruckerey (Nuremberg, 1733), a multilingual manual intended for printers and publishers, which includes a chapter on Yiddish; or the book by Wolf Ehrenfried von Reitzenstein, Der vollkommene Pferde-kenner (Uffenheim, 1764, 1780), a manual for horse traders, which contains interesting observations on the various types of Yiddish spoken by Jewish horse traders.56 Among the manuals for the use of merchants, the book by Carl Wilhelm Friedrich, Unterricht in der Judensprache und Schrift, zum Gebrauch für Gelehrte und Ungelehrte (Prenzlau, 1784), is the richest in linguistic material; it includes a phonological description of the Yiddish of East Prussia and offers the first classification of Yiddish dialects.57 Jüdischen buchstaben geshriben werden. Auch die Zol, Jar, Monad und anders zu gehörig. See Majer Balaban, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckereien in Polen’, Soncino Blätter 3 (1929), 9; Chone Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit shel defusei polin be-yidish ad gezirot tah ve-tat’, ˙ Kiryat sefer 52 (1977), no. 7; Nokhem Shtif, ‘Paul Heliczes elemental oder lesbikhlen’, Filologishe shriftn 3 (1929), 515–24; Abraham Meir Habermann, Perakim be-toldot ha-madpisim ha-ivrim veinyene sefarim (Jerusalem: R. Mass, 1978), 142; and idem, ‘Ha-madpisim bnei Hayim Helits’, ˙ Kiryat sefer 33 (1957–8), 509–20; Moshe N. Rosenfeld, ‘The Origins of Yiddish Printing’, in Origins of the Yiddish Language, ed. Dovid Katz (Oxford: Pergamon, 1987), 111, 122. A facsimile edition was published in 1929 by the Verein jüdisches Museum in Breslau (ed. Max Silberberg), from the copy found in the municipal library of that city. 54

See Borochov, ‘Di biblioteyk’, no. 19; and Avé-Lallement, Das deutsche Gaunerthum, iii. 242. See Moritz Steinschneider, Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in bibliotheca bodleiana (Berlin: Friedlaender, 1852–60), no. 6862. 1; hereafter citation as St. CB and catalogue item number. 56 See Habersaat, ‘Zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’, 427; and ‘Materialien zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’. During the 1950s in the Swiss villages of Endingen and Lengnau, Florence Guggenheim-Grünberg found quite similar varieties of Yiddish spoken by horse traders; see ‘The Horse Dealer’s Language of the Swiss Jews in Endingen and Lengnau’, in Field of Yiddish, i, ed. Uriel Weinreich (New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954), 48–62; and eadem, Jiddisch auf alemannischem Sprachgebiet: 56 Karten zur Sprach- und Sachgeographie (Zurich: Juris, 1973), 10–11. 57 Borochov, ‘Di biblioteyk’, no. 42; Habersaat, ‘Zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’, 429. 55

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Not to be overlooked among the material from the eighteenth century are the many antisemitic tractates devoted to the Yiddish language. Beyond the desire to ridicule the language of the Jews, and by that means also their religion and way of life, such books also seek, by means of attention to the vernacular, to penetrate the imagined ‘secrets of the Jews’ and to stigmatize their allegedly diabolical conceptions of Christ and the Christian religion. Some authors conceal themselves behind pseudonyms, such as J. W., in his Jüdischer Sprachmeister (1714), a manual which takes the form of a dialogue between Joune (Jonah) and his master Itzick (Isaac). Despite their antiJewish bases, Christoph Gustav Christian’s Jüdischer Dolmetscher (1735), Philog Lottus’ (J. P. Lütke), Kurtze und gründliche Anweisung zur TeutschJüdischen Sprache (Freiburg, 1733), and Bibliophilus’ Jüdischer Sprachmeister oder Hebräisch-Teutsches Wörterbuch (Frankfurt am Main, 1742), contain important observations on the phonological system of West Yiddish and a rich sample of eighteenth-century spoken Yiddish.58 Another important development was in the criminological research on Yiddish, which was considered a derivation of Rotwelsch, the language of the urban underworld in Germany.59 In 1510 the Liber vagatorum was published, a book which speaks of deceitful beggars and vagabonds and includes a vocabulary list of Yiddish terms. Martin Luther’s contention (Von der falschen Betler bueberey, 1528), that the language of the slums derives from Jews, is based in particular on this book. Although few of them are of any interest, and most are tainted by antisemitism, there are quite a few books written by police officers among the texts concerning the language of the underworld (Gaunersprache).60 Worthy of mention among them is, however, the general survey by Friedrich Christian Benedict Avé-Lallement, a police official in Lübeck, which includes important material for the history of Yiddish, its literature, and its philological tradition.61 This author was one of the first to 58 See Borokhov, ‘Di biblioteyk’, 7–12; Dovid Katz, ‘On Yiddish, in Yiddish and For Yiddish: 500 Years of Yiddish Scholarship’, in Mark H. Gelber, ed., Identity and Ethos, Festschrift Sol Lipztin on the Occasion of his 85th Birthday (New York: Peter Lang, 1986), 27, and the bibliographies in the works cited by Borokhov and Habersaat; Alexandre Derczansky, ‘Les rapports du yidich occidental et de la littérature yidich ancienne’, in Astrid Starck, ed., Westjiddisch: Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit/Le Yiddish occidental: Actes du Colloque de Mulhouse (Aarau: Sauerländer, 1994), 78–83. 59 The term Rotwelsch, derived from roth (‘beggar’) and welsch (‘incomprehensible language’), designates the language of thieves. The word Kauderwelsch (‘jargon/lingo/gobbledygook’) also exists in German. This expression was sometimes used in the nineteenth century to designate Yiddish. Among the many studies of Rotwelsch, see especially Joseph Maria Wagner, ‘Rotwelsche Studien’, Archiv für die Studien der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 18 (1863), 197–246. 60 Such as the book by J. K. von Train, Chochemer-loschon: Buch der Gauner und Diebs vulgo Jenischen Sprache (Regensburg, 1832; rpt. Leipzig, 1998). 61 Das deutsche Gaunertum in seiner social-politischen, literarischen und linguistischen Ausbildung zu seinem heutigen Bestande, 4 vols. (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1858–62). On the subject of criminological publications, see Borokhov, ‘Di biblioteyk’, 12–13 and Habersaat, ‘Materialien zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’, and ‘Zur Geschichte der jiddischen Grammatik’.


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suggest the theory that the origins of Yiddish are to be found in the ninth and tenth centuries among Jews who had been expelled from France and had thereafter settled in the Rhine Valley and Lorraine.62 This body of texts thus in fact gathers together some actual linguistic observations, although they are generally still rather brief and linked to essentially pedagogical, theological, or antisemitic purposes. For the most part, the treatises from the nineteenth century aim less at a comprehensive understanding of the development from the German once spoken by Jews (Judendeutsch) toward the contemporary language of Ashkenazic Jews, or at showing the relations between the Germanic dialects and Yiddish, than at defining the differences between German and a presumed Jewish corruption of German. There one notices in particular the beginnings of a number of prejudices against the Jews and their language, which go far toward explaining the long-term marginalization of Yiddish and the discredit from which the language has suffered. While these early codifications do begin to analyse the status of Yiddish, a negative attitude toward Jewish speech and a number of antisemitic stereotypes nonetheless make themselves felt which will mark European culture with their imprint even into the twentieth-first century. It is not until the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century that the first strictly linguistic studies and general grammars appear in which Yiddish is considered no longer simply in relation to German or as a marginal and slightly ‘exotic’ curiosity, but as a language in its own right.63 Nonetheless, analysis of these texts that concern themselves with Yiddish and were published from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century makes it possible to demonstrate a double process which marks the entire conception of vernacular language up to the twentieth century. On the one hand, one witnesses the ‘invention’ of a language, which is given its first official recognition primarily by Christian scholars. From a simple, common language known for its use as a means of spoken communication, the vernacular of the Ashkenazic Jews became a medium of written traditions and an object of instruction and linguistic codification. On the other hand, however, these beginning stages of the theorization of the language are accompanied by the first distortions and derogatory definitions, which participate in the same desire to circumscribe, misrepresent, and restrict the living reality of the actual usage of Yiddish. This pejorative representation seems quite in keeping with the system of exclusion that characterizes a number of aspects 62 This is also the idea later suggested by Max Weinreich as one worthy of more study. Due to Weinreich’s treatment of the topic, however, it has since become canonical in Yiddish studies, despite significant evidence against the theory. More recent work points to the likelihood of Yiddish’s origins in the Danube valley. See Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, ch. 6: ‘Di historishgeografishe determinant: loter, dos vigele fun yidish’, vol. i, pp. 334–53; and the collection of essays in Dovid Katz, ed. Origins of the Yiddish Language. 63 In particular the grammar by Solomon Birnbaum, Praktische Grammatik der jiddischen Sprache (Vienna/Leipzig: Hartleben, 1918; rpt. of 4th edn. Hamburg: Buske, 1984).

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of Western thought during the period, in this case simply in marginalizing or excluding Jewish existence. The first texts focused on the Yiddish language appear at about the same time in both the Jewish and the Christian communities. This interest should be viewed in connection with the national ‘discovery’ of the European vernaculars, which, beginning in the sixteenth century, accompanied the publication of the first grammars. This attention to Yiddish responds, however, to defined needs, while at the same time participating in a specifically Jewish cultural context. This tradition was tied to the programme of learning to write and of comprehensively reading the Bible in primary school (kheyder). Glosses in Hebrew manuscripts of the Middle Ages form the first written traces of a Yiddish linguistic tradition.64 The glosses consist of words written in the Hebrew alphabet and inserted into the original text, particularly into biblical commentaries. Such glosses may be written in the margins of the Hebrew text or even arranged as separate glossaries of vernacular terms. When the author of the commentary finds it difficult to render clearly his idea or to translate a difficult expression, he turns to the vernacular and translates the term from the original text. These glosses are identified as laazim (singular laaz), a term which designates any foreign language into which a holy text can be translated.65 We might thus note a commentary on the Prophets, copied from a thirteenth-century text, which includes Yiddish words introduced by the abbreviation bash (be-ashkenaz) or by ve-korin or she-korin (‘[and] which one reads’). Likewise, one finds complete phrases, such as, for example, the commentary on Isa. 14: 23, translated by $YWRQ UYM YZ URYQRP 'NWA (RSV ‘and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction’).66 We might cite 64

Erika Timm, ‘Jiddische Sprachmaterialien aus dem Jahre 1290: Die Glossen des Berner kleine Aruch. Edition und Kommentar’, Fragen des älteren Jiddisch, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 16–34; and eadem, ‘Zur Frage der Echtheit von Rashis jiddischen Glossen’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 107 (1985), 45–81; Gernot Heide, ‘Über die Lexik älterer jiddischer Glossare’, in Jürgen Jaehrling, Uwe Meves, and Erika Timm, eds., Röllwagenbüchlein. Festschrift für Walter Röll zum 65. Geburtstag (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002), 345–68. 65 Menahem Banitt, ‘Laaz’, EJ x, coll. 1314–15. Laaz is the abbreviation for loshoun am zor ˙ ‘language of a foreign people’. See Mishna, Meg 2. 1 (BT Meg 17a): ‘If one reads the megilo backwards, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation; if one reads it by heart, in a translation into Aramaic or any other language, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation. But one may read it in a language other than Hebrew [be-laaz] that is understood by those listening; and the person who does not understand Hebrew and who listens (to the reading of the megilo) in Hebrew has fulfilled his obligation.’ See also Ber 18a; BT Sota 49a; JT Sota 7. 1 and Ps. 114: 1: ‘When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language (me-am louez) . . .’ On the question of the glosses in Judaeo-French, see Jean Baumgarten, ‘La Question du “judéofrançais” vue par les philologues allemands et français (XIXe–XXe) siècle’, in Michel Espagne and Michael Werner, eds., Philologiques I: Contribution à l’histoire des disciplines littéraires en France et en Allemagne (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1990), 393–412. 66 Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Handschriften der Königlichen Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in München (Munich: Palmische Hofbuchhandlung, 1875; 2nd edn. 1895), no. 66 (4). See


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further examples of biblical glossaries,67 glossaries of the Psalms,68 or the prophetic books.69 Two texts relevant in this context appeared in several editions: the Kleyne orukh of Asher ben Jacob Halevi (fourteenth century), an abridged dictionary of terms from the Talmud, which also included Old Yiddish glosses (bi-leshonenu or bi-leshon ashkenaz),70 and the Makrey dardekey, a glossary of the Tanakh (the traditional designation of the Bible) and Rashi’s commentary in Hebrew, Italian, and Arabic, and including translations of Hebrew words into Yiddish.71 The Yiddish glosses are found interlinear (above the line), between the columns of the folio manuscript, or in the margins. It is worth noting that in addition to word definitions, there are also explanations of entire phrases, interpretive glosses, and aggadic commentary, which constitute the earliest traces of biblical commentary in Yiddish, a kind of text that became quite important, especially in homiletic literature. From the sixteenth century onwards, this tradition continued with lexica and concordances. Noteworthy among Yiddish lexicographical treatises are Seyfer beeyr moushe (Prague, 1604–5) and Seyfer lekakh tov (Prague, 1604) by Moses ben Issachar Sertels,72 and Mirkeves ha-mishne (Cracow, 1534, 1552, 1584) of Rabbi Anshel, a concordance to the Tanakh. There were also bilingual thematic lexica, such as Khinukh koton by Israel ben Abraham (Cracow, 1640), and also some multilingual lexica, such as Shmous devorim (Isny, 1542) by Elia Levita, in Hebrew, Yiddish, Italian, and German; Diber tov (Cracow, 1590) by Mordekhai Samuel Jacob ben Jekuthiel, in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Italian73; and Sofo beruro (Prague, 1660) by Nathan Nata also Josef Perles, ‘Jüdisch-deutsche Glossen eines Schülers des R. Moses Haddarshan aus dem XIII. Jahrhundert’, Beiträge, 145–55. 67

Moritz Steinschneider, Catalog der hebräischen Handschriften in der Stadtbibliothek zu Hamburg (Hamburg: Meissner, 1878; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1969), MS 92, cat. no. 53. 68 Moritz Steinschneider, Verzeichnis der hebräischen Handschriften der königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1878–97; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1980), no. 50. 2 (glossary of the Psalms from the fourteenth–fifteenth century). 69 The Makhberes dating from 1437 by David ben Jacob; see David Samuel Loewinger and Bernard Dov Weinryb, Jiddische Handschriften in Breslau (Budapest, 1936), 5–8. 70 Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Handschriften . . . München, no. 204; St. CB, no. 2042; idem, ‘Jüdische Literatur und Jüdisch-Deutsch’, Serapeum 25 (1864), no. 156; Perles, Beiträge, 9–112. It was translated into Latin in 1490 by the Christian Hebraists Conrad Pellikan and Johannes Reuchlin. Two distinct printed editions are extant (Cracow, 1591/1619 and Prague, 1707). 71 Joseph Perles, ‘Der Makre dardeke und die Handschrift desselben’, Beiträge, 113–28; Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Handschriften . . . München, no. 63. 2; St., Serapeum 25, no. 156; St. CB, no. 3953. 72 The former is a dictionary of terms from the Pentateuch, and the latter of the Prophets and Hagiographical books. 73 The preface to this work explains that ‘everyone is obligated to study the Torah with his child and to speak the holy tongue quite young. As soon as the child begins to speak, one should teach him both languages, Hebrew and Yiddish. He can also learn Italian, in addition.’ See St. CB, no. 3448.

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Hanover, a thematic dictionary and conversation guide in Hebrew–Yiddish– Italian74; the Amsterdam edition of 1701, prepared by Jacob ben Zev, also included French.75 To these we should add the dictionaries of specialized vocabulary, such as Seyfer khanoukh la-naar (Amsterdam, 1713, 1718, 1743, 1769, 1780, 1794) by Joseph ben Jacob Maarsen, a language primer and manual of correspondence, and Mare ha-ksav (Berlin, c.1717) by Chaim ben Menahem Manush, which includes a vocabulary of the Semitic component ˙ of Yiddish. This lexicographical tradition continues in the Khumesh-taytsh, a literal translation of the Bible, in which a Yiddish word or phrase literally translates each corresponding word or phrase in the Hebrew original. There is an obvious relationship between the biblical lexica and concordances, and the vernacular word-for-word translations of the Tanakh, which were primarily intended to teach the ‘ignorant’ to read the holy text.76 The first systematic description of the Yiddish language, two pages on the rules of reading and writing, is found at the end of a book of ethics (seyfer musor) entitled Seyfer midous (Isny, 1542, and Prague, 1580).77 The anonymous author dedicates this afterword to pious women, the primary audience of this type of edifying book, and in particular to an identified individual woman: GYUP½AHNAÑ AYYNCRA RED U$NWQ IAYYRW RED IYRUQWD ADARWM AÏRW GRWP$NÏG WC (‘Dame Morada, a female doctor in the liberal art of medicine, resident in Günzburg’).78 He explains that this brief text has been published ‘for women, girls or whoever would like to read in the Seyfer midous but would have trouble with it or would not quite manage it. . . . For this reason, I will also briefly indicate the problems that a male or female reader may encounter so that they can deal with them’ (fol. 99v). The main correspondences between the consonantal and vocalic systems of Hebrew and Yiddish are then listed.79 Thus one reads, for example, that jod corresponds to i (hirek), as in the word nit, or to a close e (sere), as in er (ehre); aleph ˙ ˙ corresponds to open o (kames) or open a (pathah ). Thus in the word ˙ ˙ 74

St. CB, no. 6637. 23–4. In Kehilas Shloumou (Amsterdam, 1772, first published in Frankfurt am Main, 1722), a text intended to assist children in learning the holy tongue, the author, Solomon (of) London ben Moses Raphael of Novogrodek, in a brief vocabulary at the end of the volume, reprints terms from the lexicon by Natan Nata Hanover. See St. CB, no. 3301, and Perles, Beiträge, 138–40. 76 On these lexicographical treatises in Yiddish, see ch. 5, below, on the Bible in Yiddish. 77 See M. Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der abendländischen Juden während des Mittelalters und der neueren Zeit, iii: Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der Juden in Deutschland während des XIV. und XV. Jahrhunderts (Vienna: Hölder, 1888; rpt. Amsterdam: Philo, 1966), 280–97. 78 This is the only indication that there might have been female physicians during this period in the Ashkenazic communities of Germany; thus Morada may well have been an assistant to a physician, a midwife, or a practising nurse who dispensed remedies (refuous u-segulous). 79 This afterword, based on the correspondences between the vocalic system of Hebrew and Yiddish, seems to indicate that women, or at least some of the female readership, knew Hebrew as well as the vernacular. 75


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vonhaftig, the first aleph is an o (kames) and the second is an a (pathah). Silent ˙ as a ‘scribal ornament’ (RED ˙UK½AM $E aleph in word final position is defined AGNWRYC IYYA UP ½ YR$YG ‘it provides an ornament for the script’), equivalent to ornatus in Latin terminology, as employed by Paulus Fagius.80 The waw corresponds either to long u (melopum or shurek), or to a close o (holem), as in ˙ the words tut or broykhn; the ayin to an open e (segol). It is specified that vowels are indicated in some Yiddish words only when there would otherwise be semantic ambiguity. Concerning diphthongs and digraphs, the author provides several basic rules concerning waw and jod, whose vocalic value must be indicated in order to avoid any confusion. This digraph may correspond to a long u (shurek), as in künen, or to au, represented by very short vowels, either by a ‘half kames’ and a ‘half sere’, or by a ‘half pathah’ and ˙ written in contemporary ˙ ‘half melopum,’ as in the words German as˙ fraw, gnaw, baw (= frau, genau, bau), whose final diphthong is represented in Yiddish by the waw + jod + aleph).81 It is also pointed out that waw and jod can be read ö as in mögen, bösen. These brief observations are reprinted at the end of the edition of Yousifoun (Zurich, 1546) in a paragraph entitled ‘And now we shall speak briefly about the way to read and write Yiddish (taytsh).’ Both the Jewish and non-Jewish philological traditions produced positive results in the work of Elia Levita (Elye Bokher), the Italo-Jewish humanist, born and educated in Germany, who was simultaneously a massorete, grammarian, lexicographer, poet, and satirist. Far from having a conventional attitude toward the subject of the vernacular, as did a good number of other grammarians of the period, Elia Levita was the first to formulate a new conception of the history of the language’s structure, while bringing about a revolution in Yiddish literary form by means of his own poetic texts. Although he is particularly known for his radical ideas concerning the Massorah (the vocalic and consonantal structure of biblical texts), and for his treatises concerning the Hebrew and Aramaic languages,82 his studies of Yiddish have retained their fundamental importance. Noteworthy are: Shmous devorim (Isny, 1542), the first printed lexicon of Yiddish; Tishbi (Isny, 1541); and Meturgemon (Isny, 1541), which includes important observations on Yiddish etymology, phonology, morphology, semantics, and dialectology. He was in fact the first real linguist of the Yiddish language. His originality within Jewish culture of the Italian Renaissance is clear: he was one of the rare Jewish writers of the time to write in both Hebrew and Yiddish, including both scholarly work and poetic texts, such as the Bovo bukh (composed 1507, published Isny, 1541). The whole of his itinerant life was marked as well by a great intellectual mobility, for he wrote as much for a popular audience 80

See p. 13. The author distinguishes here between ‘semi-vowels’ or compound vowels (halb) and full vowels. 82 Gérard E. Weil, Élie Lévita: humaniste et massorète (1469–1549) (Leiden: Brill, 1963). 81

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as for the Christian humanistic elite, and he associated with multiple contrasting milieux. Beyond this apparent instability, however, a profound unity emerges from his work, at root deriving from the determinative disruptions in the culture of the period. In Levita we have one of the premier figures in the Jewish world of the Renaissance, and one deserving a thorough study.83 Contrary to the conventional view, the Yiddish language excited the interest of linguists, beginning in the sixteenth century, and brought about an uninterrupted tradition of scholarly work from that time up to the present. For much of that period, however, the language aroused the contempt and mockery of a part of the scholarly world, which saw in it nothing but a ‘hybrid jargon, a pure product of the Jewish ghetto’. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century––a period when, as a result of the emergence of national movements, Yiddish was rehabilitated and raised to the rank of a language in its own right––that the image of Yiddish began to change. It was not until after the founding of the state of Israel and the increase in the numbers of centres of Yiddish scholarship in European and anglophone universities that a marked change in perceptions of Yiddish came about. Numerous important works of scholarship have since been published which have drawn Yiddish out of the ghetto in which many had so often preferred to see it confined. Beyond the contributions specific to the field of Jewish interlinguistics, this body of research has made significant contributions to scholarship in the field of general linguistics.84 83

See ch. 7, below. On the history and the constitution of this field of research in the post-war years, see Avrom Novershtern, ‘Yiddish Research after the Holocaust: From the Folk to the Academic’, EJ Yearbook 1988–1989 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1989), 14–24. 84

 The Emergence of Yiddish Literature and the Crisis in Jewish Society

Old Yiddish literature developed between the thirteenth century, the date of the first known text in Yiddish,1 and the eighteenth century, when, under the influence of the Enlightenment, the literature of European Jews underwent a profound change. During these five centuries leading up to the time of the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), which ushered in a new era in Jewish history, traditional Jewish society experienced continuous upheaval and a gradual evolution.2 One should not minimize the influence which both the internal development of the Jewish community and the inner tensions of Jewish society exercised on the appearance and establishment of vernacular Jewish literature. Without going to the extreme of considering that literature no more than an unmediated ‘reflection’ of the crisis that shook Jewish society at the beginning of the modern period,3 it is nonetheless clear that the general European atmosphere beginning in the sixteenth century weighed heavily on the emergence of Yiddish literature. Let us recall several significant facts that recurringly left their mark on Yiddish texts of the time. To be considered first is a social context marked by a series of expulsions, by discriminatory legislation, and even by massacres that both profoundly altered the cartography of European Judaism and shook the very foundations of traditional Jewish society. Secondly, this period, which coincides with the Renaissance in Europe, is characterized by a reorganization of the intellectual landscape, a spiritual revival, and a desire on the part of the authorities to strengthen the foundations of community life, in order better to control the endemic crises which were menacing Jewish existence. Nonetheless, it is inappropriate to reduce this era to no more than its most distressing and tragic aspects. First, because such extreme and coincident situations are 1

A rhymed blessing in the Worms makhzour (1272). See the two classic studies by Jacob Katz, Masoret u-Mashber (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1958); English trans. Bernard Dov Cooperman, Tradition and Crisis: Jewish Society at the End of the Middle Ages (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1961; rpt. New York: New York University Press, 1993); and Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation 1770–1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973; rpt. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998). 3 This is one of the theses of Max Erik, Di geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur: fun di eltste tsaytn biz der haskole-tkufe, fertsnter-akhtsnter yorhundert, mit bilder un melodyes (Warsaw: Kultur lige, 1928; rpt. New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, 1979). 2

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characterized by obvious paradoxes: on the one hand, the violence against the Jews, whose roots were already old in Europe, continued and intensified, exacerbated by social antagonisms, resentment based on economic factors, and religious squabbles. The various social groups and strata which comprised feudal society at the time––the clergy, the aristocratic authorities, the guilds formed by the urban middle classes, and the general populace––participated, to diverse degrees and with local variation, in this wave of hatred for the Jews. It served to stigmatize the Jewish presence within Christian Europe and to reduce its participation in economic, religious, and social life. Sudden anti-Jewish eruptions could take numerous forms, such as theological polemic,4 pogrom, extortion, expulsion, or discriminatory measures that decimated and weakened the Jewish population. Moreover, in numerous European cities the Jews had experienced the good will of some of their feudal lords, enjoyed privileges that assured their protection and their right of residence, and had been allowed to settle in new territories such as Poland, or to strengthen the structures of already existing communities. It is clear that the protection of certain Catholic and Protestant princes limited the suffering of the Jews, prevented the collapse of some European Jewish communities, and made it possible for Jewish life to overcome such dangers, even beyond the Jewish community’s own internal vitality.5 This tolerance had at root a theological basis: it was a matter of preserving the existence of the Jews (without, however, promoting their expansion), who, so it was held by Christian theologians, as a people functioned as witnesses to the veracity of Christianity. From the end of the sixteenth through the initial decades of the seventeenth century the Jews were readmitted to numerous countries, such as Germany, Bohemia and Moravia, Italy and Holland, and to some European cities as well, such as Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Frankfurt, where Jewish communities reappeared and their specific modes of life gained strength. Thus demographic and geographical expansion was accompanied by an improvement in the economic conditions in the cities, where a Jewish middle class had formed, consisting primarily of shopkeepers, travelling merchants and artisans.6 They took an active part in the national economies, but also participated in trade among the various European countries. This population, which well represented the socio-economic structures of Jewish society, was at one and the same time absorbed by everyday tasks, little inclined to study, and existing on the margins of learned culture. It would become the primary audience for popular books in Yiddish. They are the ones whom the texts designate proste yidn (ordinary Jews) or gemayne layt (common people), 4

Gilbert Dahan, ‘L’Affrontement’, in Les Intellectuels chrétiens et les juifs au Moyen Âge (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1990), 339–508. 5 Johnathan Irvine Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism (1550–1750) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985; 3rd edn. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998), 15. 6 On Jewish population statistics in Europe, see Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto, 9–10.


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referring to the middle strata of the communities. While study was not a central activity in their lives, and although they were strangers to the world of scholarship, they were no less desirous of reading material in the vernacular, and they constituted a substantial pool of potential readers. It was this urban audience that booksellers, printers, and pedlars targeted more than any other. On the other hand, the period is marked by a clear interest on the part of Christians in the thought and literature of the Jews, as demonstrated by the infatuation with Hebrew, the translations of numerous religious texts into European languages, and the passion of Christian Hebraicists for cabbala. There were a great many factors that, in addition to other important consequences relevant to our topic, stimulated the printing and distribution of Jewish books throughout Europe. While one may not, of course, directly link the emergence of Yiddish literature with these external factors, it was nonetheless by means of such changes that Yiddish was able progressively to penetrate and permeate the cultural space of Jewish society. Literature in the vernacular became a sounding board of multiple developments which characterized this period; it reflected the conflicts, tensions, and the major upheavals, at the same time that it helped to provide solutions––limited but original––to specific problems presented to Jewish society. The upheavals were, first of all, demographic. At this period, Europe had the largest Jewish population in the world. This diverse population comprised both strong communities of long standing, such as those of Germany or Italy, and smaller populations, consisting of small clusters of families living in isolated areas, the Jewish quarter, or the Jewish street of certain cities. The period between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, during which Yiddish literature took on definite form, is marked by an instability among the Jewish populace and a sudden rise in anti-Jewish acts that often had horrendous results. Wars and massacres altered the demographic balance, in some cases even emptying entire regions of their Jewish populations. Thus the Black Plague in Germany (1347–50) brought about a deterioration in the juridical status of Jews, a deep economic recession, and a reduction by half of the Jewish population of Europe. The Jews were both decimated by the epidemic and accused of poisoning wells and wishing to destroy Christianity. Massacres and expulsions took place in hundreds of communities in Germany.7 Beginning in the mid-fourteenth century, the survivors rebuilt both an economic life and numerous important communities throughout Germany (among others: Augsburg, Ulm, Erfurt, Worms, Trier, Speyer, and Nuremberg), which indicates the spiritual and social vitality of Jewish society in the period. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, there appeared once again multiple waves of expulsions, bringing about the banishment of Jews from Germany and Moravia. Two conflicts were particularly destructive: the Thirty Years War (1618–48), which grew out of the antagonism between the 7

Philip Ziegler, The Black Death (London: Collins, 1969; 2nd edn. London: Penguin, 1998).

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Protestant German princes and the imperial Catholic authorities; and the Polish–Cossack War (1648–50), during which a mass extermination of the Jewish population took place.8 A map of the Jewish expulsions that took place in Europe between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries in fact covers a vast geographical zone that includes a large part of both eastern and western Europe. Thus one of the dominant characteristics of this troubled period was the sense of anxiety that affected every stratum of the Jewish populace. The wars, the recurring expulsions, and the legal bullying could not but exacerbate Jewish fears, but also stimulated their messianic expectations. These problems generated further social dysfunctions, such as the reduction in the extent of education and the threat of disintegration in internal community structures. These incessant perils that threatened the very survival of the Jews put them in dire need of protection, excited a desire to return to a religious practice both more devout and closer to the inner yearnings of the people, and ultimately also encouraged speculation concerning the coming of the Messiah. One detects in many Old Yiddish texts both echoes of this generalized fear that weighed heavily on daily life and the desire for a more intense religious life. The preface to the Yiddish translation of the Bible published in Constance in 1544 thus gives a clear picture of the physical and spiritual confusion that had taken control of the Jewish masses: ‘Day-by-day we observe how the heart withers in knowledge and understanding. . . . Furthermore, we see that numerous communities also continuously diminish and are destroyed by repeated expulsions, so that where previously ten communities existed, today––on account of our great sins––there remains barely a single one. And as a result of such expulsions, householders are forced to take up residence in hamlets. None of them has the means to engage a teacher to instruct his children.’9 The evocation of war and poverty and the increase in the number of beggars and tramps became a leitmotif of numerous texts.10 The ebb and flow of the population which characterized this period had direct effects on the conditions surrounding the emergence of Old Yiddish literature. Many banished Jews had indeed taken up residence in villages and hamlets located on the periphery of cities that they had been forced to leave under pressure of physical threat and expulsion. This ruralization affected 8 Nathan Nata (Nosn Note) ben Moses Hanover, Yeveyn metsulo; English trans. Abraham J. Mesch, Abyss of Despair (Yeven Metzulah): The Famous Seventeenth-Century Chronicle Depicting Jewish Life in Russia and Poland during the Chmielnicki Massacres of 1648–1649 (New York: Bloch, 1950). 9 See St., CB, 1187; Willy Staerk and Albert Leitzmann, eds., Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, von den Anfängen bis zum Ausgang des 18. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main: Kaufmann, 1923; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1977), 114–19. 10 Cf., for example, the introduction to Elhanan Hendel ben Benjamin Wolf Kirchhahn’s ˙ Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Frankfurt am Main, 1707); see St., CB, 4929. 3. Later editions of the text were Sulzbach (1717), Amsterdam (1723), Prague (1720–30), Wilmersdorf (1718–26 ?).


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central and eastern Europe especially, while it remained more fragmentary and marginal in western Europe. At the same time, however, the centre of gravity of European Judaism had shifted to the east, that is, to Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and especially to Poland and Lithuania.11 In these two regions the Jewish population increased substantially. In 1300, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in Poland among a total population of 5 million. In 1575, they numbered between 100,000 and 150,000. The Polish nobility and landowners overtly favoured Jewish immigration. In order to stimulate economic activity and to colonize the land, they granted privileges and welcomed the Jews into the sparsely populated areas. There they founded new Jewish communities in both rural and village settings. A specific type of economic activity developed, in which the Jews played the intermediary role between the nobility and the peasants. The Jewish immigrants who came from western Europe, particularly from Germany, were trained and experienced in the crafts, commerce, moneylending and arenda.12 The nobles assigned them the management of the mills, taverns, distilleries, the care of the dairy and grain trade, the collection of the lord’s taxes from the peasants, and the stewardship of the lord’s estates.13 The establishment of Jewish families in the network of villages and hamlets belonging to Polish magnates is the origin of the development of the culture of the shtetlekh, the Jewish towns which endured up to the eve of the Second World War. It is this populace of yeshuvnikes or dorfyidn––the rural Jews who lived dispersed through the countryside, far from any synagogue or study house, rarely visited by the maggidim, the intinerant preachers, and rarely supervised by rabbis––who formed a significant portion of the readership of popular books in Yiddish. Jews also settled in cities such as Lublin, Cracow, and Lvov, which became important economic and religious centres. A middle class of Jewish merchants, tradesmen, and artisans developed there, from which a good part of the readers of Yiddish books came.14 11 See Salo Wittmayer Baron, Religious and Social History of the Jews, xvi: Late Middle Ages and Era of Expansion (1200–1650). Poland, Lithuania (1500–1600), 2nd edn. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 207–414; Johnathan Irvine Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism (1550–1750) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985; 3rd edn. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998). 12 The term designates the leases granted by the Polish aristocracy to Jews: mills, distilleries, taverns, ponds, breweries, estates, etc.; see Abraham Wein, ‘Arenda’, EJ, iii, coll. 402–5. 13 See Simon Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1916–20; rpt. New York: Ktav, 1975), index; Bernard Dov Weinryb, Neueste Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden in Rußland und Polen, i: Das Wirtschaftsleben der Juden in Rußland und Polen von der 1. polnischen Teilung bis zum Tode Alexanders II. (1772–1881) (Breslau: M. & H. Marcus, 1934; rpt. New York/Hildesheim: Olms, 1972), index; Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, ‘The Middle Ages’, 640–5 in Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, ed., A History of the Jewish People (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976). 14 On the relations between the urban and village communities, see Jacob Katz, Tradition and Crisis, 112–21.

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This migratory movement from the West promoted a demographic surge of Jews in eastern Europe and the consolidation of a specific Jewish culture in which Yiddish played an important role. It was of course a matter of colonizing sparsely inhabited territory, but likewise of settling Jews far from the great urban centres where the institutions of study, prayer, and teaching were concentrated. Thus the effect was to banish Jews to the periphery of urban life, into outlying areas where the conditions of the cultural transmission of Judaism became more problematic. While this colonization had a positive effect on the Jewish population of eastern Europe, it was not necessarily without dangers and threats for them. Did this settlement on one of the margins of Europe not risk promoting ignorance and making more difficult the education, religious observance, learning of Hebrew, and transmission of the principles of the religious tradition to the people? The sixteenth century in Europe is likewise marked by a process of intellectual questioning of the foundations of Christianity. It was not just church dogma that had eroded, but also the people’s confidence in the Church’s authority, which arose just at that moment when new fields of knowledge emerged and new heterodox groups began to assert themselves. It was a time of doubt, scepticism, the fragmentation of certitudes, and the ‘explosion of the Christian nebula’.15 Jewish society did not escape this profound crisis, which was marked particularly by a productive examination of issues having to do with transmitted truth and by a desire for renewal. The works of Elia (Bahur/Bokher) Levita, Azariah de’ Rossi, Joseph Solomon ˙ Delmedigo, and Leone (Judah Arye) of Modena (Leo Mutinensis) clearly express this ‘breaking of the vessels’,16 that is: the tremors internal to the Ashkenazic world and the appearance of a ‘secular’ component in Jewish culture. To a significant degree, Yiddish literature echoes this crisis which swept the Jewish masses of Europe during the Renaissance, and which was expressed in the renewal of speculation on issues of exile, and the coming of the Messiah, and in a popularization of themes from the cabbala.17 It was not just that Yiddish texts echoed the tensions that rent Jewish society, but their authors also in fact became agents of change by developing creative solutions to alleviate many of those social problems. Yiddish literature is 15

‘L’éclatement de la nébuleuse chrétienne’; the expression is from Jean Delumeau, La Civilisation de la Renaissance (Paris: Arthaud, 1967; rpt. 1984), 17–41. 16 See Mordechai Breuer, ‘Modernism and Traditionalism in Sixteenth-Century Jewish Historiography: A Study of David Gans’ Tzemach David ’, 49–88 in Bernard Dov Cooperman, ed., Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983). 17 In this respect Shabbatai Zevi was a central figure around which crystallized many kinds of ˙ fears and hopes of European Judaism of the period. See Gershom Scholem, Shabtai zvi veha˙ tnu‘ah ha-shabta’it biymei hayav (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1957); cited from the English transl. by ˙ R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah 1626–1676 (Princeton: Bollingen, ˙ 1973).


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often represented passively, as it were, a dull vernacularization of learned culture designed to satisfy the deficiencies of the ‘ignorant’. Far from being mere cultural porters or intermediaries, however, these authors participated in a regeneration of Jewish society by making concrete proposals for the reformation of customs and of the social and educational systems. Permeating numerous Yiddish texts of the time are recurring allusions to social conflicts, evocations of poverty, critiques of community authorities and cultural disparities, in addition to the dominance of messianic themes, all of which bear witness to this underlying scepticism––sometimes radically expressed––and which participate in this gradual rejuvenation of the society. If Yiddish literature experienced an undeniable expansion in European Jewish communities, it was also because those who had been traditionally charged with intellectual thought and its teaching and transmission were fulfilling their pedagogical duties at best imperfectly. One of the most salient phenomena of this period is, after all, the growing gulf between the religious culture of the elite and that of the lower classes of Jews. An obvious professionalization of knowledge may be observed as the privilege and property of a minority fringe of scholars who had access to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the sacred tradition, were the masters of meaning and the bearers of truth, and on whom this knowledge conferred an elevated social status. This division, which tended to oppose two component parts of Jewish society, is at the heart of numerous Jewish texts of the period. Thus in his autobiography, Salomon Maimon describes clearly the social prestige conferred on scholars, the lamdonim or khakhomim: The study of Talmud is the primary goal of education among our people. Wealth, physical advantages, and talents of all kinds are of course of a certain value in their eyes and are held in some regard, but nothing can compare with a good Talmudist. He has the first claim on all offices and positions of honour in the community. When he enters an assembly of people, the entire crowd rises immediately out of respect for him and offers him the best seat, no matter his age and social class. He is the confidant, lawgiver, and judge of the common man. Anyone who does not demonstrate sufficient respect for him is, according to the opinion of Talmudists themselves, condemned to eternal damnation. The common man may not undertake to do anything that does not conform to the law, as defined by the Talmudist.18

While this rupture most certainly existed, it need not be exaggerated. It did, nonetheless, produce two concomitant phenomena: on the one hand, a growing number of Jews were left on the margins of cultural life, while on the other, ignorance itself tended to spread. Yiddish texts stigmatize in great 18 This text, certainly belated when it appeared in 1793 and imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment, clearly reflects the opposition between the ‘scholar’ and the ‘common man’ that one finds in numerous Yiddish texts of the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. See Salomon Maimon, Lebensgeschichte, ed. Jakob Fromer (Munich: Georg Müller, 1911), 107; English: Solomon Maimon, An Autobiography, transl. J. Clark Murray (London, 1888); abridged edn. by Moses Hadas (New York, 1947) (transl. here by JCF).

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detail the uneducated Jew, the amorets, as designated in modern Yiddish,19 that is, the Jew who commanded only a basic level of literacy and did not know the Bible or the sacred literature, due to an insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, did not understand halakhic principles of ritual or of domestic ceremony, and recited the prayers mechanically.20 Such a person was considered crude and uncouth, even bestial.21 The authors of Old Yiddish literature never ceased to warn against these two evils, which functioned as a source of disruption in the system of textual transmission. One of their claimed goals was thus to reduce the cultural disparities that had developed between the litterati and illitterati and to try to repair this split in Jewish society. There was a further consequence of poor education: the proliferation of heterodox practices, which was further exacerbated by the dangers arising from the growing distance from community life. An increasing number of Jews, confined in a syncretic subculture, seemed not to comprehend the essential attributes of Jewish ethics and law, and thus they escaped the control of the Torah and the supervision of the religious authorities. In the second part of his Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Fürth, 1727), Elhanan Hendel ben Benjamin ˙ the state of abandon and Wolf Kirchhahn described in an evocative manner ignorance in which many Jews lived. In order to serve as a warning to his readers, he drew up a lengthy list of vices and flaws that he had observed in numerous small communities. He explains, for example: If an inhabitant of a yishuv has a melamed in his house, he thinks that he has mastered the Torah and that he can decide all matters relating to the dinim. But in behaving in this manner, the master of the house and the melamed are worse than heretics . . . The melamdim teach for money. They teach only the Gemoro and leave aside the khumesh and the twenty-four books of the Bible. They do not allow children to study beyond the bar mitsvo. Thus he knows nothing at all and remains a stableboy [with respect to learning].22 19 BT Sota 22a clearly explains that which is understood as ‘ignorant’ in the Jewish tradition: ‘Who is a boor? He who does not recite the shema in the morning and evening with its benedictions, according to the opinion of R. Meir. The sages say [the boor is] one who does not put on phylacteries. Ben Azzai says it is one who does not have ritual fringes on his clothing. R. Jonathan ben Joseph says it is one who has sons but does not raise them to study the Torah. Others say even one who studies the Torah and the Mishna but does not study with a rabbinical scholar, he is a boor. If he studies the Torah without studying the Mishna, he is a boor. Concerning one who studies neither the Torah nor the Mishna, it is written: “I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast” [Jer. 31: 27].’ 20 The Christian Hebraicist Johann Jacob Schudt maintains that the rise of the vernacular was the direct consequence of the ignorance of both Jewish men and women; see his ‘Von der Franckfurter und anderer Juden teutsch-hebräischen Sprache’, Jüdische Merkwuerdigkeiten (Frankfurt am Main, 1714–18; rpt. Berlin, 1922), pt. ii, bk. vi, ch. 16, pp. 281–96, here pp. 281–2; M. Diefenbach, Judaeus convertendus (Frankfurt, 1696), 91; Johannes Buxtorf, Synagoga Judaica (Basel, 1603), 699; Johannes Christoph Wagenseil, Tela ignea Satanae (Altdorf, 1681), 72, 119. 21 See below, in the present volume, pp. 209–12. 22 See ch. 8 (p. 211) below. Yankev Shatsky published a facsimile edition of the text: Simkhes hanefesh: yidishe lider mit notn fun Elkhonon Kirkhan. Fotografisher iberdruk fun der ershter un


The Emergence of Yiddish Literature

Numerous authors insisted that a general deterioration in the transmission of the sacred texts was to be noticed. To a great degree, Yiddish literature also echoed this crisis in the educational system which was held up to a detailed examination. Writers harshly criticized the method of teaching, the decline in education, and the spread of ignorance.23 Several kinds of criticism dominate: on the one hand, some took aim at the schoolmasters (melamdim), who were too few in number, especially in the villages, and whose knowledge left much to be desired. Others were more concerned with the methods of instruction. The critics reproached the schoolmasters for placing too high a priority on mechanical repetition of the sacred texts to the detriment of comprehension and the learning of the grammar of Hebrew. Finally, the schoolmasters attached too much importance to the Talmud, whose complex subtleties perplexed children. The primary complaint against them, however, was their neglect of biblical study. One passage from the book of edification, Orkhous tsadikim (Prague, 1580–1), gives a good account of this intellectual sophistication: But our contemporaries are without comprehension. They do no more than mutually to confound one another and waste the best part of the day: half the day they devote to such study, and in general their study is haphazard, while their idleness is constant. By contrast, in the time of the Sages of the Talmud one studied ten years or more. . . . Nowadays no one does any of that, but rather everyone wants to study the Tosafists and novel interpretations, indeed novel interpretations of novel interpretations, even before he has comprehended the content of the Talmud. How can one make progress by this means, when one is doing the opposite of that which the Sages said. . . . But there is of course no need to sit all day long and gab. Most of the scholars themselves admit that they do not study in the proper manner and that the order of their studies is not appropriate (seder ha-limud ).24 For because of their eternal jabbering they accomplish nothing and learn neither Torah nor the Prophets and Writings (Ketuvim), nor Agadous or Midrashim nor any other field of knowledge.25

eyntsiker oysgabe velkhe iz dershinen in Fyorda in yor 1727 (facsimile of 1727 edn.) (New York: Mayzl, 1926), fol. 18v. 23

The topic is not relevant only for Yiddish literature, since in the same period the Maharal of Prague, among others, also criticized the teaching method in Jewish schools. See also Simhah ˙ Assaf, Mekorot le-toledot ha-hinukh be-yisrael, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1924–43); Moritz ˙ Güdemann, Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den deutschen Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf Mendelssohn (Berlin: A. Hofmann, 1892; rpt. Amsterdam: Philo, 1968); Herman Pollack, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands (1648–1806). Studies in Aspects of Daily Life (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971), 50–84. 24 The progression of study is noted in a passage of Pirkei Avot 5. 21: ‘At five years, one is ready for scripture; at ten for the Mishna; at thirteen for the commandments; at fifteen for the Talmud.’ 25 Orkhous tsadikim, chap. 27; translated from Güdemann’s citation of a fifteenth-century text (Quellenschriften, pp. 33–4); cf. also the differing text in the edition of Orkhous tsadikim (Jerusalem: Eshkol, 1978), p. 231.

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The problem with the traditional system of pedagogy was that it placed a barrier in the midst of Jewish society which encouraged two distinct networks for the transmission of knowledge. Most students left school around the age of thirteen, the age at which they attained juridical adulthood in a religious sense. These ordinary Jews, quickly absorbed by a busy life, were forced to abandon further study. Their access to the holy texts was no more than fragmentary, discontinuous, imperfect, particularly during the readings of ouneg shabos (if they were able to read well enough) or during the communal readings in the synagogue during services, in the study house when a scholar explained a holy text, or when a preacher interpreted the biblical reading of the week (parashah/parosho). Most of the time, these simple Jews finally lost contact with the holy language, primarily due to the mnemonic aspects of traditional culture, in which repetition remained a key factor. Thus there were gaps in the specifically Jewish culture of many Jews, which Yiddish texts were in some measure able to fill. A tiny percentage of kheyder-pupils went on to study in the yeshivah, or, taken into the care of the community itself, were able to devote themselves almost exclusively to prayer and study. These initiates gained access to the high road of the tradition and thus to a knowledge of the rich tradition of literature in Hebrew and Aramaic. They constituted a kind of intellectual aristocracy with important privileges in the affairs of the Jewish community. A number of Yiddish texts echo this rupture and the tensions which arose among the various groups that ultimately resulted in the cultural marginalization of a significant portion of the population. The Yiddish authors deplored the fact that knowledge had been made so complicated that it had become incomprehensible to an ever growing outer fringe of the Jewish population. The methods of talmudic rabbinical hermeneutics were stigmatized as no more than obstructions to the access by the masses to the holy tradition. Criticized as well were the pilpul26 and the sophisticated interpretive methods applied to the talmudic texts, such as the khilukim (‘differentiations’), a meticulous investigation into––by all appearances––the most tenuous details of halakhic argumentation, and khidud (‘grinding or sharpening’), a complex type of mental gymnastics intended to extract the essence of the holy text. In his book of edification, the Seyfer Brantshpigl (Basel, 1602), Moses Henochs Altshuler Yerushalmi, provides an explanation of his reasons for writing in the vernacular, which proves quite revealing: ‘This book was written in Yiddish for women and for men who are like women and cannot study much. The sabbath and the holidays come, and they can read it and understand what 26 Isaac Sulkes speaks of scholars in his translation of the Song of Songs (Shir ha-shirim, Cracow, 1579): ‘The rabbis and the great scholars are occupied with their pilpulim and kharifus’ (sophistical discussions and sharp-witted argumentation). Sulkes then comments that no one would imagine it impertinent for someone to write in Yiddish what he had himself learned in his youth from his own rabbi. He then explains that those who write books in Yiddish are no less servants of God than the scholarly insider who writes complex religious treatises.


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they read. For our holy books are written in Hebrew; sometimes they include pilpul from the Gemoro, which many people cannot understand.’27 The Judaism that was taught seemed less and less to relate to the spiritual experience of simple believers. It was contained in a system closed upon itself, which only scholars and rabbis could master, and which had cut itself off from the living religious practice by means of sophistication and formalism. Another grievance commonly expressed in Yiddish books was that as a result of problems in both textual transmission and the instructional method (particularly due to the lack of repetition and thus of memorization of the religious texts), the holy language had become an inpenetrable and incomprehensible language for the common person. The ignorance of Hebrew, which was the essential language, did nothing but exacerbate the cultural disparities and reveal clearly the ever widening gap between the strata of Jewish society. Elhanan Kirchhahn, author of the Seyfer simkhas ˙ situation: ha-nefesh, aptly explained the Now, a lamdon [scholar] can read everything in loshoun koudesh [‘the holy language’] and if he does not keep the law, woe to him and his soul. In a community in which there are educated people, der gemayne man [the ordinary man] can go to them to ask their questions. But in many places where no lamdon lives, one cannot ask, and not everyone understands Hebrew. And many good Jews would serve God sincerely, but they do not know how to do so. Many people have said to me, literally in tears: ‘We are nothing but animals. We know nothing.’ That is the reason for my arranging this musor ve-toukhokho [moral rules and chastisements] [in Yiddish].

Criticism is likewise directed at the cantor in the synagogue, who favoured the voice and melody over the sense of the prayers, often taking no notice of the rules of prayer, accompanied the benedictions during the service with non-Jewish melodies, and sang secular songs at weddings.28 This lack of knowledge also affected those who had studied in their youth but who, in the course of time, had lost touch with Hebrew, as is found, for instance, in the introduction to Shekhitous u-vedikous (Amsterdam, 1667): And someone who would like to be a ritual slaughterer [shoukhet uvoudek] thinks that if he has received authorization (kabolo), then that must suffice. . . . But because one must run hither and thither in order to make a living, and the holy language is much too difficult for some . . . in the end he forgets it. He often has no meat for their meals. . . . Therefore, dear people, buy this book, and you will not need to run to the rabbi constantly. They [the laws] are nicely translated here into Yiddish.29

It was in this context of crisis that Yiddish literature developed and served a double function: on the one hand, it testifies to the authorities’ unavoidable 27

Seyfer brantshpigl (Basel, 1602), ch. 3, fol. 12v; St., CB, no. 6473. 1. Such criticism is found in Judah Leyb (Löb) ben Moses Zelikover (Löb Minden), Seyfer shirey Yehudo (Amsterdam, 1697); see Yankev Shatsky, ‘Yehude Leyb Zelikover un zayne “Shirey yehude” ’, Yivo-bleter 3 (1932), 140–7. 29 St., CB, no. 4397. 28

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taking control of a disoriented Jewish populace, and to an effort toward vernacularization of the tradition’s canonical texts. A mechanism of religious instruction was established in which popular books played a significant role. On the other hand, this literature seemed to be the beginnings of a gradual emancipation of knowledge from the exclusive guardianship of the scholars, the talmidei khakhomim, who exercised a monopoly on the writing, the interpretation, and the reading of the texts. By means of the vernacular, the holy books began to circulate among new social strata, who could have a more direct access to religious culture and participate more actively in cultural life. Thus there developed an audience of new readers, which also entailed new ways of reading and a reconception of knowledge itself, which necessarily differed from the models and conceptions which had, up to that point, existed essentially in a world of scholars. The increase in the numbers of popular Yiddish books testifies to the beginning of a new relationship to knowledge during this period. The bearers of the tradition, however resistant to the idea of revealing the secrets of the Torah and the Law to the people, and not without contempt for a Yiddish deemed unfit for theological speculation and sophisticated argumentation, nonetheless were quite conscious of the urgency of drawing the people out of their ignorance. As for the ordinary Jews who demanded better instruction, they could thus slake their thirst for knowledge. In this manner vernacular literature contributed to healing the split that had appeared in the social body and to reestablishing communication between the litterati and the illitterati. The vernacular texts thus function as valuable vantage points from which to observe the long-term transformations which Jewish society experienced during the course of this transitional period.

 The Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

The rise of Yiddish literature coincides with the development of the Hebrew printing industry in Europe.1 The invention of printing was to have important consequences for cultural transmission and communication as it had been conceived up to that time in Jewish society. It was not simply a matter of technological change that offered the possibility of increasing the number of books in the vernacular, or the successive innovations in the presentation of the books themselves, that should be stressed, but also the repercussions that the distribution of Yiddish books was to have on reading habits.2 Not only did new ways of reading appear, but also a reading audience, which, even if it is difficult to claim it as a ‘new’ audience, nonetheless had expanded by a significant proportion. Henceforth those social classes that had up to that time been excluded from literate culture were to have access to the texts of the religious tradition, thanks to the translations and original texts in Yiddish, which constituted a substantial portion of the texts produced by the Jewish book industry. At the same time as humanists and theologians in the Christian community, rabbis and scholars in the Jewish community hailed the invention of printing, sensing how rich were the possibilities of this technological innovation.3 Thus there is evidence of a Jew in Avignon who, beginning in 1

Among the works on the history of Jewish printing in Europe, see Bernhard (Chaim Dov) Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim she-be-eyropah ha-tikhonah. . . . (Antwerp: n.p., 1935) and Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim she-be-eyropah. . . . (Antwerp: n.p., 1937); Moritz Steinscheider and D. Cassel, ‘Jüdische Typographie und jüdische Buchhandel’, 21–94 in Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber, Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, vol. xxviii (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1850–1); I. Sonne, ‘Druckwesen’, in EJ (Berlin, 1931), iv 39–81. On the history of printing in the various places of publication mentioned in this chapter, one should refer to the bibliography by Shlomo Shunami, Bibliography of Jewish Bibliographies, 2nd edn. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1965). 2 A. Berliner, Über den Einfluß des ersten hebräischen Buchdrucks auf den Cultus und Cultur der Juden (Frankfurt: Kaufmann, 1896). 3 One could easily adduce a great many citations concerning the relations between printing and humanism and the Reformation. Let it suffice to note that in his Tischreden Luther affirms that ‘printing is the ultimate and the greatest gift, by means of which God wished to make known the charge and task of the true faith to all the world, even to the ends of the earth and to translate it into all languages’ (D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Tischreden, ed. Ernst Kroker, vol. i (Weimar: Böhlau, 1912), no. 1038; cf. also vol. iv (1916), no. 4697). During this same period Jewish printers remarked that due to printing, designated ‘the holy art’ (melekhes ha-koudesh), ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L’ (Isa. 11: 9).

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1444, learned the new ‘art of writing artificially’ (ars scribendi artificialiter).4 David Gans declares in the Tsemakh Dovid: Printing was invented in Mainz by the Christian, Johannes Gutenberg of Strasbourg. This was in the first year of the rule of Emperor Frederick the Pious [5200 by the Jewish calendar]. Blessed be He who grants intelligence to man and imparts knowledge to him. Blessed be He who in His kindness favours us with such an invention, of universal significance and unique in kind. No other invention, no other discovery can be compared to it since the day that God created man on earth. It is not just the metaphysical sciences and the seven fundamental fields of secular knowledge which will benefit from this invention, but all applied sciences will profit equally from it, goldsmithing, architecture, woodcut and lithographic engraving. Each day reveals a new facet of it, and books without number are printed, which benefit all professions of whatever kind.5

Beyond the euphoria displayed and the commonplaces expressed about the ‘revolution of printing’, it is necessary to keep in mind how gradual were the changes and how resistance to the printing of Yiddish books actually increased. Even so, it is impossible to understand the rise of Old Yiddish literature from the sixteenth century onward without studying the large-scale stages of the production and distribution of books in the vernacular and analysing the consequences that this literature had on Jewish reading and the Jewish reader. In order to define the scope of the specific territory into which Yiddish literature extended both in relation to book production in Hebrew and in non-Jewish languages, and in the general context of the history of printing in Renaissance Europe, it is necessary for us to insist at the outset on several essential facts. First, with respect to the cartography of the Yiddish book: the places where Yiddish books were published are in a well-defined zone which, with several qualifications, coincides with both the geography of the Hebrew publication centres and the areas of Yiddish language expansion, and was also consistent with the general topography of European book publishing. At the same time, books in Yiddish abound with information concerning their manufacture and distribution. A consideration of this issue supplies a wealth of information concerning the physical presentation of the books and the milieu of those who were responsible for producing and then marketing the books. Finally, it is necessary for us to become acquainted both with those whose position is most often ‘upstream’ of the actual manufacture of the book, that is: the authors––quite a modern conception, which it will be 4 Anatole Claudin, Histoire de l’imprimerie en France au XVe et au XVIe siècle (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1900), 1–10; Cecil Roth, ‘The Printed Book’, The Jews in the Renaissance (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1959; rpt. 1984), 165–8. 5 André Neher, David Gans (1541–1613): disciple du Maharal, assistant de Tycho Brahe et de Jean Kepler (Paris: Klincksieck, 1974), 86 (Hebrew transl.: David gans (1541–1613) u-zemano (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1982)).


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necessary to situate clearly in the social context of the Renaissance––and with those ‘downstream’ from the manufacturing process: the readers. Several traits are characteristic of the production of Yiddish books during the first century of their existence.6 First of all let us take note that the history of the Yiddish book reflects the developments of Jewish books in general in Ashkenazic culture. Production was concentrated in the principal European centres where the printing of Hebrew books was tolerated. Thus it is not surprising that the first books were published in cities or regions in which the right to print had been granted and to which Jews had immigrated and there formed communities and thus a market of potential readers. The impossibility of owning their own publishing house and the necessity to obtain a license explains why Jewish printers often settled in cities where a publishing tradition aready existed. Most found no solution except to offer their services to Christian publishers, or even to convert in order to practise their profession. Certain distinctive features are nonetheless to be noted, due primarily to the personal history of authors and individual printers, such as, for example, Chaim Shahor (Schwarz) and Joseph bar Yakar or Paulus Fagius and Elia Levita,7 who˙ set up their presses at the mercy of economic vicissitudes and 6 At present there exists no comprehensive statistical study of the production of Yiddish books from 1534 (the date of the first known printed book in Yiddish) up into the eighteenth century. There are several studies of parts of the period: Moshe N. Rosenfeld has made an inventory of forty-seven Yiddish books published in the principal European centres of Hebrew publishing in the years 1534–58; ‘The Origins of Yiddish Printing’, 111–26 in Dovid Katz, ed., Origins of the Yiddish Language (Oxford: Pergamon, 1987). Chone Shmeruk inventories thirtythree Yiddish books published in Italy in the years 1545–1609, and sixty-six published in Poland in the years 1534–1650; ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, Italia/Italyah 3 (Jerusalem, 1982), 112–75 and ‘Reshimah bibliografit shel defusei polin be-yidish ad gezirot tah ve-tat’, Kiryat sefer 52 (1977), ˙ 383–417; rpt. in Sifrut yidish be-polin (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1981), 75–116. In Basel, twenty titles were published between 1557 and 1612, principally by the printer Konrad Waldkirch; see Joseph Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke 1492–1866 (Olten: Urs Graf, 1952). The first Yiddish book to be published in Amsterdam, a rhymed adaptation of the Torah entitled Mizmour le-touro by David ben Menahem ha-Cohen, was printed in 1644 by Menasseh ben Israel. One can estimate ˙ the production of Yiddish books in Amsterdam from 1644 to the first decade of the eighteenth century at ninety-seven books. The principal publishers were Uri (Phoebus) ben Aaron Ha-Levi (eighteen books), Joseph Athias (thirteen books), and Moses Kosman ben Elijah Gomperz (twenty-one books); see Lajb Fuks and R. G. Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands 1585–1815: Historical Evaluation and Descriptive Bibliography, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1984–7). No statistical studies have yet been carried out for Yiddish publishing in Germany and in Prague, except for several centres such as Augsburg, where five Yiddish books were published in 1543–4; see Moshe N. Rosenfeld, Der jüdische Buchdruck in Augsburg in der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts (London: private, 1985). The number of Yiddish books published in the years 1534–1609 is estimated at around 120, and by 1650 it reached approximately 200; see Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, p. 112, and ‘Reshimah bibliografit . . .’, 22–3; and Agnes Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish u-kehal korehah ba-meah ha-taz. Yetsirot be-yidish bi-reshimot “hazikkuk” mi-mantovah 1595’, Kiryat sefer 53 (1978), 779–90. An exhaustive inventory of Yiddish book publishing in the years 1534–1750 is currently being conducted by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 7 See below, ch. 7, p. 163.

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their own peregrinations across the face of the European continent. From the beginning of Yiddish publishing, there were, on the one hand, centres established which exercised great influence over a long period of time, such as Prague or Basel. On the other hand, there were the more ephemeral phenomena of the temporary establishment of a printer’s shop or even of the activities of an itinerant bookseller/publisher. Thus there was a great mobility among publishers, which bears witness to the instability of Jewish life in this period and to the precarious nature of this profession. There were altogether more than twenty European cities in which Yiddish books were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.8 Between the first and last decades of the sixteenth century, the outlines of the map of Yiddish publishing in Europe took form. Several salient facts are to be noted: first, the appearance of the great publishing centres in Italy,9 Poland,10 and the city of Prague,11 which all played important roles in the history of Old Yiddish literature. The first traces of the Yiddish language in printed books are found in the Psokim u-ksovim (‘Decisions and Writings’) of Israel Isserlein ben Pethahiah (Venice: Bomberg, 1519),12 and in the Prague Haggadah of 1526, printed by Gershom ben Solomon and his son Gronem Kohen,13 illustrated with magnificent woodcuts by Chaim Shahor.14 This Haggadah includes a Yiddish version of the liturgical hymn Adir˙ hu (almekhtiger got). Chaim Shahor, itinerant printer and one of the first great Jewish ˙ publishers in Central Europe, led the life of a wanderer and settled wherever work and the possibilities of establishing a printing shop led him. After Prague, he went to Oels, in Silesia, where he established a press with David ben Jonathan; then to Augsburg, a city that fell to the Reformation, where he made use of the press of August Wind. After an unproductive stay in Ferrara, he settled in Ichenhausen (Bavaria) in 1553, where, with his son-in-law, Joseph bar Yakar, he printed the first complete prayer book in Yiddish: Tefilo 8 To these it is necessary to add the unidentified sites of publication of extant books, such as pseudo-Lublin, pseudo-Basel and pseudo-Hanau. 9 See Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, 112–75. 10 Majer Balaban, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckereien in Polen’, Soncino Blätter 3 (1929), 1–50; idem, ‘Tsu der geshikhte fun yidishe drukerayen in poyln’, 180–224 in Yidn in poyln: shtudyes un shilderungen fun fargangene tkufes (Vilnius: Kletskin, 1930); Bernhard (Chaim Dov) Friedberg, Ha-defus ha-ivri be-krako (Cracow: Fisher, 1900); idem, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 2nd edn. (Tel Aviv: Barukh Fridberg, 1950); Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’. 11 The oldest publishing centre in central and eastern Europe, beginning in 1512, when four artisans and two bakers published a prayer book; see S. H. Lieben, ‘Der hebräische Buchdruck in Prag im 16. Jahrhundert’, 88–106 in S. Steinhertz, ed., Die Juden in Prag (Prague: B’nai B’rith, 1927). 12 Yitskhok Rivkind, ‘Yidish in hebreishe drukn bizn yor 1648’, Der pinkes 1 (1927–8), 30–1; Herbert C. Zafren, ‘Early Yiddish Typography’, Jewish Book Annual 44 (1986), 112. 13 One of the main families of printers in Prague and in central Europe. Gershom began printing in 1514. See Judaica Bohemiae 10 (1974), 13–41; 11 (1975), 29–53. 14 Abraham Meir Habermann, ‘Ha-madpis Hayyim Shahor, bno Itshak ve-hatano Yosef bar ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ Yakar’, Kiryat sefer 31 (1955–6), 483–500.


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fum gantsn yor (1544). In 1545 he left for Heddernheim, near Frankfurt am Main. But conditions there were quite precarious, and he moved on to Lublin, where he died in 1550. The first printed Yiddish book that has come down to us was printed in Cracow in 1534: a bilingual biblical concordance entitled Mirkeves hamishne by Rabbi Anshel ben Eliakim ha-Levi Tsion, printed by the brothers Samuel, Asher, and Eliakim, sons of Chaim Helicz.15 After having been forced to leave Prague, where they had learned the trade of printing, this family of printers set up the first Jewish press around the year 1530.16 In 1535 Samuel and Eliakim published a book of morals for women, Azhoras noshim by Rabbi David Cohen; then, in 1535–6, Eliakim alone published a Yiddish version of Orkhous khayim by Asher ben Jehiel (Rosh) entitled Der musor un hanhogo, an ethical treatise that recommends rules of conduct and virtue (arranged by the day of the week) that each Jew should implement in both private and community life, as well as in dealing with Christians.17 In 1536 Samuel moved to Oels in Silesia, where he collaborated with his brother-in-law, Eliezer ben Solomon, in printing a book of prayers, entitled Tefilous mi-kol ha-shono. At this time (c.1537) the brothers Helicz converted to Catholicism and took new given names, Johannes, Andreas, and Paulus.18 The last named brother became a missionary among the Jews and in 1540 published a Yiddish translation of the New Testament, and later a brief handbook on Yiddish grammar, written in German for Christians, the Elemental oder lesebüchlen (Hundesfeld, 1543), which constitutes one of the first studies of the vernacular language of the Ashkenazim.19 It is in fifteenth-century Italy that the first Jewish presses appeared.20 In 1475 the first Hebrew books were printed in Reggio di Calabria and in Piove 15

Spelled sometimes Halic(z), Haelic(z) or Helic; see Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri bepolonyah, ii. 1–4; and idem, Ha-defus ha-ivri be-krako. On Mirkeves ha-mishne, see below, ch. 5, p. 99. The same year (1534), the brothers Helicz published a halakhic tract, by Rabbi Isaac ben Meir Düren, entitled Shaarey dura/Shaarim/Isur veheter. 16 In 1527 Gershom Cohen was designated by royal decree as the only Jewish printer allowed in Bohemia. It named the brothers Helicz as representatives in Poland. 17 A moral treatise also known by the titles Hanhoges ho-rosh and Tsavoos ho-rosh. 18 Boycotted by the Jewish community, they were forced to abandon the printing business. But in 1537 King Sigismond I decreed that Jews were obliged to buy the products of the brothers Helicz and that no other Jewish books were to be allowed in Polish territory. In 1539 a new decree was promulgated which required the Jews of Cracow, Poznan, and Lemberg to purchase 3,350 volumes of the books printed by the brothers Helicz at a price of 1,600 florins. Samuel, who returned to the Jewish faith, later went to Breslau, then on to Constantinople, where he continued to practise his craft as a printer. In the colophon to his 1551 edition of the Torah, he repents of his earlier conversion to Christianity. 19 See above, ch. 1; Max Silberberg, ed., Elemental- oder Lesebüchlein des Paul Helicz (Breslau: Verein jüdisches Museum, 1929). 20 On the importance of Hebrew printing in Italy, see Giulio Busi, Edizioni ebraiche del XVI secolo nelle biblioteche dell’Emilia Romagna (Bologna: Analisi, 1987).

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


di Sacco. With the founding of two prestigious presses, printing experienced an unprecedented development. First, the house of the family Soncino,21 which had come from Germany and settled in various cities in Italy.22 Gershom ben Moses was the most noteworthy representative of the family; from 1489 to 1534 he published a succession of books in Hebrew, Italian, Latin, and Greek of a magnificent typographical craftsmanship. Also to be noted is Daniel Bomberg, a native of Antwerp, who opened a printing shop in Venice, where he published approximately two hundred Hebrew books, all of the very highest technical quality.23 While he did not publish any Yiddish books, he did surround himself with editors, printers, proofreaders, and overseers, such as Cornelius Adelkind and Elia Levita, who were associated with publishing in the vernacular. Northern Italy was an important religious and intellectual centre for Jews, a focus of both strong Jewish influence and a wealthy community, of which a part was of Ashkenazic origin and continued to speak Yiddish until the seventeenth century. Northern Italy also became one of the most important centres in the developing industry of Yiddish book publishing in Europe. From 1545 to 1609 thirty-three Yiddish titles were published, which constitutes about one-third of all Yiddish books published during the period and demonstrates the importance of Northern Italy in the history of Yiddish publishing during the Renaissance.24 Some of these books have not survived and are known only from the Mantuan censor’s list of 1595. This is particularly the case with respect to prose narratives and to the first edition of the romanzo cavalleresco, Pariz un Viene, published in Sabbioneta and sometimes attributed by modern scholars to Elia Levita.25 The first Yiddish book published in Italy appeared in Venice in 1545: a translation of the Psalms by Elia Levita, published by Israel Cornelius 21

Abraham Meir Habermann, ‘Ha-madpisim bnei Soncino’, Perakim be-toldot ha-madpisim ha-ivrim ve-inyene sefarim (Jerusalem: R. Mass, 1978), 13–94; David Werner Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (Philadelphia: Greenstone, 1909; rpt. London: Holland Press, 1909), index. 22 Soncino, Casalmaggiore, Brescia, Barco, Fano, Pesaro, Ortona, Rimini, Ancona, and Cesena. 23 Aron Freimann, ‘Daniel Bomberg und seine hebräische Druckerei in Venedig’, Zeitschrift für hebræische Bibliographie 10 (1906), 32–6, 79–88; Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, 146–224; Joshua Bloch, ‘Venetian Printers of Hebrew Books’, Bulletin of the New York Public Library 36 (1932), 71–92. 24 Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italya’. 25 See the exhaustive study of the Mantua censor’s list and its cultural context by Shifra Baruchson-Arbib, Sefarim ve-korim: tarbut ha-keriah shel yehude italyah ba-shilhei ha-renesans (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1993); French: La Culture livresque des juifs d’Italie à la fin de la Renaissance, trans. Gabriel Roth (Paris: CNRS, 2001); cf. also A. Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish u-kehal koreha ba-meah ha-taz. Yetsirot be-yidish bi-reshimot ha-“zikkuk”, beMantowah 1595’, Kiryat sepher 53 (1978), 779–90; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 32, 33; Erika Timm, Paris un Wiene: Ein jiddischer Stanzenroman des 16. Jahrhunderts von (oder aus dem Umkreis von) Elia Levita (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996).


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

Adelkind in the printing shop of Meir ben Jacob Parenzo.26 Son of a German immigrant who settled in Padua, Adelkind worked in Venice in the printing shops of Daniel Bomberg, Giovanni Dei Farri (1544), Marco Antonio Giustiniani (1545–52), and in Sabbioneta in the shop of Tobias Foa (1553–5). Some of the books that he published were bilingual, such as the Sidur ashkenazi (1549); or, as in the Passover Haggadot, only the instructions and the rules are printed in Yiddish, while the rest of the ritual, that is, the prayers and the benedictions, are in Hebrew. His son, Daniel Adelkind, was himself also a publisher, notably of two books in the vernacular: a collection of stories, Maasim di zaynen gesheyn itlekhe khsidim (1552), and a book of morals for women, Mitsvous ha-noshim (1552). Venice, which, along with Constantinople and Basel, was the most important centre of Jewish publishing in the sixteenth century, remained the principal Italian city in which Yiddish books were published up until the beginning of the seventeenth century. These books were produced mainly in the printing house of Giovanni di Gara, whose publishing activity continued over the course of a half-century (1564–1616) and produced a hundred texts, comprising the most varied types of Jewish literature.27 The Yiddish books which he published constituted a representative sample of the principle genres characteristic of vernacular literature. One finds thus a bilingual book of prayers, Tefilo mi-kol ha-shono (1599); books of Ashkenazic traditions and customs, Minhogim (1586, 1593, 1600–1); a brief brochure that explains the method of koshering, salting, and cleansing meat, Dinim vo-seyder (without date); books of morals, among them one ethical treatise for women, Mitsvous ha-noshim (1588); a translation of a book by Samuel Benveniste, Orah hayyim (Ourakh khayim) (1598); a ˙ prose narrative, Maase Briyo ve-Zimro;˙ and, finally, a translation of a book of philosophical poetry by Solomon ben Judah ibn Gabirol, Keter malkhut (Keser malkhus) (1600). In the seventeenth century, in the printing house of the patrician family Bragadini, two Haggadot (1629, 1663) were published which had the distinction of being in Hebrew, Yiddish, Judaeo-Italian, and Ladino, so that they could be used by the three sectors of the Jewish community in Italy, as well as be exported.28 In 1550 Avise Bragadini published the Mishne touro (Mishneh Torah) of Maimonides with the annotations by Meir Katzenellenbogen of Padua.29 The 26 Habermann, Ha-madpis Kornelio Adel Kind u-veno Daniel u-reshimat ha-sefarim she-nidpesu al yedehem (Jerusalem: R. Mass, 1980); Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, 181–2; Habermann, ‘Ha-madpisim bnei R’ Yaakov Frantsoni be-venitsiya’, Areshet 1 (1958–9), 61–90. 27 Jean Baumgarten, ‘Giovanni di Gara, imprimeur de livres yiddish a Venise (milieu du XVe–début du XVIe siècle) et la culture juive de la Renaissance’, Revue des Études Juives 159 (2000), 587–98; Bernhard (Chaim Dov) Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-medinot italyah (Tel Aviv: Bar Yuda, 1956), 72–3. 28 Friedberg, ibid., 53–5; Bloch, ‘Venetian Printers’, 17 f. 29 Known by the name of Maharam of Padua, one of the greatest rabbinical and halakhic authorities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy.

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same year, their rival, Marco Antonio Giustiniani, published a version of the same text.30 A quarrel ensued which was decided by Moses Isserles in favour of the Bragadini family. The dispute was brought before the papal court, where Julius III concluded the proceedings in 1553 by decreeing the confiscation of all copies of the Talmud, which were burned. The printing of Jewish books was prohibited for ten years in Venice. In the years 1550–68, during which Venice lost its quasi-monopoly on Jewish publishing, other centres emerged in which Jewish books in particular were printed. When this era had passed, the Serenissima Republica again became the undisputed centre of the European market in Jewish books until the eighteenth century. The printing of Jewish books, among them books in Yiddish, was then dominated in particular by the shop of Giovanni di Gara. Among other cities of northern Italy, it is necessary to mention first of all Mantua,31 the second centre of Hebrew printing after Venice, where two books were published in 1562: the third edition of the Psalms by Elia Levita in the printing house of Joseph ben Jacob Shalit of Padua;32 a bilingual prayer book whose printer is not identified; and in 1564 a rhymed version of the book of Judges, also published with no identification of the printer. A certain number of books are unknown except for the mention of their titles,33 or by references in the censor’s list from 1595, in which two books published in Mantua in 1558 are mentioned.34 Finally, it is necessary to note the printing activity in Verona of Abraham ben Mattitya Bat-Sheva in the shop of Francesco dalle Donne.35 He learned the printer’s trade from his father, a printer in Salonica, and then settled in Verona at the end of the sixteenth century. There he printed three books in Yiddish: a courtly romance, Pariz un Viene (1594), which some scholars have attributed to Elia Levita; a book of prayer, Maamodous (1594); and a collection of animal fables, Ki-bukh (1595).36 30

See Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, index. On printing in Mantua, see Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, 30 f., 323 f.; Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-medinot italyah, 15–19. 32 The first edition appeared in Venice in 1545, the second in Zurich in 1558. 33 Chone Shmeruk, ‘Shishah defusei Mantovah be-yidish shelo hayu velo nibrau’, Alei sefer 8 (1980), 74–8. 34 Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, nos. 10, 11; Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish’, nos. 187, 378, and 57, 307, 369. 35 Moses Marx, ‘Verona: Francesco dalle Donne’, Annalen des hebraeischen Buchdruckes in Italien (1501–1600) (s.l., s.d.). 36 On the Pariz un Viene, see Valerio Marchetti, Jean Baumgarten, and Antonella Salomoni, eds., Elia Bahur Levita, Paris un Viene, Francesco dalle Donne, Verona 1594 (Bologna: Università degli studi di Bologna, Dipartimento di discipline storiche; Arnaldo Forni Editore, 1988); Chone Shmeruk, ed., Pariz un’ Viene (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1996); Erika Timm and Gustav Adolf Beckmann, eds., Paris un Wiene: Ein jiddischer Stanzenroman des 16. Jahrhunderts von (oder aus dem Umkreis von) Elia Levita (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996). On the Maamodous, see A. Cohen, ‘Über einige alte Drucke’, Festschrift . . . D. Hoffmans (Berlin, 1914), 53–4. On the Ki-bukh, see The Book of Cows: A Facsimile Edition of the Famed Kuhbuch, ed. Moshe N. Rosenfeld (London: Hebraica Books, 1984). 31


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

In Cremona only one Yiddish book was published, a translation of the Bible, by Vincenzo Conti (1560).37 Some Yiddish books were also printed in places in western European that were some distance from centres of Jewish learning but where itinerant printers were active. Chaim Shahor, mentioned above, worked in Ichenhausen. One could add the name ˙of the pastor Paulus Fagius, who set up a press in Isny in Bavaria.38 There, with his Hebrew teacher, Elia Levita, he published Latin translations of Levita’s major works: Tishbi (1541) and Meturgemon (1542), as well as sacred texts such as the talmudic treatise Avot (1541), the book of Tobit with a Latin translation (1542), the Alphabet of Ben Sira (1542), and also a commentary on the first four chapters of Genesis, Exegesis sive expositio dictionum hebraicarum literalis in quatuor capitula Geneseos (1542). Fagius published numerous Yiddish books: a courtly romance, Elia Levita’s Bovo bukh (1541), which was typeset with the aid of the author’s nephews,39 and the first German–Hebrew–Latin–Yiddish dictionary, Shmous devorim (1542).40 This work of lexicography, designed for the use of Christian students of Hebrew, included a Latin preface by Fagius. Finally, let us note a book of morals, Seyfer midous, that was published by Fagius in 1542.41 After a period in Strasbourg, Fagius moved to Constance, where in 1543 he published an edition in Yiddish and Hebrew of the first four chapters of Genesis, Prima Quatuor Capita Geneseos hebraice, cum versione germanica. It is also necessary to acknowledge the influence of non-Jewish humanists on the development of Yiddish printing. Numerous European centres, especially certain cities where the Reformation triumphed, became sites of Yiddish book publishing. In the Holy Roman Empire these cities included Basel, Zurich, Strasbourg, Freiburg, Constance, and Augsburg, where Jewish books began to be printed at the beginning of the sixteenth century.42 It was 37

Between 1556 and 1567 Vincenzo Conti published some forty Jewish books. See Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi, Annali ebreo-tipografici di Cremona 1556–1586 (Parma: Stamperia imperiale, 1808); Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-medinot italyah, 80 f.; Meir Benayahu, Ha-defus haivri be-kremonah (Jerusalem: Institut Ben-Zwi, Mosad ha-rav Kuk, 1971). 38 Abraham Meir Habermann, ‘Ha-madpis Paulus Fagius ve-sifrei beit defuso’, Alei Sefer 2 (1976), 97–104; Richard Raubenheimer, Paul Fagius aus Rheinzabern: Sein Leben und Wirken als Reformator und Gelehrter (Grünstadt: Verlag des Vereins für pfälzische Kirchengeschichte, 1957). Fagius made use of the same fonts as those used by Chaim Shahor in Augsburg. On Isny, ˙ see Mordechai Wolf Bernstein, ‘In Elye Bokhers drukeray’, in Nisht derbrente shaytn (Buenos Aires: YIVO, 1956), 231–40. 39 Joseph and Elijah, sons of Rabbi Isaac Böhmen of Rome and his wife Hannah, Elia Levita’s sister. Levita’s two nephews converted to Christianity. 40 The subtitle is: Nomenclatura Hebraica Autore Helia Levita Germano Grammatico, in gratiam omnium tyronum ac studiosorum linguae sanctae Impressum Isne anno M.D.XLII. 41 One might also note Shir ha-yikhud (1542 ?), whose place of publication is difficult to determine exactly (Isny or Lublin ?). 42 Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Hebräische Drucke in Deutschland’, ZGJD 1 (1887), 282–7; Moshe N. Rosenfeld, Der jüdische Buchdruck in Augsburg in der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts (London: private printing, 1985).

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in Augsburg that the quarrel took place between Johannes Pfefferkorn, the converted Jew who attacked his former co-religionists, particularly with his anti-Jewish pamphlet, Der Juden veindt (1509), and Johannes Reuchlin, humanist and defender of the Jews and of the Hebrew language.43 Most of the Jewish books published in Augsburg are linked with the activity of Chaim Shahor and Johannes Boeschenstein, whose book Elementale introductorium ˙ in hebraeas litteras teutonice et hebraice legendas (1514) comprises the first published study of the Yiddish language.44 Mention should also be made of Paulus Aemilius, who published two epic poems, Seyfer melokhim (Melokhim-bukh 1543)45 and Seyfer Shmuel (Shmuel-bukh 1544) and a translation of the Pentateuch, the five Megillot, and the Haftorot (1544), of which there exist two editions, one intended for Jews and one for Christians. Basel was another great international publishing centre, a university town where a strong publishing tradition developed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German books,46 associated with the presence of humanists, professors, and students from all nations of Europe. Its geographical position in the heart of Europe, the presence of renowned scholars (among others, Sebastian Münster), the excellent quality of printing equipment, and the arrival of refugees from religious persecution, especially of the Reformation, made Basel one of the major centres of European publishing. Hebrew books began to be printed there in 1516, which continued for more than a century.47 The first Yiddish books were not printed there until 1557: a translation of the Five Scrolls entitled, Di megilo in taytsher shprakh and a translation of the book of Daniel, Seyfer Donieyl, both published by the printer Jacob Kündig.48 It was especially the presses of Adam Petri and Ambrosius Froben, who excelled in the printing of Jewish books, among which were Yiddish books of quite a number of types, for one finds among them both religious books, such as translations of the Bible,49 and secular works, such as, for example, collections of prose narrative like the Mayse-bukh (1602).50 Among the most 43 Isidor Kracauer, Geschichte der Juden in Frankfurt-am-Main (1150–1824) (Frankfurt: Kauffmann, 1925), i. 247 f. 44 A list of the Hebrew books which he published in Augsburg after 1532 is found in Rosenfeld, Das jüdische Buchdruck, pp. 32–9. 45 Steinschneider (St. CB, no. 1243) claims that Chaim Shahor printed the book. ˙ 46 In 1550 the city council decided that no religious book could be published in any language other than the four mentioned. See P. G. Bietenholz, ‘Édition et Réforme à Bâle (1517–1565)’, in La Réforme et le Livre: l’Europe de l’imprimé (1517–v.1570), ed. J. F. Gilmont (Paris: Cerf, 1990), 239–68. 47 C. C. Bernoulli, Basler Büchermarkt bis zum Anfang des 17. Jahrhunderts, ed. Paul Heitz (Strasbourg: Heitz, 1895; rpt. Naarden: A. W. van Bekhoven, 1984); Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke. 48 Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke, nos. 97, 101. 49 Such as morality books like Seyfer khayey oulom (1583); Pris, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke, no. 138. 50 Ibid., no. 178; see below, ch. 6, p. 298.


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

famous Basel printers, Israel ben Daniel Zifroni should be mentioned, a native of Guastalla, near Padua, who worked as a proofreader for Vicenzo Conti in Sabbioneta before moving to Basel.51 Between 1578 and 1583, he was associated with Ambrosius Froben and printed most notably an edition of the Talmud (1578–80); then, in the years that followed, he worked with T. Guarin, with whom in 1583 he printed a new edition of the translation of the Bible first published in Cremona in 1560. Because of difficulties with members of the city council, he was forced to leave Basel. He went to Freiburg in Breisgau and there published a Yiddish edition of the collection of animal fables by Berekhiah ben Natronay ha-Nakdan, Mishley shualim (Mishley shuolim) (1583–4, translated by Jacob ben Samuel Koppelmann), and a translation of the Targum of the Five Scrolls (1584). In addition to these great publishing centres one must also mention others that were not only important in the intellectual history of the Renaissance, but also functioned as minor centres of Yiddish book publishing: first of all, Strasbourg, where several representatives of the Reformation lived and where printing houses flourished that were notable for publishing polemical and doctrinal tracts, biblical texts, and Lutheran propagandistic literature.52 It was in this city that a missionary pastor, professor of Hebrew language, and printer, Elias Schadeus, published a book intended to convert the Jews to Christianity. The book was entitled Mysterium (Jost Martin, 1592) and included a translation of the gospels into Yiddish and a treatment of Yiddish grammar, Ein gewisser Bericht von der teutsch-hebreischen Schrifft, one of many early treatments of the vernacular.53 Likewise relevant in this context is the city of Zurich, where in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Protestant printers published books in which Hebrew letters appeared, in addition to publishing Jewish books per se. The principal shop was that of Christopher Froschauer, who published a translation of Seyfer Yousifoun (1546), as well as an edition of Seyfer ha-yiro, a book of morals written by Rabbi Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi, both translated by the converted Jew Michael Adam.54 In 1558 there was also a new edition of the Psalms translated by Elia Levita and printed by Eliezer ben Naphtali Herz of Trier and Joseph ben Naphtali.55 51

Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, index. Miriam Usher Chrisman, Lay Culture, Learned Culture: Books and Social Change in Strasbourg (1480–1599) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982). 53 His name was spelled Schadeus/Schadaeus/Schadäus; see W. Horning, ed., Magister Elias Schadäus, Pfarrer an der Alt St. Peterskirche, Professor der Theologie und Münsterprediger zu Strassburg. Beiträge zur Geschichte der lutherischen Judenmission in Strassburg (XIV J.). Judenmissionstractate des M. Elias Schadäus, Schriften des Institutum judaicum 33 (Leipzig: Akademische Buchhandlung W. Faber, 1892). 54 On Adam, see Nokhem Shtif, ‘Mikhael Adams dray yidishe bikher’, Filologishe Shriftn 2 (1928), 135–68. 55 The editio princeps appeared in Venice, printed by Cornelius Adelkind in 1545, and again in Mantua in 1562. 52

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In the sixteenth century, publishing in both Yiddish and Hebrew spread into clearly defined regions and cities of Europe. This was particularly the case for those areas where, for specific cultural, linguistic, and religious reasons, Jewish communities had developed and prospered for several centuries, such as Poland, Bohemia, and Italy. In these regions of medium to high density Jewish settlement, the existence of a potential Yiddish-reading audience could not but encourage printers and booksellers to increase publication in the vernacular. Yiddish printing likewise benefited from a general climate of intellectual agitation, which, among other factors, was tied to the spread of the Reformation which came to define certain cities of the Holy Roman Empire, such as Augsburg and Basel. The interest in Semitic languages, among them Hebrew, and in theological questions relating to the sacred texts of the Jewish tradition, could not but stimulate the publication of Jewish books, in both Hebrew and the vernacular. Finally, there appeared peripheral establishments which itinerant printers generally operated for quite brief periods, the most famous example of which is Paulus Fagius, who brought the Jewish humanist Elia Bahur Levita to the Bavarian town of Isny. ˙ In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the cartography of Jewish publishing is marked both by obvious stability and by the establishment of new publishing centres, linked especially to the tribulations of the Jews throughout Europe, which has always lent an itinerant aspect to the geography of the Jewish book. The fluctuations in the geographical zones in which Yiddish was spoken also brought about changes in the distribution of printers of Yiddish books. Thus one notes from the seventeenth century onwards, a decline in northern Italy, which lost its role as one of the important centres of Yiddish publishing. On the other hand, even if printing declined in certain cities and increased in others, Yiddish publishing continued to be concentrated in Germany, Bohemia, and Poland, where there existed a vibrant Jewish vernacular culture. Between 1534 and 1648 around seventy Yiddish books were published in Poland, a number which bears witness to the importance of the market for the vernacular books distributed throughout central and eastern Europe.56 This activity was exclusively focused in two cities, Cracow and Lublin, and was divided up among those few rare printers who had obtained royal privileges.57 First of all, Isaac ben Aaron Prostitz who had studied printing in Venice before coming with the proofreader Samuel Boehm to settle in Cracow, where he opened his shop in 1569.58 He was able to open his printing shop thanks to the typographical material, such as frontispieces and other decorations, that he had brought from the Venetian printers Giorgio Cavalli 56

See the bibliography in Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 75–116. On Jewish publishing in Cracow, see Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 1–41; Balaban, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckerei in Polen’, 1–14, 31–4, 36–50. 58 His name could also have been Prossnitz, a town in Moravia. 57


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and Sebastianus Gryphius, and a licence from King Sigismond II Augustus, granted in 1567 for a period of fifty years. Isaac Prostitz, his sons, Aaron and Issachar, and thereafter his nephews, produced a rich collection of Hebrew and Yiddish books over the course of almost a century.59 These texts well represent the spectrum of possibilities in Old Yiddish literature. One finds almost exclusively religious literature: prayer books (mahzorim, siddurim), translations of biblical books,60 homiletic prose, and epic ˙poems inspired by biblical sources,61 a concordance to the Tanakh,62 but no translation of the entire Torah, such as had been printed in Germany. Also to be mentioned are musor sforim (books of morality), an historical text, the translation of Solomon ibn Verga’s Sheyvet Yehudo, and a single secular book, an adaptation of the Germanic epic Ditrikh of Bern (1597).63 Unlike in Germany and Italy, where books based on non-Jewish epic and courtly literature circulated throughout the sixteenth century, this type of literary text did not make its appearance in Poland until the end of the century. From 1630 to 1670 Menahem Nahum Meisels, assisted by his family, his daughter Czerna, and ˙ Kohen ˙ of Prague, became one of the major printers in Cracow. He by Judah bought out and improved the equipment of Isaac ben Aaron Prostitz, particularly so that he could publish several Yiddish books, among them a mahzor, the Kerouvos (1642), as well as a religious poem, the Touro lid (without˙ date). Lublin was another Polish town in which Yiddish books were published; the Yaffe family settled there and published books until the eighteenth century.64 Kalonymus ben Mordecai collaborated both with Chaim Shahor of Prague, who had obtained several privileges from King Sigismond ˙ II which granted him the right to print books (1550, 1559, 1578), and with Eliezer ben Isaac Ashkenazi, with whom he published a Pentateuch in 1557 and an edition of the Talmud (1559–77). He was assisted by his sons, Joseph, Chaim, and Zevi, who printed various books in Yiddish, among them the celebrated˙ homiletic commentary on the Prophetic books, the Seyfer ha-magid (1623).65 Among the books produced in Cracow and Lublin, one finds some pedlars’ wares. In general such books were in a small format, had a limited number of pages (often without identification of either publisher or date), and were sold 59

There are some thirty books inventoried for the period 1569–1648 in Shmeruk’s bibliography, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 75–116. 60 In addition to the Pentateuch, mainly the Prophets and the Five Scrolls. 61 Such as the verse adaptation of the books of Samuel (1578 and 1593), of Kings (1582), and of Joshua (1594). 62 The second edition of the Mirkeves ha-mishne or Seyfer shel Rabbi Anshel (1584). 63 Cf. Solomon ibn Verga, Sheyvet Yehudo (EYT 71) and Dietrich of Bern (EYT 78). 64 Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 45–60; and Habermann, ‘Ha-madpis Hayim Shahor beno Itshak ve-hatano Yosef bar Yakar’. ˙ 65 ˙ ˙ Zevi Kalonymus Yaffe published two other editions of Seyfer ha-magid in 1624–6 (the ˙ Latter Prophets) and in 1627 (the Hagiographa).

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by itinerant booksellers or pakntregers (‘pedlars’) who criss-crossed the communities of central and eastern Europe. Pedlars’ wares included religious literature, such as collections of prayers, or tkhinous (‘supplications’),66 books of morality,67 talmudic Aggadot (Agodous),68 manuals of instruction for children,69 and historical texts.70 Only a very few such booklets of inferior status and fragile physical condition have survived, whence the interest in the few remaining traces of published examples of pedlars’ wares, particularly from Poland. In the Mantuan censor’s list of 1595, Yiddish books published in Poland are mentioned, which is proof enough that such products could be both sold to a local market and also exported to bookshops and pedlars and thus read by a Yiddish-reading audience in the major centres of the European diaspora.71 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Yiddish publishing continued to follow the migrations of the Jews through Europe and to accompany their history, marked by frequent wars, expulsions, and pogroms which brought about disruptions in the cartography of European Judaism. Of course certain centres continued to hold an obviously privileged status, such as Prague,72 whose influence extended to Cracow and Lublin.73 From the seventeenth century onward, two families dominated printing in the Bohemian capital, the Kohens and the Baks, who from 1585 to 1789 printed and published numerous liturgical works, books of morals, and biblical translations in Yiddish.74 But in particular it is necessary to note that during this period two 66

This is the case with Seyfer matsil mimoves, a brochure of eight pages comprising tkhinous; St. CB, no. 3952; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 62. 67 Such as the bilingual morality poem by Elhanan Helin ben Abraham of Frankfurt, Shir ˙ ve-zemer noe al ourekh ha-golus, ed. Chava Turniansky (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1968); see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 50. 68 For example, the booklet Shoushano ve-yehudis (16 pp., Cracow, 1543), the Seyfer mogeyn Avrohom (4 pp., Lublin, 1624), and the midrashic text, Seyfer yeytsiras odom (4 pp., Lublin, 1624). See Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, nos. 8, 48, 49, and Baumgarten, ‘ “Le Livre de la Création de l’Homme” ’. 69 Such as Khinukh koton, by Israel ben Abraham (12 pp., Cracow, 1649); see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 54. 70 Among them the booklet entitled Dos iz di viner gezeyre in taytsh (6 pp. 1609), which relates the persecution of the Jews in Vienna in 1421; see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 41. 71 Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish’, and Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, nos. 6, 16, 26, 28. 72 See particularly, Lieben, ‘Der hebräische Buchdruck in Prag im 16. Jahrhundert’, 88–106. 73 Most of the great printers of Poland either imitated the typographical style of Prague, as did, for example, Menahem Nahum Meisels and his associate Judah Kohen of Prague, or were ˙ ˙ themselves from Prague, as was Chaim Shahor. The books printed by Isaac ben Aaron of ˙ Prostitz were more influenced by the Venetian typographical tradition. 74 See Leopold Zunz, ‘Druckereien in Prag’, Zur Geschichte und Literatur (Berlin, 1845), 261–8. There is a bibliography of Yiddish books published in Prague in Leopold Zunz, ‘Annalen der hebräischen Typographie von Prag vom Jahre 1513 bis zum Jahre 1657’, Zur Geschichte und Literatur, 268–303. Zunz inventories almost fifty Yiddish texts from 1526, the date of the first printed text in Yiddish (a prayer in the Haggadah printed by Gershom Kohen), to 1629, the date of the publication of Seyder mitsvous ha-noshim.


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important new centres developed in Amsterdam and in a cluster of German cities. The entire period between the first decades of the seventeenth century and those of the eighteenth century is dominated by the printing houses of Amsterdam.75 Several factors favoured an unprecedented development in printing and marketing Jewish books: less precarious living conditions than in central and eastern Europe (where Jewish life was disrupted by numerous dramatic and catastrophic events such as the Chmielnicki massacres), a much greater intellectual tolerance than in neighbouring countries, the relative prosperity of Jewish merchants who traded with numerous countries throughout the world, and the existence of a strong Jewish community made up of long-time Marrano residents and more recent Ashkenazic refugees. On the other hand it is clear that the catastrophes and crises that disrupted central and eastern European Jewish life could not but increase the need–– especially among ‘women and the unlearned’––for religious booklets and the Scriptures in the vernacular. Amsterdam was one of the principal suppliers of Yiddish books intended for the study by, and consolation and edification of, the Jewish masses. During the course of an entire century, printers in Amsterdam published books of a rare technical quality, improved and updated fonts and typographical techniques, and supported the work of noteworthy booksellers who marketed their products––a great many of which were in Yiddish––in the Holy Roman Empire and eastern Europe. The printing style of Amsterdam attained an exceptionally high level of typographical excellence, and thus came to exert a great influence on Jewish printing throughout Europe. The first printer who gained fame in the printing of Yiddish books in Amsterdam was Uri Phoebus ben Aaron ha-Levi, who was active from 1658 to 1689. His continued reputation was due to his printing, among other vernacular books,76 the first complete translation of the Bible without an accompanying Hebrew text or commentaries (by Jekuthiel Blitz in 1676–79 75

Lajb Fuks and R. G. Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands (1585–1815): Historical Evaluation and Descriptive Bibliography, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1984–7); Lajb and R. G. Fuks, ‘Hebreeuwse Boekdrukkunst in Nederland’, Studia Rosenthaliana 14 (1980), 191–204; Marion Aptroot, ‘Dutch Impact on Amsterdam Yiddish Prints’, in Dialects of the Yiddish Language, Winter Studies in Yiddish 2, ed. Dovid Katz (Oxford: Pergamon, 1988), 7– 11; and Marion Aptroot et al., eds., Jiddische Bücher und Handschriften aus den Niederlanden (Amsterdam: Menasseh ben Israel Instituut; Düsseldorf: Heinrich Heine Universität, 2000). 76 Among the books published by Uri Phoebus ha-Levi, Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld list twentysix bilingual or exclusively Yiddish books, primarily prayer books (Mahzorim, Haggadot), bib˙ lical commentaries and translations, books of morality, and also books for recreational reading such as the Bovo-bukh (1661) (Hebrew Typography, 252). These books, all printed according to the highest standards, were sold especially in the vast Eastern European markets, such as in Poland, which resulted in consistently large print runs during the entire period. Thus there were 6,300 copies printed of his translation of the Bible and 4,000 of his translation of Yousifoun (1661), at a price of 16 Stuyvers each.

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(EYT 113)). He also published the first Yiddish periodical, Dinstagishe un fraytagishe Kurantn ‘Tuesday and Friday Courier’ (1680–1687 (EYT 115)).77 His local rival, Joseph Athias, also decided to print a complete Bible in Yiddish, which was edited by Joseph ben Alexander Witzenhausen and published in 1679 in a run of six thousand copies (EYT 114).78 This rivalry led both to the ruin of Uri Phoebus, who was forced to move to Zolkiew, and to significant financial losses for Joseph Athias.79 This failure should also be understood in the context of the lack of success such translations had in Poland, where Jewish readers preferred Bibles that included commentaries, such as the Tsene-Rene, to simple and straightforward translations of the biblical text based on the Protestant model. Among other printers who gained renown through the production of vernacular books, one should mention David de Castro Tartas,80 Moses Kosman ben Elijah Gomperz and his successors,81 77

Shlomo Berger, ‘Reshot ha-itonot be-yidish’, Khuliyot 6 (Spring 2000), 363–71. Between 1667 and 1686, Athias published thirteen bilingual or exclusively Yiddish books. See Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, 286–338; Lajb Fuks ‘De drukers familie Athias’, in Amor Librorum: Bibliographic and Other Essays. A Tribute to Abraham Horodisch on his Sixtieth Birthday (Amsterdam: Erasmus Antiquariat; Zurich: Zafafo Foundation, 1958), 65– 9; J. S. Da Silva Rosa, ‘Joseph Athias (1635–1700). Ein berühmter jüdischer Drucker’, Soncino Blätter 3 (1930), 107–12; Herbert Ivan Bloom, Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Williamsport: Bayard Press, 1937), 48–52. 79 On the details of this conflict, rich in information concerning the activities of Jewish printers in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, see Lajb Fuks, ‘De twee gelijktijdig te Amsterdam in de 17e eeuw verschenen Jiddische Bijbelvertalingen’, Het Boek 32 (1955–7), 146–65; idem, ‘Ha-reka ha-hevrati ve-ha-kalkali le-hadpasat shnei targumei tanakh be-yidish ˙ be-Amsterdam, samukh li-shnat 1680’, Gal-ed 1 (1973), 31–50; and Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, 237–40, 296–9. Uri Phoebus went to Zolkiew (or Zholkva) in 1692 at the invitation of the the Polish King Jan Sobieski, who wanted him to set up a Hebrew press in the city. Up to that time Jewish books had been imported from abroad, especially from the Netherlands and its capital Amsterdam. The settlement of Uri Phoebus ha-Levi in Zolkiew inaugurated a new era in the history of printing in eastern Europe. See Balaban, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckerei in Polen’, 14–15; Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 62–4. 80 He was trained as a printer by Menasseh ben Israel, the first printer to settle in Amsterdam (1626). His printing shop was active from 1660 to 1696; he published four Yiddish books, among them the Seyfer ha-magid (1676) in a run of 3,000 copies. 81 Between 1687 and 1711 they published twenty-one Yiddish books. In addition to liturgical texts, books of edification, and biblical translations, there is also a book of mathematics and computation (Arye (Löb/Leyb) Levi, Seyfer yedios ha-kheshbon, 1699 (EYT 122)), books to be used in disputations with Christians (Isaac (Jacob) ben Saul Abraham, Bukh der fartseykhnung, 1696), and moral guides for travellers (Moses ben Meir Kohen, Seyfer derekh Moushe, 1699 (EYT 121), and Gershon ben Eliezer ha-Levi, Seyfer gelilous erets yisroel, 1624, Fürth, 1691); see also Jean Baumgarten, ‘Jerusalem in Seventeenth-Century Travellers’ Accounts in Yiddish’, Mediterranean Historical Review 7 (1992), 219–26; idem, ‘Image du monde séfarade dans des récit de voyage vers la Terre Sainte en langue yiddish (XVIe–XVIIe siècles)’, in Esther Benbassa, ed., Mémoires juives d’Espagne et du Portugal (Paris: Publisud, 1996), 223–37; idem, ‘Sur les traces des dix tribus disparues: le récit de voyage de David D’Beth Hillel’, Les Cahiers du Judaisme 10 (Summer–Autumn 2001), 4–15. 78


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and Caspar Pietersen Steen.82 The typographical quality, the variety of the products of these printing dynasties, the quantitative significance of the production directed less toward an interior market than the vast market of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe––all these factors explain why the Yiddish books published in Amsterdam assumed such a hegemonic position in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. As already noted, the conditions of life were often quite precarious in eastern Europe; wars, expulsions, and massacres forced many Jews to leave the communities of Poland and immigrate to cities in Germany.83 After the disasters of the Thirty Years War, many rulers of German cities, wishing to reconstruct the country and develop industry, permitted Jews to settle in their principalities, where they were allowed in particular to set up printing shops.84 On the other hand, despite the growing demand for books, the difficulty in obtaining the necessary permissions from the ruling authorities impeded the expansion of Jewish printing, especially in Poland. Jewish printers had no choice but to work in Christian shops or to search for cities where they were welcomed by the ruling nobility. Such obstacles had profound repercussions, not only for the book trade in eastern Europe, but also in the Germanspeaking lands, which as a result became the place of publication for many Hebrew and Yiddish books. The printing of Jewish books clearly became important in many German cities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.85 In Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, where there was no possibility for Jews to obtain permission to print books themselves, they had recourse to the services of Christian establishments.86 Thus it came about that Johann Koellner and Balthasar Christian Wust employed Jewish printers and published liturgical books (Seyder tefilous, makhzourim) and bilingual Bibles, as well as the edition of the Ki-bukh (1697) by Moses ben Eliezer Wallich.87 Some of the Jewish 82 This Christian publisher who employed Jewish printers from Poland printed seven books in Yiddish. The edition of Seyfer ha-magid (1699) was printed in a run of 5,000 copies. See Isabelle H. Van Eeghen, ‘Caspar Pietersen Steen, een drukker van Hebreeuwse boeken in Amsterdam (1692–1703)’, Studia Rosenthaliana 1 (1967), 51–65. 83 Cf., for example, the fate of the Jews of Buda during the 1686 reconquest of the city occupied by the Turks; the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1670; and the massacres that accompanied the Chmielnicki uprising in 1648. 84 Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Hebräische Drucke in Deutschland’, ZGJD 1 (1887), 103–5, 281–7, 377–82; 2 (1888), 200–3; 3 (1889), 84–6, 262–74; 5 (1892), 154–86. 85 See Menahem Schmetzer, ‘Hebrew Printing and Publishing in Germany (1650–1750): On Jewish Book Culture and the Emergence of Modern Jewry’, Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute 33 (1988), 369–83. 86 Since Jews were not allowed to open a printing shop in Berlin, the first printers of Jewish books there were the pastor D. E. Jablonsky (who published Yiddish books) and later Barukh Buchbinder (Tsene-rene, 1709). See Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim . . . she-beeyropah, 87 f. From 1535 on, the book fair in Frankfurt am Main attracted Jewish printers and booksellers; see Friedberg, ibid., 62 f. 87 Daniel J. Cohen, ‘An Autographic Letter by Moshe Wallich, Author of the KUH-BUCH:

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printing shops in Germany were influenced by the styles of Prague printers. One might thus take note of Wilhermsdorf, where from 1670 to 1743, Isaac ben Judah Löb Yüdels and Hirsch ben Chaim published some thirty bilingual books, and in Yiddish, an edition of Kinig Artus hoyf (1718) and Bovo-bukh (1724).88 Also to be mentioned is Sulzbach, in northern Bavaria.89 In 1669, Prince Christian August, who was greatly attracted to mysticism and theosophy, authorized Isaac ben Judah Löb Yüdels, the son of the Prague typographer, to set up a press. His successor was Moses ben Uri Schraga Bloch, who published a noteworthy edition of the Zohar (1684). This town rapidly became an important centre of book publishing in Europe; from 1685 until the mid-nineteenth century, around seven hundred Hebrew and Yiddish books were published there, particularly musor sforim, sidurim, and makhzourim, which were much utilized in the many communities of the Ashkenazic rite. Finally let us mention Fürth, where the presses of the Schneur family and of Hirsch Frankfurter opened in 1691. In this city there was a succession of printers up to the end of the eighteenth century, during which period they printed nearly ninety books in Yiddish.90 Another important centre, influenced by the typographical tradition of

the Key to his Biography and Family Connections in Worms, Frankfort and Hamburg’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 14 (1982), 4–16. 88

Aron Freimann, ‘Annalen der hebräischen Druckerei in Wilhermsdorf’, 100–15 in vol. ii of Festschrift zum siebzigsten Geburtstage A. Berliner’s, ed. Aron Freimann and Meier Hildesheimer (Frankfurt am Main: Kaufmann, 1903; rpt. New York: Arno, 1980). In 1669 Isaac ben Judah Löb Yüdels, originally from Prague and a descendant of the famous Gersonide (Kohen) printing dynasty, was authorized to open a printing shop. He was assisted by his daughters Rebecca and Rachel, while his son-in-law Menahem Mana ben Isaac Jacob was the ˙ proofreader. 89 In 1667, Abraham Lichtenthaler (a Lutheran) established a press there. He was assisted by Isaac ben Judah Löb Yüdels, who settled in Wilhermsdorf. See M. Weinberg, ‘Die hebräischen Druckereien in Sulzbach: ihre Geschichte; ihre Drucke; ihr Personal’, Jahrbuch der JüdischLiterarischen Gesellschaft 1 (1903), 19–202; 15 (1923), 125–55; 21 (1930), 319–70; Joseph Prijs, ‘Die ersten Sulzbacher hebräischen Drücke (1669–70)’, Mitteilungen der Soncino Gesellschaft 7– 10 (1931), 26–33. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, author of Kabbala denudata (1677–84), was also a resident of Sulzbach. 90 There is an inventory of the books in Leopold Löwenstein, ‘Zur Geschichte der Juden in Fürth: Dritter Teil: Die hebräischen Druckereien in Fürth’, Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft 10 (1912), 49–192; Joseph Prijs, Nachträge zur L. Löwenstein Bibliographie der Fürther hebräischen Drucke im Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft X (Frankfurt am Main: privately printed, 1938); Moritz Steinschneider, ‘Miscellen’ (Fürther Drucke, 1691–1730), Hamazkir Hebræische Bibliographie 18 (1878), 114–15; see also the series of publications on early printed texts from Fürth by Hermann Süß in the journal, Nachrichten für den jüdischen Bürger Fürths: ‘Die “Fürther Megille” von Josef Herz’ (September 1984), 13–17; ‘ “Esther”––Die “Fürther Megille” von Josef Herz’ (September 1985), 9–12; ‘Ein “Projekt” Ansbach-Fürth 1745’ (September 1985), 31–3; ‘ “Esther”––Die “Fürther Megille” von Josef Herz’ (September 1986), 16–18.


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Amsterdam, was in the small city of Dyhernfurth in Lower Silesia (Pol. Brzeg Dolny) near Wrocław.91 In 1689 local authorities who wished to promote the publishing industry authorized thirteen Jewish families of printers, in addition to Sabbatai Bass, to settle and establish presses, who––along with other printers who followed them––published numerous texts in the vernacular over the course of almost a century.92 Dyhernfurth had a competitor in the town of Breslau, where books were published in Hebrew and Yiddish, beginning in 1719.93 Among the other German cities that distinguished themselves in the printing of Yiddish books, several towns in the vicinity and domain of Frankfurt am Main should be mentioned: Offenbach,94 Hanau,95 Homburg,96 Neuwied,97 then, after 1750, Roedelheim,98 Jessnitz,99 and in the north, Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck,100 Dessau and 91

Located on major trade routes, Wrocław was the site of a fair. On Hebrew printing in Wrocław, see. Markus Brann, ‘Der hebräische Buchdruck in Breslau’, Jahrbuch zur Belehrung und Unterhaltung 30 (1891), 75–81. 92 Previously, books had been exported especially from Amsterdam, Frankfurt an der Oder, and Breslau. Sabbatai ben Joseph Bass was the compiler of the first bibliography of 2,200 Jewish texts, the Seyfer sifsey yesheynim (Amsterdam: Uri Phoebus ha-Levi, 1680; Dyhernfurth: Sabbatai Bass, 1693). He learned the printer’s art from Uri Phoebus ha-Levi in Amsterdam. See Herbert C. Zafren, ‘Dyhernfurth and Sabbatai Bass: A Typographical Profile’, 543–80a in Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History, and Literature in Honour of I. Edward Kiev (New York: Ktav, 1971); and ‘More on Dyhernfurth’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 10 (1971–72), 62–8; M. Marx, ‘A Bibliography of Hebrew Printing in Dyhernfurth (1689–1718)’, 217–36 in Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History, and Literature in Honour of I. Edward Kiev (New York: Ktav, 1971). Marx inventories some thirty Yiddish books (among approximately 130) from this period, primarily religious and edifying texts. Sabbatai Bass, who was open to secular knowledge, printed popular medical, computational, and mathematical texts. 93 Markus Brann, ‘Geschichte und Annalen der Dyhernfurther Druckerei’, MGWJ 40 (1896), 474–80, 515–26, 560–74; Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim she-be-eyropah, 55–64. 94 Seligmann ben Hirtz-Reis published several adaptations of Germanic romance and epic there, such as Kinig Artus hoyf, Floris un blancheflor, Zibn vayzn maynster. 95 It was there that the first edition of the Tsene-rene was published in 1622. In the eighteenth century, the Calvinist theologian Henricus Jacobus van Bashuysen opened a press (1709–12) in which he published Hebrew books. See Ernst J. Zimmermann, ‘Die Hanauer hebräischen Drucke (1610–1744)’, Hanauisches Magazin (Supplement to Hanauischer Anzeiger) 3/7 (1 June 1924). 96 See Aron Freimann, ‘Die hebräischen Druckereien in Homburg v. d. H. und Rödelheim in den Jahren 1711–57’, Zeitschrift für hebræische Bibliographie 21 (1918), 14–19. 97 While working in the establishment of Bernhardt Grat (a Christian) in 1735, Israel ben Moses printed a bilingual makhzour. The Yiddish section was typeset by his daughter Rebecca. 98 Beginning in 1798, Wolf Benjamin Ze’ev Heidenheim was licensed to print books there. From 1800 to 1802, he published the nine volumes of his Seyfer kerouvos u-makhzour in Hebrew, with a German translation printed in the Hebrew alphabet. These books of prayers went through multiple editions and were distributed throughout the Jewish communities of the Germanspeaking territories. 99 See Max Freudenthal, Aus der Heimat Mendelssohns. Moses Benjamin Wulff und seine Familie, die Nachkommen des Moses Isserles (Berlin: F. E. Lederer, 1900), 251–70. 100 These three communities were reunited in 1671. From 1688 to 1722, one printing shop operated in Wandsbeck. In 1727, Samuel S. Popert opened a shop in Altona, where he printed Yiddish books, assisted by Joseph ben Jacob Maarsen, an itinerant printer-bookseller from

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


Köthen,101 and finally, Frankfurt an der Oder.102 Let us end this inventory by mentioning the Austrian town of Brünn103 and the city of Vienna,104 where some prayer books and ethical books in Yiddish were published for a local readership. A combination of various factors led to Germany’s playing an important role in the publication and distribution of Jewish books during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There were numerous factors that stimulated the development of Jewish printing in Germany: the interest of the princes in promoting the printing industry as a source of commercial prosperity for the cities, the financial commitment of court Jews, the existence both of a vast domestic market, composed of avid readers of religious and secular literature in the vernacular, and of markets in eastern Europe, where no Jewish press existed before the end of the seventeenth century.105 The convergence of these diverse factors made the Germanic lands a focal point in the production and distribution of Jewish books in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the history of the Yiddish book entered a new era, marked on the one hand by a slight decline in the number of printers in western Europe, where the vernacular language played a progressively smaller social and cultural role, giving way to majority languages or Hebrew, and on the other hand by the expansion of publishing in eastern Europe, where the majority of Yiddish speakers were concentrated until the Second World War. In considering the restructuring of the Jewish book network in Europe, it is also necessary to investigate the authors, production, and distribution, as well as the readers and the types of books that could be produced in the vernacular. Although surviving information is necessarily fragmentary, especially due Amsterdam. In 1723, the celebrated rabbi Jacob ben Zevi Emden obtained a licence authorizing ˙ him to print Hebrew books. See Bernhard Brilling, ‘Privilegien der hebräischen Buchdruckereien in Altona (1726–1836): Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des hebräischen Buchdruckes in Altona’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 9 (1969–71), 153–66; idem, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Buchdruckereien in Altona. II. Der Kampf der Buchdrucker Gebrüder Bonn in Altona gegen die rabbinische Zensur (1805)’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 13 (1980), 26–35; Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim . . . she-be-eyropah, 104–8. 101

Dessau and Köthen are towns in Anhalt, a principality formed of several enclaves in Saxony. There were functioning presses in Köthen in 1621 and in Dessau in 1694, where the court Jew, Moses Benjamin Wulff, worked. Between 1696 and 1704 some thirty books were published. 102 Beginning in 1595 a Jewish press operated there. In the eighteenth century, it was Michael Gottschalk, a Christian printer, who printed Yiddish books. See Bernhard Brilling, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebraeischen Buchdruckereien in Frankfurt a. d. Oder: Urkundliche Beiträge’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 1 (1953), 84–94, 145–56, 183–96; 2 (1955–6), 79–96, 102–6. 103 In 1753 a press was established here, directed by Franz Joseph Neumann. 104 On Austria, see G. Wolf, ‘Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Buchdruckereien in Österreich’, Hamazkir Hebræische Bibliographie 8 (1865), 55–60. On Vienna, see Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-arim . . . she-be-eyropah, 94–104. 105 After his financial setbacks in Amsterdam, Uri Phoebus ha-Levi settled in Zolkiew in 1692; see Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 41, 59–63.


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to the loss of a portion of the Yiddish books because of their physical fragility and their inferior social status (in comparison to Hebrew books), complete books and especially prefaces and colophons survive which provide a wealth of information concerning the authors, printers, and readers. At the same time, there are characteristic features of the presentation and constitution of the Yiddish books which must be taken into account in their relations to the Jewish book in general. The authors of Yiddish books generally belonged to the class of the moderately well educated, who, although they were not members of the scholarly elite (talmidei khakhomim), had at least received a traditional education and knew the Jewish source texts. Nonetheless, since they recognized the need to reach the Jewish masses who were often neglected by, or strangers to, the world of religious literature in Hebrew, they wrote or adapted classic texts in the vernacular, a completely new practice in Jewish society of the Renaissance. The most common phrase found in the prefaces clearly addresses this particular situation: the author is identified as ‘writer’ or ‘servant of all pious women’.106 This female audience could have been made up as much of the anonymous masses of those who read Yiddish books (or had someone read the books to them), as it was of the patronesses (generins) to whom the authors dedicated their books or for whom the copyists transcribed vernacular texts. Thus one finds this final stanza in the Hamburg manuscript of the Shmuel-bukh:107 I have written this book with my own hand, My name is Liva of Regensburg, Freydlin is the name of my dear patroness, I hope that she will be able to read this book with pleasure.

The term shrayber implies various levels of the creation of, and relations to, the written text. It can designate a simple copyist (soufer) who transcribes a text which he did not himself compose. It can likewise designate an adapter who translates a text written in Hebrew or a non-Jewish language. He is sometimes content simply to transcribe or translate the text, but he could also make specific adaptions of it for a Jewish audience, which presupposes a rewriting of the original text, and thus in fact results in a new creation. In such cases the distinction between an adapter and an author is blurred, in so far as the task of reformulating the text assumes both revisions and a 106 Leyb (Leo Judah) Bresh (Brzes´c´), translator of the Pentateuch (Cremona, 1560), so desigi RP IW i A · RB ie YL ie YWx YL ie YRx$o RED x OW aA x · REB e VYA i (‘I the nates himself in the verse preface to his work: REB writer | [for] all women | and pious people’). The same designation is found in the works of Elia Levita and Anshel Levi, the author of a midrashic commentary on Pirkei Avot (Pirkey ovous), who identify themselves as ‘servants of pious women’. 107 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 313 (1st quarter of 16th century, Northern Italy), fragmentary, contains 5,745 lines (cf. Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 33).

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knowledge of the religious textual tradition. Finally, there exist authors in the fullest sense. Among the shraybers, one could thus find some well-read scholars, such as was the case with Moses Esrim Vearba, whose name in itself indicates the author’s familiarity with the texts of the religious tradition, especially the Bible, since esrim ve-arba means the ‘twenty-four’ books of the Hebrew Bible (according to the traditional count). In the Paris manuscript of the Seyfer Shmuel (Shmuel-bukh) one reads: ‘My name is Moses Esrim Vearba | I made this book with my own hands’ (EYT 47). Elia Levita is the perfect example of an author-adapter-creator, especially in his chivalric romance, the Bovo-bukh (Isny, 1541; EYT 33), a free reworking of an Italian original, which is full of inventiveness and subtle literary brilliance. Levita himself was a veritable prototype of the Renaissance Jewish intellectual: the intimate of Christian humanists and author of scholarly treatises on the Massorah in Hebrew and of satirical poems and courtly romances in Yiddish. His genius made of him far more than a mere adaptor. Nonetheless, the basic profile of the author of Old Yiddish literature is especially characteristic of the moderately well educated class. Thus one finds minor religious functionaries of the community (kley koudesh), who might be elementary school teachers (melamdim), cantors (khazonim), beadles (shamosim), scribes (soufrim), or intinerant preachers (magidim). One also finds authors who combined the roles of adaptor, publisher, and bookseller. It also happened––although it may have functioned primarily as a literary convention intended to forge a closer relationship with the reader––that the author claimed that he was a simple copyist (ha-soufer hediout) or an uneducated boor (amorets) and so identified himself to his audience. In a prayer book published in Ichenhausen in 1544 (EYT 48), the adaptor, Joseph bar Yakar, identifies himself: · AP½P½oWRU IYYA JRAH OE x IYYA IYB VYA IED ‘for I am an ignoramus, a wretch’ (fol. 2r). Even Abraham Aptheker Ashkenazi, a pharmacist (apteyker) and author of a book of edification Sam khayim (Prague, 1590), remarks in the preface, that he had not studied Halakhah, and was in general not well versed in studying the sacred texts.108 Thus it is that sometimes a Yiddish author is somewhat ashamed to go up against scholars in what is deemed an immodest manner and encroach on their specific domain, as is demonstrated in this excerpt from the preface to the translation of the Song of Songs by Isaac Sulkes (Cracow, 1579, fol. 3r):109

108 There is even humility in the declaration by Elhanan Hendel ben Benjamin Wolf Kirch˙ hahn, the author of Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (pt. i, Frankfurt am Main, 1707): ‘Do not imagine that I invented anything new, but everything that I say is found in our dear Torah. . . . Also do not imagine that I would wish to punish anyone or that I am the one writing rules and morals that come from my thoughts. I am much too simple for that. I am nothing but an ordinary man (eyn shlekhter man). The task of writing is for me a job (melokho) in which there is very little wisdom.’ 109 See Shmeruk, Sifrut yidish be-Polin, 36; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 141–2.


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

Dear masters, I see that I have failed, and that my folly has led me to enter into your domain, great masters who are filled with Torah and sit day and night before their holy books. But I, poor man [evyoun], only occasionally look into them. They [the scholars] can write books from which come great results. I, on the other hand, can scarcely recite the benediction over bread. I then ought to be ashamed of undertaking such tasks. But truly it is certain, you must believe me, there need to be such books in the world also, for not everyone can run to the finest shops, to buy gold and silver and velvet and silk. One also needs many other things in the house. The peasants are more numerous than the nobles, which allows me to think that I can make this book. Thus we also need to have small shops which offer merchandise to the ordinary person in exchange for his money. The small shopkeepers have everything that one can ask of them. Elijah the storekeeper can confirm for me: they sell everyone what they need. And if indeed a noble comes shopping, there he can find a mirror for his wife or a whistle for his child. He can buy what he wants in the shop. The ordinary person cannot do that. When he goes to the rich merchant’s shop, he cannot get anything for his money, even if he happens to find something that he likes. Everything is too expensive for him and beyond his means. However, in the small merchant’s shop, he finds everything that he needs. Therefore I, too, have risked doing the same thing and opened my own small shop for the simple folk and for women. Let them come and have a look at the shop. They will find there all kinds of things that are written in our holy books. These things I have collected together into the Song of Songs.

Beyond the literary convention which is characteristic of the style of these prefaces and consists––with a touch of irony and an intent to stoop to a lower level––of defining the author as ‘ignorant’, it remains clear that many of the authors came from the stratum of the moderately well educated in Jewish society. These authors did no more than express the aspirations of many middle-class Jews, especially shopkeepers, craftsmen, and Jewish villagers, who either suffered from not being able to study as much as they might wish, or demanded increased participation in religious life. Ignorance was not to have as its fateful consequence their exclusion from study and religious culture. Yiddish books served as palliatives for all those who did not know enough Hebrew to have access to the traditional texts, but who did not necessarily demand a leading role in religious life nor the right to know and study the tradition. This aspiration is well expressed by Isaac Sulkes, who explains in this same translation of the Song of Songs (Cracow, 1579): For most of the people who live in large cities are merchants, and whoever is not a shopkeeper has to find a way to feed himself however he can, whether by petty thievery or robbery. . . . So he supports himself by committing sins, and thus he cannot fully keep the mitsvous [commandments] nor study Torah, because he has to search for a way to make a living. And the shopkeeper manages to make a good living and earn his income legally when he wants to do so and when his dealings are honest. But he cannot keep the mitsvous well; for many of them have to be deferred, even when he wants to fulfil them. (fol. 117r)

Thus one can certainly explain the use of this kind of book, intended primar-

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


ily for all those whose occupation or lack of time obstructed their diligent keeping of the Torah’s commandments. Yiddish literature of the period is further characterized by the fact that women were directly linked with the world of books, either in their production or their composition. There is, for instance, evidence of women working in printing shops. Generally they were the daughters or wives of the printers. Thus in 1586 a translation of the Psalms by Moses Stendel was printed in Cracow in the shop of Isaac ben Aaron Prostitz.110 On the last page one finds that the book was typeset by the widow Royzl Fishl, daughter of R. Joseph ha-Levi. In the preface, she explains that she found Moses Stendel’s translation of the Psalms while she was in Hanover: ‘I transcribed it with my own hand, so that it would not be lost; then I thought it over and had it printed’ (fol. 2r). Israel Zinberg also mentions a book of prayer typeset by Gele, daughter of the Amsterdam printer, Moses ben Abraham. She adds the following remarks: In this new and fine book of prayers from start to finish I typeset all the letters with my own hands [DNEH YNGYYA YNYYM UYM TWYTWA YLA UCEZYG VYA BAH]. Gele, daughter of R. Moses the printer and my mother Dame Freyde, daughter of R. Israel Katz of blessed memory, who brought me into the world along with ten other children. I am a young girl not yet twelve years old. Don’t be surprised that I have to work. The gentle and delicate daughters of Israel have been in exile for a long time. One year passes and the next one comes, and still we have heard nothing of the Redemption. We weep and beseech God each year, so that our prayers might reach his Holy Name, though I ought to keep quiet. I and my father’s house should not speak much.111

Also to be noted are women writers, such as Rebecca b. Meir Tiktiner, the author of a religious poem, the Meynekes Rivko (Prague, 1609; Cracow, 1618).112 In the preface it is explained that the book was given the title ‘The Nursemaid of Rebecca’ in ‘honour of all women, for a woman can also write edifying words and good commentaries as well as most men’ (fol. 1r). One should also mention Sarah b. Tovim (seventeenth century) who wrote a collection of prayers of supplication, the Shlousho sheorim, which went through many editions after its initial publication in 1838. But the most famous woman writer remains Glikl b. Leyb Pinkerle, widow of Chaim Hamil, the author of a remarkable book that combines aspects of the 110

Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 20; St., CB, no. 1280; EYT 68. An allusion to the fact that her father Moses ben Abraham was a ger, a convert to Judaism. Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 274–5; Chava Turniansky, ‘Meydlekh in der altyidisher literatur’, in Jiddische Philologie: Festschrift für Erika Timm, ed. Walter Röll and Simon Neuberg (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999), 7–20, here 18–20. Cf. also the verse colophon written by her sister Ella for a book of prayer that she typeset, EYT 118. 112 EYT 93; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 44; idem, ‘Ha-soferet ha-yehudit ha-rishona be-polin––Rivke bas Meir Tiktiner vehibureha’, Gal-ed 4–5 (1978), 13–23; Kathryn Hellerstein, ˙ ‘Songs of Herself: A Lineage of Women Yiddish Poets’, Studies in American Jewish Literature 9 (1990), 138–50. 111


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

musor-genre with some elements of autobiography, written in the years 1699–1719.113 The physical form of Yiddish books furnishes us with interesting information about their distribution, as well as the readers and the reading practice associated with the particular kind of book. One of the most remarkable characteristics of Yiddish texts is the kind of typographical font used, namely mashait (mashkit), vaybertaytsh (‘women’s Yiddish’), tkhino ksav (‘script of prayers of supplication’), or Tsene-rene ksav (‘script of the Tsene-rene’) of which there are twenty-one distinct variant forms.114 These designations make obvious reference to the conventional insistence that Yiddish books were intended primarily for women. These fonts came to be used by European Jewish publishers exclusively for books in the vernacular, as opposed to those used for Hebrew books. The ultimate purpose intended for these vernacular books made it necessary to print them in a small, easy-to-use format. One thus finds few in quarto or folio, as opposed to those books which could be read in the synagogue, such as the makhzourim, or to some of the long biblical commentaries, such as the Seyfer ha-magid (Lublin, 1623). The Bibles printed in 1676–9 by Jekuthiel Blitz and Joseph Witzenhausen are two examples of books produced in beautiful quarto editions that display a perfect mastery of the printer’s art, quite comparable to the quality of Amsterdam publishing in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. But the majority of Yiddish books are in octavo or even smaller format. These were books that needed to be easy to handle and use: they were read at home, especially during the sabbath 113 The book has generally been misidentified simply as memoirs or zikhrounous by scholars; cf., however, Chava Turniansky, ‘Tsu voser literarishn zshaner gehert Glikl Hamels shafung?’ Divrei ha-kongres ha-olami ha-ehad-asar le-mada’ei ha-yahadut, iii. iii (Jerusalem: World Con˙ gress of Jewish Studies, 1994), 283–90; and by the same scholar: ‘Bashraybung fun gesheenishn in Glikl Hamels zikhroynes’, Di goldene keyt (1992), 35–40; ‘Der loshen-koydesh-komponent in Glikls verk vi an eydes af ir bildung,’ in Röllwagenbüchlein, 441–433 (sic); ‘Vegn di literaturmekoyrim in Glikls Hamels zikhroynes’, in Keminhag ashkenaz ve-polin: sefer yuval le-khonah shmeruk, ed. Israel Bartal et al. (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Centre, 1993), 153–78; expanded Hebrew version: ‘Ha-sipurim bitsurtah shel Glikl Hamel u-mekorotehem’, Mehkerei yerusha˙ layim be-folklor yehudi 16 (1994), 41–65. The only scholarly edition of the Yiddish text is: David Kaufmann, ed., Zikhrounous moras Glikl Hameln (1645–1719) (Pressburg: Adolf Alkalay; Frankfurt am Main: Kaufmann, 1896); EYT 131. See the comprehensive collection of essays edited by Monika Richarz, Die Hamburger Kauffrau Glikl: jüdische Existenz in der Frühen Neuzeit (Hamburg: Christians, 2001); Israela Klayman-Cohen, Die hebräische Komponente im Westjiddischen am Beispiel der Memoiren der Glückel von Hameln (Hamburg: Buske, 1994); Linda Ellen Feldman, ‘What’s in a Name? Gluckel Hameln’s Language and the Politics of Translation’, Carleton Germanic Papers 25 (1997), 11–22; Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997). 114 This type of letter form is named ‘Yiddish type’ by Herbert C. Zafren, a form of the semicursive, Askenazic Rabbinical script; see Zafren, ‘Variety in the Typography of Yiddish, 1535– 1635’, Hebrew Union College Annual 53 (1982), 137–63; idem, ‘Early Yiddish Typography’, Jewish Book Annual 44 (1986), 106–19.

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


afternoon reading time, or they were carried in a bag or a beggar’s satchel. There were also many small books printed in 16to format, which could have between four and a few dozen pages. Among such works of pedlar’s literature one finds in particular edifying tales, homiletic books, and religious texts such as biblical excerpts, midrashic and talmudic texts, and collections of liturgical hymns and tkhinous. The title pages also include very important information concerning the sale of Yiddish books. The authors or publishers often composed the title page as a form of advertisement, in order more effectively to attract possible buyers and to praise the quality of the typographical production (a practice of the pedlars as well). Thus it is explained on the title page of the prayer book by Joseph bar Yakar (Ichenhausen 1544): Come here, you pious women, And you will see beautiful things. You will indeed find A book of prayer for the entire year, Well and correctly translated. So come and buy it with delight. Otherwise you will miss out on it, For they don’t grow on trees. What’s more, it’s not too expensive. You can have it for a crown. (fol. 1r)

At the end of the book, the author adds: I’ve set the price at a crown, But I swear by my own head, That it is easily worth ten times that, As you’ll see for yourself, When you compare it to other prayer books. One can honestly say, That the difference is as great As that between an old woman and a young girl.

(fol. 167v; EYT 48)

In Cornelius Adelkind’s preface to Elia Levita’s translation of the Psalms (Venice 1545), one finds the same kind of exhortation to the potential buyer: Soon, God willing, I will print the book of Proverbs, Job and Daniel, well translated. If God grants me life for a while, then I will do all that I can so that great and small may have easy access to a knowledge of what is written in the twenty-four books of the Bible, which unfortunately everyone else knows better than we do. So, I ask you, dear pious young women and householders, to buy this psalter with joy and a good heart, and thus to give us the money, so that we can soon begin printing Proverbs, amen.115 115

Translated from the citation in Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 112; EYT 49.


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

The prefaces sometimes also yield information about the size of the print run and the price of the books. In general the books were printed in runs of several hundred copies and, if they sold well, a second edition was produced rather quickly (within a couple of years). In one significant instance, for example, the print runs of the brothers Helicz in Cracow are known: they printed a total of 3,350 copies, of which there were 800 makhzourim, 800 slikhous, 500 turim, 400 youtserous, 300 minhogim, and 300 collections of zemirous.116 Only the printers of Amsterdam produced larger print runs (which could reach thousands of copies), due to the fact that they sold their products in both central and eastern Europe.117 A relevant example is also furnished by the two complete editions of the Yiddish Bible published by Uri Phoebus and Joseph Athias, which were both printed in runs of 6,000 copies and sold by book pedlars and at book fairs in the major centres of Yiddish-speaking culture in Europe.118 Sometimes one also finds information concerning the price of books, but it is always too fragmentary to form a comprehensive picture of the conditions of the book trade. In the preface of the Megilas Ester (Cracow, 1589, fol. 2v), for instance, one reads: ‘Thus you won’t be stingy about a few cents (groshn), and you’ll buy this Megilo. That way, with God’s help, we can print all twenty-four books of the Bible in Yiddish.’119 Simon b. Judah Levi Ginzburg explains, for example, in his Minhogim (fol. 80v; Venice, 1593): ‘At one guldn, it is not too expensive. If I were to say a thaler, you would not pay too much even by one heller.’ Finally, let us note this passage from the Seyfer ha-magid (preface to 1 Samuel; 116

Statistics from Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-polonyah, 3. In the eighteenth century, the production of books increased noticeably. To give one important example: in the years 1785–9, the printer Judah Rosanes of Lemberg sold 1,500 copies of Khumesh with Rashi’s commentary, 1,200 copies of Khumesh in Yiddish for women, 1,000 Shaarey tsion (prayers), 1,000 copies of the Psalms, 1,000 kinous, 1,000 commentaries on the Talmud, 1,000 Shoumerim la-boker in Yiddish for women, 2,000 makhzourim, 8,000 calendars, 1,500 slikhous, 500 Lev tov (a book of morals in Yiddish), 1,000 copies of the talmudic treatise Baba Meziah, 2,000 sidurim, and 1,000 Korbon minkho (prayers and bilingual commentaries for ˙ women). In the same city, between 1785 and 1789, Salomon Rapoport published 1,000 Bibles, 1,000 makhzourim, 1,000 sidurim, 1,000 Pentateuchs, 1,000 books of prayer by Isaac Luria, 1,000 musor, 1,000 biblical glossaries, 1,300 holiday prayer books. See G. Wolf, ‘Zur Geschichte jüdischer Buchdruckerei in Österreich’, Hamazkir Hebræische Bibliographie 8 (1865), 59. 118 A legal document dated to 1672 describes the stock of the publisher Joseph Athias. It gives numbers running from 450 copies of a Ladino Bible at a value of 2,025 florins, to 3,000 copies of a Hebrew–Yiddish prayer book at a value of 717 florins, as well as 4,500 copies of an incomplete children’s book in Hebrew. Also mentioned is an English Bible, of which there are 11,000 copies at a value of 11,000 florins. In the newspapers the Amsterdamsche Courant (7 August 1687) and the Oprechte Haerlemsche Courant (17 July 1687), advertisements appear for the sale of 3,000 copies of the Yiddish Bible by Joseph Athias. The edition of the Seyfer ha-magid of 1676 published by David de Castro Tartas was printed in 3,000 copies, and the edition of 1699, published by Caspar Pietersen Steen, was printed in a run of 5,000. See Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography 238–9, 294, 297. 119 See St. CB, nos. 287, 700, 1225. 117

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Lublin, 1623): ‘Therefore, gentlemen, let none of you imagine that you will wait until the book becomes less expensive and only then buy it. That is not proper, because one can have it for a couple of guldn. And for the printer it is a matter of several hundred, with which one can publish many other holy books, which is an important goal.’ Some title pages likewise extol the high quality of the book’s physical production:120 in addition to the ink and paper, one noted the clarity of the Hebrew letters, the etchings that decorated the frontispiece, the engraved borders of the title pages, and the illustrations.121 There are eight Yiddish books that have particularly beautiful woodcuts, among them: Yousifoun (Zurich, 1546),122 the Minhogim, of which the edition of Venice (1593) served as the model for numerous later editions,123 and the Tsene-rene (Sulzbach 1692).124 In general, the illustrations and some of the frontispieces were borrowed from Christian books.125 One also finds engravings in the books of tales, such as the Ki-bukh (Verona, 1595), and in the courtly romance, Pariz un Viene (Verona, 1594), whose engravings come from a Venetian edition of a chivalric romance. Such admittedly fragmentary information as can still be ascertained about the distribution of Yiddish books should not mislead us into losing sight of the fact that books obviously remained very rare things. Despite the evident increase in the literacy rate beginning in the sixteenth century, the number of those who could read was still a tiny percentage of the population. In an ordinary Jewish household, it was not at all unusual to find no books at all, or Thus in the Minhogim-bukh published in Hamburg in 1733, one finds: *‘Much more nicely printed than were the first ones | which one can easily notice in reading it | [this book on] all the customs of Germany for the entire year | but also of Poland, Bohemia, and Moravia | [there one can] find many laws well arranged | in such a way that all of you can live in the service of God | in addition, the book is well printed and well illustrated with fine copperplate engravings.’ On the other hand, on the final page of the prayer book published in Mantua in 1562, one reads: ‘Anyone who has helped us up to now, must continue to help us to publish yet more––the youtserous and in particular the continuation of the makhzour. But you must give us the money and buy the book as one should.’ Some printers likewise demonstrated the ease with which one could locate biblical passages, for instance, by means of a system of references inserted into the text or placed in the margins. In some books, such as translations of the Bible (e.g. Cremona, 1560), one finds an index of the weekly scriptural readings (poroshous) read in the synagogue in the course of the liturgical year, as a guide for the reader. 121 On this topic, see Chone Shmeruk, Ha-iyurim le-sifrei yidish ba-meot hataz-hayaz (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1986). 122 In which there are woodcuts based on those of Hans Holbein. 123 See Chone Shmeruk, ‘Ha-iyurim min ha-minhagim be-yidish, venitsyah, 1593 be-hadpasot hozerot bi-defusei prag ba-meah ha-17’, Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 15 (1984), 31–52. ˙ 124 Rachel Wischnitzer, ‘Gleanings: The Zeena U-Reena and its Illustrations’, 35–9 in Sefer ha-yovel mugash li-khevod Dr. N. M. Gelber le-regel ha-yovlo ha-shivim, ed. Dov Sadan et al. (Tel Aviv: Olamenu, 1963). 125 This is the case with the border of the title page of the Melokhim-bukh printed in Augsburg in 1543; see Lajb Fuks, Das altjiddische Epos Melokîm-Bûk (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1965), 32–3. 120


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

perhaps a single book, the Bible, for example, or a few books, such as the Tsene-rene, a collection of liturgical hymns, a calendar or some musor sforim. It was only in the prayer house, the study house, the synagogue, or in the houses of the bourgeoisie and the educated that one found a more sizeable number of books in Hebrew and Yiddish, sometimes even approaching a hundred in number. Moreover, the quite widespread practice of collective reading made it possible that even if the number of book buyers remained limited, the impact of the books could nonetheless extend far beyond that narrow circle of readers to a much broader circle of auditors. Let us also note that memory played a much more determinative role in reading. There were in general few choices available in reading material. Some basic books were read and reread regularly in the course of the day or week, sometimes read aloud in the presence of neighbours and family members of the same household. In this way a tiny number of books, continuously reread following the rhythm of the liturgical cycle and often known by heart, sufficed to imbue simple Jews with the essence of norms of behaviour, ethics, Jewish prayers, and the divine word. This was the practice, for instance, with the Tsene-rene, the biblical commentary and most representative example of Old Yiddish literature, which one read oneself or had read aloud each week, following the order of the poroshous, the weekly order of the Pentateuch read in the synagogue on Monday, Thursday, and the sabbath, but also at home, twice in Hebrew and once in the Targum, and which by itself could satisfy the textual religious requirements of a simple Jew. The book marketing network was the same as the one through which other Jewish works became known. A portion of the sales was conducted via middlemen in the book trade, particularly in Amsterdam. Sometimes the authors, but more often the printers, could themselves distribute the books, just as did their agents or correspondents abroad, when they had them. We might thus mention the bookseller and publisher, Joseph ben Jacob Maarsen of Amsterdam, the author of the Seyfer khanoukh la-naar.126 The major fairs, such as those of Frankfurt and Lublin, were likewise places where booksellers assembled to market their wares. But above all it was the pedlars (pakn-tregers (‘pack-carrier’ = book pedlar), sforim-tregers (‘(sacred) book-carriers’), or dorfgeyers (‘pedlars’) ) who were the primary distributors of inexpensive and small-format books in Yiddish. In the preface to the Birkas ha-mozoun, published in Basel in 1600, Jacob Polack wrote:127 126 See Yankev Shatsky, ‘Di hakdomes tsu Yoysef Marsens khiburim’, Yivo-Bleter 13 (1938), 377–89; Marion Aptroot, ‘Yosef ben Yankev Marsen: iberzetser un moykher sforim’, unpublished paper from the Fourth International Conference on Research in Yiddish Language and Literature. Jerusalem, Hebrew University, 2 June 1992. This manual of instruction and of correspondence was published in Amsterdam in 1715 and reprinted in 1718, 1743, 1769, 1780, 1794. 127 He is also the compiler and publisher of the exempla collection, the Maase-bukh (Basel, 1602). On the bentsherl, see Chava Turniansky, ‘Ha-“bentsherl” veha-zmirot be-yidish’, Alei Sefer 10 (1982), 70 (no. 3); and Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke, no. 169, pp. 275–7.

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


I, Jacob ben Abraham, may his memory be for a blessing, the writer for all pious women, have prepared this Yiddish bentshn for publication. Therefore, dear ladies, pay attention to me and buy the book quickly, so that I may rush home to my wife and children as soon as possible, for I have been in German lands for three years. I pray to God that my children are not shamed by the fact that I peddle books. I hope that no one will speak badly of me. . . . My name is Jacob the book pedlar; I am known throughout German lands. I hope to have a reward for a good deed for doing this work. In all the communities, they ask for me: ‘When is the book pedlar coming, to bring us more books?’ For at home I never––because of our many sins––had anything to eat, when I was in Raysn [eastern Belorussia]. *But in Germany, almighty God has made me forget my misery. I have faith in him and never will I forget what he has done. . . . Thus, dear ladies, buy this book without delay, so that I can return home to my wife and children quickly. The time seems very long to me, and my family will end up gnawed by worry. And thus you will deserve to return very soon to the Holy Land. That is what your servant Jacob Polack the bookseller wishes.

The colophon of the bilingual book Sam khayim (Prague, 1590) identifies a pedlar: ‘I am Moses ben Shabbatai of Loketsh in Volhynia. I sell books but not for profit alone. . . . I am a poor man who carries heavy loads and journeys on foot.’ This evidence shows that there were primarily two types of pedlars: some were absent from home for long periods, even travelling across the whole of Europe, driven along by the exigencies of book distribution and opportunities to work that were found along the way.128 They bought their stock from book shops or printers, carried their merchandise on a cart, and the most fortunate could sometimes afford to employ an assistant. The others, the more indigent, covered much shorter distances, visiting village communities around their own place of residence. They generally left home on Sunday with a satchel full of books, calendars, candles, sewing materials, or other merchandise, and did not return until Friday just before the onset of the sabbath, whence their designation as vokhers ‘weekly workers’ derived. There still remains the task of defining, at least in broad outline, the kind of readers targeted by Old Yiddish literature and their manner of reading such vernacular texts. While this second point leads us more to conjecture than certitude, due to the paucity of historical sources, some key elements in defining the readers can be provided, due particularly to the information found in the prefaces to the texts. The new situation of producing and distributing books in the vernacular brought about significant but gradual changes both in cultural transmission, such as it had existed in Jewish society in the Middle Ages, and in the manner of reading. The most common 128 It is interesting to see that in the censor’s list from Mantua from 1595, one already finds books that were later (re-)published in Poland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, witnesses to the range of book distribution during the period. Furthermore, at the end of Elia Levita’s Bovo-bukh (Isny, 1541; EYT 33), one finds a glossary of the Italian terms used in the book, translated into Yiddish, indicating that this book was intended as much for export to central and eastern Europe as for the domestic market in Italy.


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

practice during the medieval period was collective reading aloud, particularly in the synagogue, the prayer house, and study house. Individual silent reading was exceptional, confined especially to the milieux of the educated. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the mechanical reproduction of printed books permitted silent reading to take on an ever growing significance. The study of holy texts, such as those from the Bible or the liturgy heard in the synagogue, interpreted collectively in the beys-medresh under the leadership of the teacher, learned in school, then recited in prayer, commented upon by preachers (magidim) in their sermons (droshous), could now be continued in private life by means of individual silent reading, especially during the period of sabbath rest (ouneg shabos); or in reading in pairs, for example, a father studying with his son; or in small-group readings, such as during wakes which were recurringly punctuated by prayers. Certain collections include religious hymns intended to be sung during holidays or domestic celebrations.129 The continuing difficulty in acquiring books made all the more common this type of reading in which one person read the text to a small group of people who had gathered in a private house. Particularly in view of the rate of illiteracy at the time, this new development corresponds well to an important historical moment in which, due to the distribution of printed books, more and more of the laity who had up until this point been confined to the margins of literate knowledge, were to gain direct access to the written word, especially by means of books in the vernacular. Henceforth, beyond prayer and traditional study, there existed the additional possibility of individual reading and even individual study, without the necessity of mediation by a teacher. It is this that is explained by the Hebrew preface to the Seyfer ha-magid (Lublin, 1623), for instance, where the author asserts that thanks to his book, the reader can understand the text on the basis of Rashi’s commentary. In the Yiddish preface to an edition of the same text that was published in Lublin in 1624–6, the author of the preface goes so far as to say that ‘even if one is not a great scholar (lamdon), he can make progress’ as a result of using the book. There is no doubt but that this is the reason for the continuing rabbinical mistrust of vernacular books. After all, reading on one’s own gave greater freedom to the reader, who could interpret as he wished, without the mediation of a teacher and even straying from the approved commentaries. This is the source of the scholarly world’s equivocal attitude toward Yiddish books, which were tolerated as a substitute for study, but condemned at the same time for evading, in a certain sense, the authority of the scholarly elite. The technical and social transformations brought about by the increased distribution of books had direct effects on traditional methods of reading, which now necessarily diversified. Old Yiddish literature provides an important body of material by means of which one can study the impact of this 129 This is found, for example, in the Tsemakh le-tsvi (Lublin, 1622). In the Yiddish introduction, it is explained that ‘pious women and girls’ ought ‘to sing this song with great joy’.

Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books


cultural change on the heart of Jewish society. The preface to the Yiddish Bible that was published in Constance in 1544 provides a clear idea of the identity of the audience of vernacular texts: Every householder who can read only Yiddish (taytsh) can study together with his children and teach them to understand the Khumesh. For that reason we have borrowed word-for-word from Hebrew into Yiddish from several translations that we have, so that householders (balebatim) and common and simple elementary teachers (melamdim) can more easily study the Khumesh and other holy books with children . . .130 This book is likewise good for wives and young women who all know well how to read Yiddish, but who pass their time by reading worthless books such as Ditraykh fun Bern, Hildebrand and others like them which are nothing but lies and invented things.131 These wives and young women could use their free time to read this Khumesh which is nothing but pure truth. . . . Moreover, the women in the synagogue who hear the khazon read the sidro in the Seyfer touro could, thanks to this Yiddish, read the same sidro and the haftouro and thus along with the khazon join their hearts fervently to God.

This excerpt clearly enumerates the primary readers of Yiddish books. Above all, women and young girls, often designated in the prefaces as frume vayber, bokhuros un pultsels.132 It is also necessary to include men, both the ‘ignorant’ and those who had only a moderate amount of instruction, generally identified as balebatim (‘masters of the house’). Thus one finds in the introduction to the Brantshpigl (Basel, 1602; EYT 76): ‘This book was written in Yiddish for women and for men who are like women and cannot study much. The sabbath and the holidays come, and they can read it and understand what they read. For our holy books are written in Hebrew; sometimes they include pilpul from the Gemoro, which many people cannot understand’ (fol. 12v).133 Even in the Yiddish preface to his translation of Berekhiah b. 130 This same concern is found in numerous prefaces to biblical translations. In the translation of Proverbs, published in Cracow in 1582, for example, one reads: ‘So, for ordinary people (gemeyne layt), it is difficult to understand. Thus we have published [interpreted] it in Yiddish so that everyone can rely on it and study with his child the literal sense, the interpretation, and many of the literal explanations from the Gemoro’ (translated from text citation in Shmeruk, Sifrut yidish be-Polin, 85). In another text, the Seyfer ha-magid (preface; Lublin, 1623), a bilingual commentary on the Torah, one reads: ‘Whoever he is, the father can use it for studying with his child.’ 131 It is to these Yiddish adaptations of western Christian epic that pious Old Yiddish literature was to provide a counter measure. 132 In some Old Yiddish texts it is claimed that women should study just as men do. The introduction to the Megilas Ester (Cracow, 1589) specifies that ‘women are also obligated to study, especially the Khumesh, the twenty-four books of the Bible, the laws of purity and impurity, and concerning that which is permitted and prohibited’ (fol. 2r). The Yiddish word pultsl means ‘young girl’, derived from Old French pucelle. 133 On ‘women and men who are like women’, see: Chava Weissler, ‘For Women and for Men who are Like Women: The Construction of Gender in Yiddish Devotional Literature’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 5 (1989), 7–24; and Frauke von Rohden, ‘ “Für Frauen und Männer, die wie Frauen sind”. Weibliche und männliche Verhaltensweisen im Brandshpigl des Moses Henochs Altschul’, 175–90 in Neuer Anbruch: Zur deutsch-jüdischen Geschichte und Kultur, ed. Michael Brocke, Aubrey Pomerance, and Andrea Schatz (Berlin: Metropol, 2001).


Printing, Distribution, and Audience of Yiddish Books

Natronay ha-Nakdan’s Mishley shualim (Mishley shuolim) (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1583–4), Jacob b. Samuel Koppelmann says that his book is: LYW RP½ VA IYYZ BR IYYA RK ½ YLUYA UYN IAQ $E IED INAM ‘also for many men, for not everyone can be a rabbi’. Other prefaces explain that the books are addressed to cantors (khazonim) and to schoolmasters (melamdim). Finally let us note that, due to the pedagogical aims of many of the books, the readership consisted of young schoolboys (bokhurim). Such was the case, for example, with the book of morality and conduct entitled Seyfer khayey oulom (Freiburg, 1583). In the preface, the anonymous author addresses himself to the the young readers who are studying in the traditional kheyder: ‘Listen to me, dear, dear boys | You ought to love your Creator | and always respect his commandments | and thus, you will be free of all sin.’134 In the introduction to the Seyfer diber tov (Cracow, 1590), this same didactic preoccupation reappears. The author claims that the book can be useful for teaching languages to children, all the more so since, as he explains: ‘everyone is obligated to teach his children Torah and to speak Hebrew well. So, as soon as a child begins to speak, one should teach him both languages, Hebrew and Yiddish, as well’ (fol. 1v). These various pieces of information make possible a definition of the readership of vernacular books, primarily composed of Jews both ordinary (gemeyne layt or proste yidn) and somehow marginalized, both male and female.135 In some books, there is a claim made for a broader audience; such prefaces (for instance in the biblical commentary Seyfer ha-magid, Lublin, 1623), indicate that they can be read by ‘every person [ben odom], whether a scholar, an ordinary Jew, a master of the house or a woman’.136 Elsewhere this author explains that the book can be consulted by ‘every Jew, whoever he is, whether male or female, whoever can read’.137 Such statements demonstrate that, while Yiddish books targeted primarily the middle strata of towns and the countryside, those designated ‘readers not writers’ could nonetheless make contact with quite diverse groups of Jewish society, thanks to their broader distribution: humble Jews living in villages, men and women living in urban communities, but also, with respect to bilingual books, the partially educated and even some of the educated.


Translated from citation in Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 167. Some other prefaces indicate moreover that Yiddish books are intended for everyone: men and women, young boys and girls. 136 According to the author, this book is intended ‘for the educated [lomdim] and the masses [homoun ha-am]’ (preface, Seyfer ha-magid). In the introduction to 1 Samuel, the author notes: 135













RP ½







‘and that will necessarily be good for the whole world, and if a person is himself no great scholar, he can nonetheless continue to make progress. Or his children can make progress by this means’. 137 Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 144.


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Despite the relative paucity of precise sources concerning Yiddish books and their readers, it is clear that their production gave concrete expression to developments in cultural communication as they had existed up to the appearance of the printing press. While the corpus of traditional Jewish learning had heretofore remained primarily confined to the realm of educated initiates and scholars, who were not only masters of the language but also in control of the mechanisms of transmitting knowledge to simple Jews, now, thanks to the existence of books in Yiddish, that traditional knowledge could circulate among new classes of readers. Thus the gap that had existed between the educated, who had access to the sacred Hebrew texts, and the masses of the faithful, who were often excluded from the religious tradition, was reduced, and ignorance itself retreated. The central role of the production of vernacular books during this period when the literacy rate and thus the accessibility to books was growing, obviously contributed, albeit in a minor way, to healing the rupture which threatened the unity of Jewish society, enabling the transmission of the essence of the Jewish tradition to a much larger audience, and opening new possibilities for religious and literary expression.

 Bilingualism and the Development of Old Yiddish Literature In order to understand the conditions that led to the emergence of Old Yiddish literature, it is useful to recall the multilingualism that obtained in Ashkenazic Jewish communities. From the time of their settling in the Rhine Valley, beginning in the ninth and tenth centuries, Jewish culture was marked by both internal and external bilingualism.1 Living in the midst of a dominant Christian population, they gradually adopted the coterritorial languages, that is, Germanic dialects, and, beginning in the sixteenth century, Slavic languages, when the Jews were forced to move eastward by the pressure of expulsions and discriminatory legislation. Moreover, as a result of their having migrated from France to Germany, Jews had preserved some traces of Romance language, that is, laaz. In addition, there existed within Jewish society a line of demarcation between the distinct Jewish languages. On the one hand, the lingua sacra, that is, loshoun koudesh (Hebrew) and Aramaic, and, on the other, the lingua franca. The development of Yiddish resulted from the fusion of these various substrates––laaz, the Germanic dialects, Hebrew, and Aramaic. This fusion is not to be conceived as a simple additive combination of the various components, but rather as a complex system which gradually 1 This linguistic situation remained a constant throughout the long history of the Jews in the diaspora communities of both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. Thus after the return from Babylonian exile, Jews adopted Aramaic as their vernacular (the process occurred during the period from approximately 500 to 200 ). In the book of morals, Seyfer ha-yiro (Zurich, 1646), it is noted: ‘the vernacular (laaz) in our day stands in the place of the Targum as a vernacular language in their day’. Another passage notes: ‘Every week you should read the sidro with other people, twice in Hebrew and once in the Targum; that will be good for you. If you have no Targum, you should be ready to read it once in Yiddish’ (see Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 30). In his Chaldaica grammatica (Basel, 1527), Sebastian Münster made the same comparison between Hebrew and Aramaic as between Hebrew and Yiddish: ‘Writers are so often accustomed to mix Aramaic words with Hebrew words. Not otherwise is it in our day: when they do not know how to translate a Hebrew word, they turn to the vernacular’ (preface, fol. 3v). He adduces the example of the Jews who returned from Babylonian exile bringing with them the Aramaic language: ‘Exactly as if one were to give our German Jews the possibility of settling in the Holy Land, they would make German their vernacular, for only a small number of them would be able to speak Hebrew’ (fol. 4r). In Yiddish texts, the language of the Aramaic translation of the Bible is sometimes designated Targum-loshn. On the general problematics of Jewish languages, see Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish Interlinguistics: Facts and Conceptual Framework’, Language 57 (1981), 99–140; D. L. Gold, ‘Jewish Intralinguistics as a Field of Study’, International Journal of the Sociology of Language 30 (1981), 31–46.

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gained autonomy from the languages that were present at the beginning of the fusion process, so that ultimately it became a language in its own right.2 The various Jewish languages are divided along precise boundaries, and each of them is used in quite specific situations.3 Hebrew, the Holy Language, occupies a central position and enjoys great prestige, especially since it is the language in which God is presumed to speak and in which he thus revealed the Torah. In addition, as in a number of religions, the centres of education and study were first associated with the priests of the Temple, then in later periods (particularly the Middle Ages) in the Jewish tradition, with rabbis in the synagogue. Teaching and the writing of texts were the privileges of the priestly and rabbinical class and remained under the control of the educated. Rabbis held a position of obvious importance in their teaching of reading and writing, in establishing behavioural rules, and in distributing commentaries on and interpretations of religious texts. They became the guardians of the revealed text, the administrators of the holy scriptures and their interpretation, as well as the distributors of the scriptures within Jewish society. This position conferred on these experts and scholars a prominent social role, since they controlled the activities associated with learning to read and write. On the other hand, the predominance of the revealed word, transmitted by God in loshoun koudesh, automatically conferred on that language a superior status. Its immense prestige made it impossible for Hebrew to be taught in the same way as the language of daily use. The combination of these factors explains both the clearly codified distinction between the holy and the vernacular languages within Ashkenazic Jewish society, and the use of the two languages in distinct situations. This separation of the two languages––the one holy, the other mundane––whose specific uses corresponded to clearly defined social spheres, tended to maintain and even to deepen the chasm that existed between the educated class and the masses of Jews, who most of the time were restricted to the margins of knowledge and study, due to their poor knowledge of Hebrew. During the era in question, between the end of the Middle Ages and the modern period, it is clear that the Bible, the Hebrew commentaries, and the halakhic texts were directly accessible to only a limited number of Jews, while the masses of the faithful had received only a moderate or even minimal amount of instruction in a form closely associated with oral––not written––cultural transmission. The combination of these factors must be taken into account if one is to 2

See Max Weinreich, Geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh, 4 vols. (New York: YIVO, 1973). On the question of bilingualism and the distinction between Hebrew and Yiddish within Ashkenazic Jewish society, see Shmuel Niger, Bilingualism in the History of Jewish Literature, trans. J. A. Vogel (New York: Lamham, 1990); Max Weinreich, ‘Ineveynikste yidishe tsveyshprakhikeyt’, in Geshikhte, i: 251–320; Uriel Weinreich, ‘The Socio-Cultural Setting of Language Contact’, in Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems (New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1953); Chone Shmeruk, Prokim fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte (Tel Aviv: Peretz, 1988), 11–49. 3


Bilingualism and Development of Old Yiddish Literature

understand how Yiddish literature came into existence. On the one hand, the professionalization of knowledge brought about the necessity to change the means of transmitting and teaching the Jewish tradition. In the process of becoming a language of culture, study, and aesthetic expression, Yiddish had made possible a reduction of the religious inequities which, while endemic in Jewish society, had become quite extreme and were themselves now the cause of ignorance. Yiddish thus played a role in the movement toward the modernization of the culture and the education of the Jews that characterized this period. These changes, along with the development of the printing press, which made possible the printing of vernacular books and their distribution to an audience that had up to this time only had a limited access to the written word, brought about a significant though gradual modification in the accessiblity of books in general and in literacy in particular. It remains to address the issue of which specific linguistic registers Yiddish utilized in its relations to Hebrew and to non-Jewish coterritorial languages. As a result of its de facto superiority as well as its antiquity, Hebrew was used in a great number of situations: first of all, those associated with study and commentaries on sacred texts, especially the Tanakh (the Bible), and then the midrashic or rabbinical interpretations and exegesis and kabbalistic literature. Also to be mentioned is the vast corpus of halakhic responsa literature and community registers (pinkeysim), which are concerned with daily life in Jewish society, as well as the texts that regulated personal life, such as divorces, marriage contracts, and the formulae recited during the ceremony that releases someone from the levirate marriage obligation (khalitso), oaths (shevuous), and business documents such as letters of credit.4 Correspondence, especially among scholars, merchants, and emissaries from the Holy Land (shelukhey Erets Yisroel) and community authorities is written in Hebrew. Liturgical literature, such as prayers, blessings, and religious hymns (sung on the sabbath or Jewish holidays), whose codification had begun long before the Yiddish language developed, were necessarily written and recited in Hebrew (or, rarely, Aramaic). If such are the domains reserved for Hebrew, then it remains to be addressed in what domains Yiddish could be used, and by means of what factors Yiddish literature could develop to the point that it could become a means of religious and aesthetic expression in its own right, defined by its own specific audience, its own stylistic forms, and its own means of distribution, parallel to those of Hebrew literature. Beginning in the Middle Ages––the earliest written trace of Yiddish dates to 1272––Yiddish texts begin to circulate in manuscript form and later in print, with no disruption in 4 Rabbinical literature includes the Gemoro (Gemara), the decisions of the legal codifiers (poskim) and the Tousofous (Tossafot), divided into commentaries (beyurim), novellae (khidushim), and explications (teyrutsim); the responsa (sheeylous u-teshuvous) are also to be reckoned among these categories.

Bilingualism and Development of Old Yiddish Literature


the traditional boundary lines found in Ashkenazic society and no loss of Hebrew’s supremacy. A number of factors favoured the development of Old Yiddish literature: the existence of a literate populace (even if it remained at an elementary level of instruction), the new possibilities offered by the printing press, the growing pressure exercised by the simple believers who wished to play a more significant role in religious life, as well as the desire of community authorities to find a method of fighting against the growth of ignorance.5 Beginning in the fourteenth century, Yiddish literature fulfilled a limited social function, and by the sixteenth century it began to become a more flexible means of expression that was employed for didactic and religious, as well as literary and aesthetic, purposes, as is demonstrated in the works of Elia Levita.6 In this respect, Ashkenazic Jewish literature in the vernacular follows a path of historical development quite similar to those known from non-Jewish European literatures in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.7 The first texts written in Yiddish answered practical needs, associated with teaching, study, and the social life of the community. Thus one finds glosses (laazim) in the manuscripts of religious texts in Hebrew.8 Commentators and schoolteachers (melamdim of the kheyder) made use of these Germanic words written in the Hebrew alphabet when they explained the sense of the scriptures to their pupils in rabbinical Hebrew and came across an expression or concept that was difficult to make clear. They made use of an equivalent expression in a language known to them all, in order to make difficult passages more comprehensible.9 These translations of Hebrew words, 5

This was the case, even though many rabbis and scholars felt some reticence in seeing the sacred texts revealed to the masses of believers in the vernacular. In the introduction to the Yiddish translation of Seyfer menouras ha-moour, the translator, Moses b. Simeon Frankfurter, recalls the scholars who insist that it is not proper to ‘write [= translate] such religious books in loshoun ashkenaz, and thus to reveal to everyone what is found in the Midrashim and Gemoro’. There is also the example of the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Frankfurt am Main, 1707) of Elhanan ˙ Hendel b. Benjamin Wolf Kirchhahn, which was burned in Vilna, because the book included a Yiddish translation of parts of the halakhic code of Joseph b. Ephraim Caro, Shulkhon orukh. A slightly different, but related, issue is seen in the rabbinical interdiction (kheyrem) imposed on the prayer book, Liblikhe tefilo oder greftige artsnay far guf un neshomo (Hergershausen, 1709), especially because its author, Aaron ben Samuel of Hergershausen, had defended the idea of prayer in the vernacular instead of prayer in Hebrew. 6 On Elia Levita, one of the most accomplished authors of Old Yiddish literature, see below, ch. 6. 7 On this conception of the development of Old Yiddish literature, see Yitskhok Shiper, ‘Di elteste shpurn fun der yidisher shprakh un literatur’, Di yidishe velt 1 (1928), 121–30. 8 On Arsène Darmesteter and the Judaeo-French glosses, see Jean Baumgarten, ‘La Question du “judéo-français” vue par les philologues allemands et français (XIXe–XXe siècle)’, in Michel Espagne and Michael Werner, eds., Philologiques I: Contribution à l’histoire des disciplines littéraires en France et en Allemagne (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 1990), 393–412. 9 Yiddish words in Hebrew texts are introduced by the expression bilshoun ashkenaz ‘in the language spoken by the Ashkenazim’; this usage is also found in Rashi.


Bilingualism and Development of Old Yiddish Literature

intended for use in teaching Torah, constitute the oldest traces of the Old Yiddish or proto-Yiddish language, for examples of its use are found as early as the commentaries of Rashi.10 These glossaries remain important sources, not only for reconstructing the medieval form of Old Yiddish, but also for better understanding the pedagogical and interpretative methods brought to bear on sacred texts as they were used at that time in places of study in Askenazic society.11 Originally this tradition was transmitted orally, but after it had once been recorded in writing, it was widely reproduced in the printed glossaries published in central Europe beginning in the sixteenth century.12 We have already seen that Hebrew was the official language used by the community authorities for recording legal acts and regulations, especially the community registers (pinkeysim) and the confraternal organizations (khevrous), and for local customs and practices (takonous), which the scribes (soferim) were charged with recording. To this is to be added the rich literature of rabbinical responsa (sheeylous u-teshuvous). Since these documents were, however, intended to be circulated widely––at least those that included information of a general nature––they needed to be readily comprehensible to the community as a whole. It is for this reason that the scribes take it upon themselves to write the documents in the vernacular (loshoun ashkenaz or leshouneynu), or indeed in a macaronic language that mixes Hebrew and Yiddish, often in the form of calques.13 One example of such administrative texts may provide an idea of the characteristics peculiar to this scribal 10

Most often the language of such glosses is to be identified as a Germanic dialect written in the Hebrew alphabet, rather than Yiddish, the term used to designate the language beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. On the tradition of Judaeo-German glosses, see Wilhelm Staerk and Albert Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen von den Anfängen bis zum Ausgang des 18. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt am Main: Kaufmann, 1923; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1977), 1–60. Among the oldest Judaeo-German glosses are those found in the manuscripts, Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, cod. Reuchlin , dating from 1393 (fol. 82v) and Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, cod. Reuchlin , dating from 1399 (fol. 237v). On Rashi, see Leopold Zunz, ‘Salomon ben Isaac, genannt Raschi’, in ‘Review of Der Bibel’sche (sic) Orient. eine Zeitschrift in zwanglosen Heften’, Zeitschrift für die Wissenschaft des Judentums 1 (1822), 177–96; Erika Timm, ‘Zur Frage der Echtheit von Raschis jiddischen Glossen’, BGDSL 105 (1985), 45–81. 11 See Erika Timm, ‘Jiddische Sprachmaterialen aus dem Jahre 1290: die Glossen des Berner kleine Aruch. Edition und Kommentar’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddisch, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 16–34; Yosef Bar-El, Sefer pitronot Rashi (Tel-Aviv: Papirus, 1992); Mordecai Kosover, ‘Yidishe glosn in der rabonisher literatur’, 232–61 in M. Shtarkman, ed. Shloyme Bikl yoyvl-bukh: Ateres Shloyme, tsu zayn 70stn geboyrntog (New York: Matones, 1967). 12 See ch. 5 below, p. 95. 13 This mixed language approximates the Schriftdialekt (the official chancery dialect) used by royal and imperial scribes and secretaries in the German-speaking lands from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. One finds this language in administrative and diplomatic documents and in juridical documents composed in the courts.

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language.14 Let us look then at a characteristic excerpt from the Cracow community register (pinkos) of 1595; italicized words are Hebrew in the original.15 $AD FÏA ,ZNK$A IW$LB YRBE BTKB QTEH IYYA UWH IM ZD ,IBYYR$ WC ZÏA OYMWYQ YLA IUKA IYLAZ U''WR IED IWP P''KEW UYYU$ OYMWYQ AYD IYA ZAÑ ,IUKYR WC VAN RD I$YÑ VYZ IYREÑ RYM ZD ,UYM RD IAQ IM ZA U$EB 16




The leaders and best citizens of the community must pay attention to recording all the transactions of the meetings so that there exists a copy of the Hebrew text in the Ashkenazic language in its best form, so that we will know how to conduct ourselves accordingly, and know what actually is found in the transactions, especially with respect to that which concerns the transactions for which one has a need. Year by year one should choose, according to the needs of the moment, [a shtadlen, i.e. a mediator between the Jewish community and the aristocratic and ecclesiastical authorities], so that he can lighten the burden of the heads of the community who cannot go along with every individual and respond to all the needs of our people, most of whom have a limited understanding [of the problems posed]. He can thus go with each one individually who needs him as a judge, or scribe, or clerk,17 tax collector, inventory clerk or city magistrate, and to every place where he is needed. And he ought never to receive compensation in money or gifts, and he should never go together with anyone else without first knowing him, nor on his own initiative.

A similar mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish is often found in rabbinical responsa,18 in promissory notes (shtorous) and juridical acts, such as the ‘oaths


There is a vast scholarly literature on such bilingual community texts. The language of scribes is well represented in: Moritz Güdemann, ‘Aus den Statuten der Gemeinde Nikolsburg in Mähren (1676)’, Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den deutschen Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf Mendelssohn (Berlin: A. Hofmann, 1892; rpt. Amsterdam: Philo, 1968), 255f.; Leopold Löwenstein, ‘Wormser Gemeindeordnungen’, Blätter für jüdische Geschichte und Literatur 4 (1903), 145–50, 161–5, 177–9; 5 (1904), 33–6, 65–8, 81–4; Simon Dubnow, ‘Tsvey kruzim in yidish funem “vad arba artsos” in 1671’, Historishe shriftn fun yivo 1 (1929), 699–702; E. Ringelblum, ‘Der pinkes fun der plotsker khevre khayitim (sof 18tn yorhundert)’, Ekonomishe shriftn fun yivo 2 (1932), 20–31; I. Halpern, Takanot yehudei mehrin (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1951). Among the texts concerning the scribal language, see Uriel Weinreich, ‘Nusah ha-soferim ha-ivri-yidi’, Leshonenu 22 (1958), 54–66. ˙ 15 Excerpt from paragraph 41 in Majar Balaban, ‘Die Krakauer Judengemeinde-Ordnung von 1595 und ihre Nachträge’, Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft 10 (1912), 296–360 (here, 327–8); 11 (1916), 88–114. 16 Balaban notes that the direct object of the verb is here omitted, and suggests shtadlen; this suggestion is incorporated into the translation here. 17 Balaban suggests Burggraf. 18 Yosef Bar-El, Milon yidish ivrit le-shu’’t gedole ashkenaz. Meot 13–15 meshivim nivcharim (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 1977). Commentaries in loshoun ashkenaz are found in the


Bilingualism and Development of Old Yiddish Literature

of peace’ (shevuous),19 depositions of witnesses (gviyes-eydes),20 and commercial documents, such as deeds of purchase (kabolous-kinyon) or acknowledgement of debt (shtor-khouv).21 But it was especially in the domain of private life that Yiddish was used, because ordinary Jews could not read and write except in the vernacular and by using the Hebrew alphabet. Thus there responsa of Jacob ben Moses Moellin (Maharil), dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. See Yitskhok Satz, ed. She’elot uteshuvot Maharil ha-hadashot (Jerusalem: Machon Yerusha˙ layim, 1977), 174–5, 180; Chaim Lunski, ‘Yidish bay R. Yankev Vayln’, Filologishe shriftn 1 (1926), 285–8. 19

Such as those found in the municipal registries of Zurich, sworn by Jedidiah bar Hiskia in 1385 (Zurich, Staatsarchiv des Kanton, Raths- und Gerichtsbücher der Stadt Zürich, 1385,   192, fol. 287v); EYT 10; see Florence Guggenheim-Grünberg, Die ältesten jüdischen Familien in Lengnau und Endingen. Beilage: Urfehdebrief eines Zürcher Juden aus dem Jahre 1385 (Zurich: Jüdische Buch-Gemeinde, 1954); and Judenschicksale und ‘Judenschuol’ im mittelalterlichen Zürich (Zurich: Jüdische Buch-Gemeinde, 1967), 29; Florence GuggenheimGrünberg, ‘Urfehdebrief eines Zürcher Juden aus dem Jahre 1385’, in Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund, 1904–1954 Festschrift zum 50 Jährigen [sic] Bestehen (Zurich: Fédération suisse de communautés Israélites, n.d. (1954)), 264 and facing plate (facsimile). See also: Andreas Blauert, Das Urfehdewesen im deutschen Südwesten im Spätmittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit (Tübingen: Bibliotheca Academica, 2000). There is also an oath of peace extant, in both a German and a Yiddish version, that was sworn by Rabbi Meir of Erfurt, dated 1392, in the municipal archives of the city of Frankfurt (Frankfurt am Main, Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Rachtungen 287 (1392, März 19) (German document) and Rachtungen 288 (1392, März 19) (Yiddish document); EYT 11; see Aron Freimann, ‘Der Judenmeister Meiher von Erfurt wird vom Frkftr. Rat auf Verwendung des Königs Wenzel aus dem Gefängnis entlassen und schwört Urfehde, in die auch die Frkftr. Juden inbegriffen sind. 1392. 19. März (23. Adar  5152)’, Zeitschrift für hebræische Bibliographie 11 (1907), 107–12; Florence Guggenheim-Grünberg, ‘Zur Umschrift deutscher Mundarten des 14./15. Jahrhunderts mit hebräischer Schrift’, Zeitschrift für Mundartforschung 24 (1957), 229–46; Karl Habersaat, ‘Repertorium der jiddischen Handschriften’, Rivista degli studi orientali 30 (1955), 235–49; Isidor Kracauer, Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Juden in Frankfurt am Main von 1150–1400, i: Urkunden, Rechenbücher, Bedebücher (Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann, 1914), nos. 408–9, pp. 187–91. 20 Zalmen Rubashow, ‘Yidishe gviyes-eydes in di shayles-utshuves fun onheyb xv bizn sof xvii yorhundert’, Historishe shriftn fun yivo 1 (Warsaw, 1929), 115–96; rpt. in Zalman Shazar, ‘Gviotedut be-lashon yidish be-sheelot u-tshuvot mi-thilat ha-meah ha-hamesh-esre ad sof ha-meah ˙ ˙ ha-shva-esre’, 239–319 in Orei dorot, mehkarim ve-he-’arot le-toldot yisrael ba-dorot ha-ahronim ˙ ˙ (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1971). 21 A number of oaths of peace, acknowledgements of debt, depositions, and official documents in Yiddish are found in Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Übersetzungen der hebräischen Texte und Umschriften der altjiddischen Texte’, in Raphael Straus, ed., Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg (1453–1738), Quellen und Erörterungen zur bayerischen Geschichte  18 (Munich: Beck, 1960), 455–62; Moritz Stern, ‘Aus Regensburg: urkundliche Mitteilungen’, Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft 22 (1931–2), esp. 20–1, 39–40; Die israelitische Bevölkerung der deutschen Stadt Regensburg im Mittelalter (Berlin: Hausfreund, 1934), 20–2; Monumenta hungariae judaica [Magyar-Zsidó Oklevéltár], i: 1092–1539, ed. Ármin Friss (Budapest: Wodianer F. És Fiai Bizománya, 1903), 219–21, 353–5, 423; Monumenta hungariae judaica [Magyar-Zsidó Oklevéltár], v/1: 1096–1700, ed. Philippus Grünwald and Alexander Scheiber (Budapest: A Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviseletének Kiadása, 1959), no. 137.

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exist family documents and letters that demonstrate that Yiddish as a written language of communication was widespread among the middle classes of Ashkenazic society. Of course an educated person or a merchant could conduct his correspondence in Hebrew, but when it was a matter of letters of a familiar or personal nature, the vernacular was preferred.22 On the other hand, since men were supposed to learn and know Hebrew, the sacred language was associated more generally with the male domain, excepting the uneducated or ‘ignorant’ men of the community. By the same token, since women had less access to the study of religious texts, Yiddish was thought much more a part of the female domain.23 One can thus trace a dividing line between that which pertains to the male domain, dominated by Hebrew (the foter-shprakh), and that which belongs to the female sphere, namely Yiddish (mame-loshn). If, on the one hand, the responsa of Rabbi Isserlein could only be written in Hebrew (albeit peppered with Yiddish words),24 it seems on the other hand only natural to find a letter dealing with a halakhic issue that was written by his wife to another woman in the vernacular.25 The use of the vernacular is further demonstrated in a letter written in Yiddish (dating from 1565) by an inhabitant of Jerusalem to her son in Cairo.26 The division between the respective registers of the two languages is 22

On Yiddish correspondence, see Dovid Ginzberg, ‘Private yidishe briv funem yor 1533’, Yivo-bleter 13 (1938), 325–44; Bernard Dov Weinryb, ‘A pekl briv in yidish fun 1588’, Historishe shriftn fun yivo 2 (1937), 43–67; Alfred Landau and Bernhard Wachstein, eds., Jüdische Privatbriefe aus dem Jahre 1619 (Vienna/Leipzig: Braumüller, 1911); Andrew Lloyd Sunshine, ‘Opening the Mail: Interpersonal Aspects of Discourse and Grammar in Middle Yiddish Letters’ (diss. Columbia, 1992); EYT 21, 39, 59, 69, 95, 96. 23 See E. H. Lévy, ‘Langue des hommes et langue des femmes en judéo-allemand’, in Mélanges offerts à M. Charles Andler par ses amis et ses élèves (Strasbourg: Istra, 1924), 197–215. 24 On the Yiddish in the texts of Rabbi Israel Petahiah Isserlein (fifteenth century), see Chaim Lunski, ‘Iserlins yidish’, Yidishe filologye 4–6 (1924), 288–95; Moritz Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der abendländischen Juden während des Mittelalters und der neueren Zeit, vol. iii: Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der Juden in Deutschland während des XIV. und XV. Jahrhunderts (Vienna: Hölder, 1888; rpt. Amsterdam: Philo, 1966), 99–101. 25 See Sefer leket yosher, ed. Jacob Freimann (Berlin: Itzkowski, 1904; rpt. New York: Menorah, 1959; Jerusalem: n.p., 1963–4), 19–20. 26 See Chava Turniansky, ‘Tseror igerot be-yidish mi-yerushalaim mi-shenot ha-shishim shel ha-meah ha-shesh-esre’, Shalem 4 (1984), 149–208; EYT 59. There was also a letter from a Venetian merchant, Isaac ben Abraham, who was travelling to Constantinople in 1578. He entrusted a Yiddish letter to another traveller, who was to deliver it to his mother; Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS 250 (Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 209, 3). There is also an anonymous letter extant written to a Jewish woman named Pelein, who was imprisoned in Regensburg on the common antisemitic charge of stealing and torturing a eucharistic host (EYT 21); see Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Specimens of Yiddish from Eight Centuries’, Field of Yiddish 2 (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), 6; Stern, ‘Aus Regensburg’, 32–40; Straus, Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg 1453–1738, p. 170, item no. 502 (ed. and Roman-alphabet transcription); Erika Timm, Von Raschi zu Moses Mendelssohn: Zeugnisse des Jiddischen. Begleitheft zur Ausstellung (Trier: Universität Trier, 1986), 4 (facsimile and Germanized Roman-alphabet transcription).


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also clearly demonstrated by another example: the ceremonial formula of pidyoun ha-ben (the redemption of the newborn). In the dialogue between the Cohen and the parents, the Cohen’s Hebrew question is followed by the mother’s response in Yiddish: Tell me whether your son is a first-born and whether you have not born another before him. My son So-and-So is a first-born, and I have not had another before him and have not miscarried.27

These few examples demonstrate that Hebrew was reserved for purposes of official culture, canonical texts, and in particular restricted to the realm of scholarly and learned high culture. The early Yiddish texts fulfilled at first only an auxiliary function, associated in particular with the need to transmit the scriptures in a language that was accessible to everyone. The vernacular was employed for the purpose of responding to certain practical needs in the everyday lives of ordinary Jews, especially women, children, and men of a moderate or low educational level. Nonetheless, Yiddish soon moved beyond this simple utilitarian function and responded to a growing popular demand for edifying and entertaining books, resulting in the creation of both original literary texts and Yiddish translations of other texts which were then distributed to the Jewish masses. The codex from the Fostat genizah in Cairo, dated 1382 (now in Cambridge University Library), which includes the oldest extensive literary documents in Yiddish, presents a clear idea of the mode that developed in early Yiddish literature. It includes both an adaptation of a Germanic epic poem, the Dukus Horant, and poetic compositions that drew their inspiration from biblical and midrashic sources. Likewise, it is in the Middle Ages that one finds the first traces of biblical translations,28 liturgical texts and religious poems,29 collections of customs and usage,30 as well as medical texts.31 27

IEZWWG LYPM $NYYQ BH IWA UAHG DNYQ IYYQ OYA RP BH VYA RWK ½ B IYYA UZYA YNWLP IWZ IYYM. See Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Hebr. 1368, 3r (Alsace, 18th century); Jean Baumgarten, ‘Les Manuscrits Yidich de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’, in Field of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Folklore and Literature, v, ed. David Goldberg (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 121–51, here 144. 28 In particular the manuscript of the Psalms translation from 1490 (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Or. Qu. 310). 29 Especially associated with the Passover Haggadah. There is a translation of the ‘Adir Hu’ from the fifteenth century (Paris, Bibliothèque national, Hébr. 1333), rhymed comments in the Nuremberg Haggadah from 1459 (Jerusalem, Schocken Library), and a translation of a makhzour from 1465, from the collection of Prof. David Kaufmann; now: Budapest, Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvyára (Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Oriental Department, Kaufmann Collection, no. 395; see Max Weiss, Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften und Bücher in der Bibliothek des Prof. Dr. David Kaufman (Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann, 1906). 30 See the Minhogim in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Hébr. 586 (15th century), Hébr. 587 (1533), Hébr. 588 (16th century) and in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, . Or. Qu. 694. 31 See the text on bloodletting from 1396 (EYT 12); Lasar Dünner, ‘Die hebräischen

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It is evident that Old Yiddish literature was formed on the basis of two quite distinct traditions. It was influenced, on the one hand, by models from coterritorial literatures, such as the chivalric traditions of medieval Europe, and, on the other, by classical texts from Jewish literature, from the Bible and aggadic and midrashic texts, to liturgical texts. In the same manner in which the language itself was formed as a fusion of distinct components combined to yield an autonomous system, so too the literature grew out of the contact between coterritorial literatures and in symbiosis with the Hebrew tradition. One may not imagine Yiddish literature solely as a ‘sub-literature for the use of women and the ignorant’, as the distorted criteria and value judgements from some quarters in the course of the history of Yiddish might lead one to believe. The linguistic creativity, the capacity to respond to a multiplicity of social needs, and the artistic quality of a number of works (such as those of Elia Levita) encourage one rather to understand Old Yiddish literature as a complex system in a dynamic relationship with both Hebrew and non-Jewish literature, and to trace the process of its development from the medieval glosses (11th–13th centuries) to the great classic texts, which thus exhibits a path of development similar to that of the principal literatures of Europe. Within this vast dynamic ensemble that constitutes Jewish literature, it remains to be determined to what extent there were interpenetrations of the various domains of expression by each of the languages,32 especially since Yiddish gradually took over some of the functions traditionally reserved for Hebrew. Finally, it will be necessary to investigate the specific registers in which Old Yiddish literature could develop in its relations with the other components of Ashkenazic Jewish culture. Handschrift-Fragmente im Archiv der Stadt Cöln’, Zeitschrift für hebräische bibliographie 8 (1904), 84–90, 113–17, esp. 84, 113–14; Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Umschrift des ältesten datierten jiddischen Schriftstücks’, Teuthonista [Zeitschrift für deutsche Dialektforschung und Sprachgeschichte] 8 (1932), 197–207; idem, ‘Das älteste datierte Schriftstück in jiddischer Sprache’, BGDSL 56 (1932), 11–22; on the restored document, see Klaus Cuno, ‘Aspekte der Kölner Aderlaßhandschrift von 1396/97 im Licht neuer Erkenntnisse’, Jiddistik Mitteilungen 9 (1993), 1–17. 32

On the influence of Yiddish on Hebrew and the borrowing from the vernacular in rabbinical texts, see Shlomo Noble, ‘Yidish in a hebreishn levush’, Yivo-bleter 41 (1957–8), 158–75 (= Shmuel Niger-bukh, ed. Shlomo Bickel and Leibush Lehrer (New York: YIVO, 1957–8) ).

 Yiddish Bibles The Hebrew Bible was the foundation on which most of Old Yiddish literature was based and from which it developed. The Bible played a central role as the basis of education and the transmission of Judaism to the Jewish masses, whether via glossaries, dictionaries, concordances, verse or prose translations, or homiletic commentaries. It also formed the textual basis on which was built the Jewish literary tradition in the vernacular: epics, romance, and biblical poems and dramas.1 It is significant that the first known printed book in Yiddish is in fact a biblical concordance, the Mirkeves ha-mishne, published in 1534 in Cracow.2 At each important stage in the development of Yiddish literature, the Bible plays a double role: it is the foundational text par excellence, distributed in great numbers among the most varied strata of the Jewish populace; and it formed a site of linguistic experimentation and a reservoir of narrative material on the basis of which was developed a specifically Jewish literature. Thus at each point of significant social change experienced by Jewish society from the Middle Ages to the modern period, the Bible exercised an obvious influence as a vital foundation, a site of creativity, and a generator of new forms. Several of the biblical translations and commentaries in Yiddish have thus, to recall the expression of Henri Meschonnic, played a significant historical role.3 Among them is the Tsene-rene (Hanau, 1622), a homiletic commentary by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov, whom Max Erik did not hesitate to call the ‘Luther of the Middle Yiddish period’, by which he wished to emphasize the importance of this translation in the establishment of this national Jewish language.4 The two Yiddish translations of the Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1676–9 (Jekuthiel b. Isaac Blitz) and 1679 (Joseph b. Alexander Witzenhausen) are renowned for having significantly changed the technique of translation in use up to that time, and in so doing, they prefigure the Bibles of the maskilim (the representatives of the Jewish 1

This aspect has been emphasized many times by, among others, Max Grünbaum, who insists on the centrality of the Bible in Old Yiddish literature: ‘Sie ist das getreue Spiegelbild des jüdischen Lebens’ (‘It is the authentic reflection of Jewish life’); see Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1882), 10–11. 2 By Rabbi Anshel, printed by Samuel, Asher, and Eliakim Helicz; see St., CB, no. 4423; EYT 40. 3 ‘[U]n rôle historique fort’; see Henri Meschonnic, ‘La Bible en français’, in Pour la poétique, ii (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 409. 4 Erik, Geshikhte, p. 230.

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Enlightenment).5 Other Bible translations, such as the ones by Mendel Lefin Satanover and Sholem Jacob Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim), also played important roles in the modern Yiddish literary renaissance beginning in the eighteenth century.6 This return to the Bible can be understood––as is also the case with a number of other aspects of Old Yiddish literature––as a result of the conjunction of two clusters of factors: those having to do with the influence of cultural transformations that had affected European society in general during the Renaissance and those deriving from internal change within Jewish culture. While Yiddish texts must be interpreted primarily with reference to Ashkenazic Jewish culture (with which they naturally share a wide variety of common characteristics), they did nonetheless originate in close contact with Germanic culture of the Reformation period. In order to isolate and identify the specific characteristics of Old Yiddish literature, and especially to understand the problem of the predominance of the Bible, it is necessary to take into account these multiple contributions, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The culture of the Reformation that spread through the Germanic lands beginning in the sixteenth century could not but leave its traces on vernacular Jewish literature, which was in its initial stages of development during the same period. While it is difficult, and even risky, to try to specify the range of these porous cultural interchanges, one cannot but note a number of connections and similarities between the Protestants in the Germanic world and the ideas that became prevalent among some Jewish authors and Yiddish translators of the Bible. The spiritual battle that began in Germany in the sixteenth century hinged especially on a new politics of language and a redefinition of religious pedagogy.7 A larger role is assigned the vernacular, as witnessed by some of the demands of the founders of the Reformation, such as the essential need to translate the Bible into the vernacular, and then to expand the role of the vernacular in liturgical practice and sermons. The point here was not only a return to a divine word now made accessible to everyone, including ordinary Christians and especially women, but also a return to the biblical text itself, in its simple, literal sense, as opposed to the sophistical and hairsplitting interpretations and adventitious glosses, all of which were associated 5

Marion Aptroot, ‘Bible Translation as Cultural Reform: The Amsterdam Yiddish Bibles 1678–1679’, (diss. Oxford, 1989); eadem, ‘Blits un Vitsnhoyzn: naye penimer fun an alter makhloykes’, Oksforder yidish 1 (Chur: Harwood, 1990), 3–38; Jean Baumgarten, ‘Deux Bibles en yiddish éditées à Amsterdam (1676 et 1679)’, in Jean-Robert Armogathe, ed., Le Grand Siècle et la Bible, Bible de tous les temps 6 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1989), 297–313. 6 Jean Baumgarten, ‘Une traduction de la Bible en yiddish’, in Yvon Belaval and Dominique Bourel, eds., Le Siècle des Lumières et la Bible, Bible de tous les temps 7 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1986), 237–52; Chone Shmeruk, ‘Mendeles Tehilim-iberzetsung’, Di goldene keyt 62–3 (1968), 290–312. 7 Samuel Berger, La Bible au XVIe siècle: étude sur les origines de la critique moderne (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1879).


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with scholasticism, which obscured rather than elucidated the Holy Scriptures. For Christians, it was necessary to create conditions that would allow the common people a broader accessibility to the Holy Scriptures, for it was they who had often been abandoned in a spiritual or religious sense. Here it was a matter of closing the ever widening gap between the clerical elite and the masses of the faithful, to draw the Christian peoples out of their ignorance and superstition, and thus to provide a theology that would satisfy the thirst for spirituality, as well as their need for religious comfort during unstable times. The spoken language, which had up until then been little used in an ecclesiastical sphere dominated by Latin, became one of the vehicles by which the divine message, the highest authority and the sole spiritual sustenance, was disseminated to each believer. At the same time, the classical languages tended to lose some portion of their supremacy. A new mode of communication marked by a de facto bilingualism made inroads into a religious and intellectual world largely dominated by Latin, the universal language of culture and the elite means of access to theological speculation and biblical exegesis. Martin Luther provides the most obvious proof of this new cultural situation in his use of a combination of Latin and German in his works.8 Depending on the addressee, the situation, and the content of the text, he wrote in Latin for theologians, the pope, and his students, and in the vernacular when he preached to the faithful and rebellious peasants, or when he addressed himself in pamphlets and books of edification to princes of German cities and states that had joined the Reformation. There are also texts written by Luther, such as letters to those close to him, that alternate between Latin and German. It is also well known that his translation of the Bible had a great impact in the German lands. The first edition, printed in 1522 in Wittenberg by Melchior Lotther, sold out within a few months. Between 1522 and 1524 the New Testament was reprinted fourteen times in Wittenberg and seventy times in Augsburg, Basel, Strasbourg, and Leipzig. Between 1519 and 1535, there were altogether no fewer than eighty-seven editions published in High German and nineteen in Low German. Beginning in 1523, the German translation of the Hebrew Bible had a similar fate. In all, between 1522 and 1546, there were 430 complete or partial editions printed in the major publishing centres of Europe. If, in addition to these translations, one reckons the pamphlets, sermons, polemical tracts, and catechisms, the considerable dimensions of such publishing ventures becomes clear, for it testifies to the emergence of a veritable literature for the masses.9 While one can find numerous other examples in the Catholic realms, the 8 On the relations of Luther and the theoreticians of the Reformation with the vernacular, see, among others, G. A. Padley, Grammatical Theory in Western Europe (1500–1700): Trends in Vernacular Grammar, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985–8). On the relations between vernacular book printing and the spread of the Reformation, see Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, L’Apparition du livre (Paris: Albin Michel, 1958–9), 400–12. 9 For these statistics and relevant issues, see Febvre and Martin, L’Apparition du livre 410–11.

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most pertinent certainly remains that of Meister Eckhart, whose works alternate, depending on the needs of the intended audience, between the Latin texts of theology and biblical commentary and German sermons intended for simple believers.10 The Council of Trent likewise presented an important opportunity for clerics to make pronouncements about the problems of biblical translations in the vernacular. The fathers of the council, confronted by the double shock of humanism and the Reformation, adopted an intermediate position: they encouraged the distribution of the Bible in the vernacular, while at the same time placing severe restrictions on such activity. The reading of the Bible by the masses risked the spread of heterodoxy and the ferment of heresy, as becomes clear in their resolution: ‘Since experience has proven that the reading of the Bible in the vernacular, if it is permitted to everyone quite indiscriminately, causes more damage than it produces utility, one should adhere in this matter to the judgement of the bishop and inquisitor, who can allow, depending on the advice of priest or confessor, the reading of holy literature, translated into the vernacular by catholic authors, to those who have been judged capable of strengthening their faith and piety by such reading.’11 This movement toward vernacularization was felt not only with respect to religious culture, but also in the realms of scientific knowledge, as is shown, for instance, in the medical works of Paracelsus, which were written in German. Thus in Renaissance Europe the vernacular made its way into ever broader domains and reached an audience that grew in proportion to the printing industry’s expansion of the potential for book distribution. Despite this redistribution of knowledge and the increase in the channels of transmission, however, the vernacular did not by any means gain immediate respectability. Many scholars during the Renaissance period made no effort to hide their profound contempt for the vernaculars, which were thought to be corrupt languages, without rules and without subtlety, as opposed to the classical languages which were endowed with prestige and a vast literature. The attitude of Erasmus is quite representative of this ambiguity that characterizes many scholars of the period. On the one hand, he extols the beauties of Latin and Greek, which he wishes to be studied by the greatest possible number of people. He is nonetheless sensitive to the popular demand and the situation of the simple believers who hear the divine word in a language that they cannot understand. In a text written in Latin, the Paraphrasis in evangelium Matthaei (Mainz, 1522), he takes a favourable stance on a translation of the Bible into vernacular languages, in order to reconcile the divine word and popular expectations. He explains: I wish for the Gospels to be translated into all languages. Christ wishes for his philosophy to be propagated as widely as possible. He died for everyone: he wishes to be known by all. It would be a contribution to that end for the books to be translated 10 11

On this subject, see Alain de Libera, Penser au Moyen Âge (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1991). As cited by Berger, La Bible au XVIe siècle, 78.


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into all the languages of all the nations, such that the princes cause all the people to understand the three languages to which divine philosophy has preferentially been consigned. . . . What would be improper about each person reading the Gospel aloud in his native language and thus understanding it? The French in French, the English in English, the Germans in German, the Indians in Indian? That which seems to me much more improper or rather ridiculous, that is that people without education and women mumble the Psalms and their Sunday prayers in Latin like parrots, for they do not understand what they are saying. As for myself, like Saint Jerome, I would be more pleased by the glory of the cross and would consider the result especially magnificent and triumphant, if all languages and all races celebrated it, if the farmer at his plough-handle sung several couplets of the mystical Psalms in his own language, if the weaver at his loom chanted some passage of the Gospel, thus relieving his travail, if the pilot leaning on his rudder hums a short piece; finally, if, while the mother is at her distaff, a friend or family member reads to her some passages aloud.12

While Jewish society existed of course under very specific conditions shaped by quite different presuppositions and logic, it nonetheless had to deal with problems that were in the end quite similar, and had to formulate appropriate solutions to the problems of how to transmit the biblical text to the masses. With respect to the issue of the progressive intrusion of the vernacular into the domain of knowledge, Jews were confronted with questions that were often identical to those faced by their Christian neighbours. They worked out strategies of transmission which, while they responded to internal needs of Jewish society and were consistent with the continuity of the Hebrew tradition, nonetheless had an obvious affinity with the models of neighbouring cultures, especially in the German-speaking lands. Two aspects suffice to illustrate the striking similarities: the reaction of educated Jews to the vernacularization of knowledge, with their dual aspects of both tolerance and prohibition, scarcely differed from those encountered in the Christian milieu. The categorical rejection of all ritual printed in the vernacular, which was fraught with the danger of deviation from the law, coexisted with a resigned acceptance of the vernacular as a palliative for the uneducated and a stopgap against the misunderstanding of the divine word. On the other hand, the space in which the vernacular was deployed within Jewish culture, especially the translations of the Bible and of a portion of the liturgy, resembles that which had been conceded by the clerics of the coterritorial majority culture. The significant cultural upheaval brought about by the development of the Paraphrasis in evangelium Matthaei (translation mine, JCF); English translation: The first tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the Newe Testamente, facsimile edition of the translation published by E. Whitechurche (London, 1548), with an introduction by John N. Wall, Jr. (Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1975); French translation: Erasmus, Œuvres choisies, ed. J. Chomarat (Paris: Livre de poche classique, 1991), 570–96; see Claude Longeon, ed., Premiers combats pour la langue française (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1989), 30–40; Berger, ‘Érasme et la Bible’, in La Bible au XVIe siècle, 40–9. 12

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printing industry contributed to the rise of the European vernaculars.13 First, because putting the language into writing promoted the constitution of a fixed text, the grammatical systematization of the spoken language and the development of a literary language. Furthermore, a number of potential readers, heretofore strangers to the world of letters, could have access by means of individual silent reading, or indirectly via collective reading, to books in the vernacular and to basic religious texts which they had known heretofore primarily through oral transmission.14 This was all the more so, since it was a period when the general literacy rate seems to have increased, thus expanding the potential audience of popular books, and where the Jewish educational system, although in the midst of an obvious crisis, nonetheless allowed a sizable portion of Jewish society access to reading and writing. A new audience developed at the same time that the systematization of book production was taking place and the distribution channels were expanding, especially via ‘book people’: printers, booksellers, and pedlars. A complete corpus of literature, for the purposes of both popularization and entertainment, thus appeared which was intended to meet the needs of these new readers. Here, too, one must note the parallels between general European developments during the Renaissance and the cultural transformations specific to the Jewish community. The appearance of vernacular Jewish literature and especially the increase in the number of Yiddish Bibles provides convincing evidence of these changes. Jewish authors confront the issues and question the place of the vernacular in Jewish culture in terms that are often comparable to those encountered in the Christian sphere. Let us recall an important fact: a number of the sixteenth-century Yiddish Bibles were printed in several of the great European publishing centres where the Reformation had triumphed and thus where a tradition of edifying books, liturgical booklets, and devotional texts developed, for example Augsburg, Constance, Basel, and Zurich. The promotion of the vernacular languages, the vernacularization of standard fields of knowledge, the consolidation of the structures of popular book publishing and distribution, the centrality of biblical translation––such a combination of factors should nonetheless not lead us to overvalue a single comparativist perspective nor to be content with simple surface similarities, even though they seem undeniable. Of course the spirit of the time and the realities of the coterritorial majority culture have always played a significant 13 See, for instance, the plausibly contextualized argument by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformation in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). 14 On these major changes, one should consult the classic study by Febvre and Martin, L’Apparition du livre; see also Henri-Jean Martin, Histoire et pouvoirs de l’écrit (Paris: Perrin, 1988); Roger Chartier, Henri-Jean Martin, and Jean-Pierre Vivet, eds., Histoire de l’édition française, 4 vols. (Paris: Promodis, 1983–6); and Nathalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1975), 189–226.


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role in Jewish communities. It would thus be a mistake to deny the importance of the phenomena of cultural transference and to privilege an insular view of the Jewish quarter, reduced to a micro-society withdrawn into itself and defensive against all openness to and exchange with the outside. Jewish society was, however, confronted by specific problems to which it responded with original solutions not derived from those of Christian society. In view of the tensions and the ruptures that had appeared in the communities of Europe, the task at hand is to identify the creative strategies deployed to alleviate them, which thereby reveals the specificity of Yiddish culture within the much larger ensemble that constituted Ashkenazic Jewish culture. There are in this respect problems that arose from the translation of the Bible into Yiddish, an issue that demonstrates how the Jews developed original solutions and created an entire collection of texts that responded to the needs of a popular reading audience. This particular sector of the publishing industry can only be understood with reference to the place of the Bible within Jewish culture and to the existence of a network of education and cultural dissemination specific to the Ashkenazic community. In all periods of Jewish history, the Torah has occupied a central place in religious life.15 That it was inspired by God, written in Hebrew (the divine language) by the prophets, imbued with the Holy Spirit (ruakh ha-koudesh) could not but confer on it a special status within the vast corpus of holy texts. It is associated with holiness and absolute purity, which confers on it a superiority and prestige that no other sacred text possesses.16 In the Ashkenazic world, the predominance of the Bible is obvious, for the reading, recitation, study, and commentary on the biblical text are the core of Jewish religious life. At the same time, lernen (‘study’) played an important role in Ashkenazic culture: it influenced all periods of life and was the exclusive occupation of the talmid-khokhom,17 who obviously enjoyed immense prestige in Jewish society.18 Study was a component part of each stage of the 15 On the centrality of the Law in the Jewish tradition, see, for example, Maimonides, Mishne touro, pt. i: Sefer ha-mada, esp. ch. 3, on the study of the Law. 16 Avot 3. 14: ‘Beloved are the children of Israel to whom was given a precious instrument; by means of an even greater sign of love it was made known to them that they had been given the precious instrument, with which the world was created, for it is written: “I have given you good precepts, do not forsake my teaching” [Prov. 4: 2].’ Rashi comments: *‘A precious instrument [kley khemedo]––that is the Torah, which is an instrument of especial importance because it was by means of it that the world was created.’ See also on the subject BT Pes 54a, Ned 39b, Avot de Rabbi Nathan  39 and  44. 17 Elia Levita explains in his Tishbi (Isny, 1541) that originally scholars were called khakhomim, but since the term was felt to express pride, they adopted the designation talmidkhokhom. 18 In the Shmuel-bukh, for example, spiritual authorities are designated by the expression IULA AYD 'NWA RNREL AYD ‘the scholars and the elders’, a calque from Hebrew khokhomim uzkenim; see Felix Falk and Lajb Fuks, eds., Das Schmuelbukh des Mosche Esrim Wearba: Ein biblisches Epos aus dem 15. Jahrhundert (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1961), vol. i, st. 975. 1. It is a

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Jewish educational system and one of its primary vehicles of transmission. The implementation of this system was above all the duty of the parents, who were obligated to encourage from a very young age the study of the Torah, the recitation of prayers, especially the Shma Yisroeyl and the Birkas hamozoun, and the respect of social obligations such as charity and visiting the sick.19 From the age of four or five, children in the kheyder, the primary school, began their initiation into Hebrew letters, sight-reading, and memorization of vocabulary by means of reading excerpts from Leviticus. The course of study led to the yeshivah for the most gifted students, the crowning achievement of the educational structure. The daily reading of the Bible appeared in many other life situations, especially in the synagogue during the reading of the Torah, which proceeded by instalments throughout the year up until the holiday of Simkhas-Touro.20 This public reading included the weekly reading from the Prophets, the Haftorot (haftourous). The sidro, the weekly biblical passage, was completed by the commentary and analysis of the drosho, the rabbinical sermon. Furthermore, the reading of the Bible was also present in the site of individual study (lernen far zikh): in the prayer and study house (beys-medrosh), in the religious fraternal organizations (khevrous),21 and in the home itself, during the pious readings of ouneg shabos ‘the pleasure of shabbat’. The reading of the Bible and holy texts thus completely permeated daily life and underlined the annual cycle of the Jewish liturgical year.22 Nonetheless, the gradual alienation from and loss of knowledge of the holy language necessitated the development of new mechanisms of transmission, revealing fact that the various social strata that made up the Jewish community were designated by terms that made reference to their degree of study. Thus, from the lower to the higher levels, one distinguishes (in modern Yiddish, as well) among the ignorant (amorets), an ignorant and coarse youth (a grober yung), an ordinary Jew (a yid fun a gants yor, a proster yid, di gemeyne layt), a good/fine/well-to-do Jew (a sheyner yid ), a scholar (a lamdon, a talmid-khokhom), a renowned scholar (a gadoul be-touro), and a great master or genius (a gooun). On the issue of study in traditional Ashkenazic society, see Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, i. 219–22; iii. 242–3. 19

A passage from Deuteronomy explains, for example: ‘You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as fontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’ (Deut. II: 18–19). On the child’s duty to study from the earliest age, see also BT Kid 30a and b; BB 21a. 20 On the encouragement of daily study of the Torah, see for example, BT Eruv 54ab and Pirkei Avot 1. 15: ‘Shammai said: make of your study of the Torah a habitual practice.’ 21 In Ashkenazic society there were, for instance, khevrous mishnayous (brotherhood devoted to the study of the Mishna), khevrous Eyn Yaakouv (brotherhood devoted to the study of Eyn Yaakouv, a collection of haggadic passages from the Talmud), and others called shoumerim labouker, ‘keepers of the morning’, in which prayers were recited at dawn and cabbalistic texts were studied. 22 On lernen, see especially Güdemann, Quellenschriften zur Geschichte des Unterrichts, and Simhah Assaf, Mekorot le-toledot ha-hinukh be-yisrael, 4 vols. (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1924–43) ˙ ˙


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so that it would be possible to disseminate the essentials of the Jewish tradition to the community as a whole and to preserve an important role for the actual reading and knowing the holy text. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the vernacular suddenly found itself at the centre of a debate that concerned the entire Jewish community and centred primarily on the religious instruction of the people. Two cardinal points were principally discussed: the translation of the Bible into Yiddish and the vernacularization of the liturgy. While the educated regarded the diffusion of the holy text in the vernacular with some reservations, it was, however, not possible for them to oppose it categorically, so great was the popular demand and so significant the evergrowing role played by the vernacular in everyday life. Thus it was more by necessity than conviction that, beginning in this period, biblical translations took their place in the newly established pedagogical strategy which was to improve the education and edification of the Jewish masses. These translations were regarded as the only effective means to prevent the holy texts from remaining confined to an inner circle of initiates, and to make it possible for the texts to cross the traditional linguistic and cultural barriers and reach their vast audience. The translation of the Bible into Yiddish in fact responded to a double motivation: the educated strata viewed the translations as an effective means to revive the religious practice of the people (which had often become dormant), to combat the lack of religious education and ignorance, and to organize the masses more effectively, sometimes even by spiritual escheat. The act of adapting the holy texts into the vernacular did not take place, however, without raising thorny issues, especially in the realm of theology. Rabbinical authorities took a vacillating position, sometimes rejecting the project altogether, sometimes being more conciliatory, in view of the urgent necessity of restoring an adequate knowledge of the Torah among the masses. Did the Yiddish translations not challenge, in however restricted a manner, the authority over reading and interpreting the holy texts that had up to this point always been exercised by the educated? Did it not, moreover, risk the assumption by the non-initiated of a cultural competence that had heretofore remained the exclusive privilege of the educated class as the guardians of the interpretation and dissemination of the holy texts? Was there not a danger of heterodoxical deviation, of distortion of the holy text and especially of erroneous interpretations? The act of translating the holy text into the vernacular thus entailed a gradual redefinition of the established religious customs and practices. The demands of the non-elite readers––despite the fact that they were absorbed by their day-to-day occupations and had little time to devote to study and were hardly disposed to a deep investigation of the scriptures–– nonetheless became more and more pressing. Beyond the concerns of their daily toil, Jewish workers were in fact continually concerned about studying, whether in the morning before work or after work in the afternoon or early evening. There was an urgent need to respond to this new potential audience

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by means of printing Bibles in the vernacular designed to quench their thirst for religious knowledge and culture. It is thus hardly surprising that the Bible in Yiddish, especially the Tsene-rene, was among the books with the largest print runs of popular Jewish books and that in Ashkenazic households in which women owned books, it was commonly one of the books that made up that very small collection. It is thus into such a context that we must relocate the vast corpus of Yiddish texts focused on the Bible that, beginning in the sixteenth century, were printed and distributed to the Jewish communities of Europe. In the period up to the eighteenth century, the Torah, the Tanakh (or Kisvey ha-koudesh) gave rise to an entire literary corpus which extended into an extremely diverse range of texts that responded nonetheless to quite specifically defined needs. Since Old Yiddish literature was intended primarily for the ‘ignorant’, it offered little in the way of explanations and clarifications designed to justify its own programme, motivations, or purposes. A study of the prefaces of Yiddish books, for instance, hardly explains the composition of the texts or the exegetical principles that might have guided their authors in their desire to vernacularize the Jewish tradition. The only issues on which some authors insist concerns the use of popular literature and the obligation to pass on the tradition. The choice of the vernacular, however, became a part of an internal cultural conflict and a set of religious tensions peculiar to Jewish society. The authors were confronted by linguistic issues and a choice of interpretations which, while they did not appear explicitly in the books intended for the uneducated, were nonetheless significant. The positions taken by the majority of the translators shed light on complex hermeneutical techniques, especially those having to do with the manner of reinscribing the holy text and its multiple meanings in the vernacular. The Yiddish Bibles thus allowed many diverse approaches to both the holy texts and the religious debates that clarify many little-known aspects of Jewish spirituality. While the procedures that were repeated from one text to another reproduced ancient methods of vernacularizing the biblical text, they nonetheless constructed a tradition that was unique to and appropriate for Old Yiddish literature. The problem of the translation of the Bible into the vernacular is one that has arisen in numerous periods of Jewish history. This task has proven to be necessary each time that, as a result of the phenomenon of the internal diglossia characteristic of numerous diasporic communities, some part of the group of believers has become marginalized from reading and understanding the holy text. In order not to lose touch with the principal living source of the Jewish tradition, the sages have tolerated the translation of the Bible into other languages or the Jewish vernacular, but only according to strict rules and by consistently preserving the sacred status of the original text. The prophet Nehemiah, for instance, describes a scene of the public recitation of the Bible in which prayer and teaching were united: ‘And all the people


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gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the L had given to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding’ (Neh. 8: 1–2). In a later verse, one reads: ‘And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading’ (Neh. 8: 8). The use of the phrase ‘before . . . all who could hear with understanding’ leads one to believe that for some Hebrew had become an impenetrable and inacessible language. The practice of reading the Bible in the vernacular was instituted so that the holy text could be understood by the masses. In an explanation of this verse, the Talmud (BT Meg 3a) recalls this practice: ‘They read “in the Torah of God” refers to the [Hebrew] text; “in explaining” denotes the Targum’,23 that is the Aramaic that had become the vernacular of the Palestinian Jews. The practice expanded and during the synagogue service called for the assistance of the meturgemanim (meturgemonim), the official translators charged with the duties of guide, translator, and interpreter of the weekly pericope. These oral translations were then committed to writing, which became the Targumim, which were both paraphrases and commentaries on the verses of the weekly reading. A passage from the Talmud indicates that the weekly Torah reading heard in the synagogue was also to be read privately twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic.24 This practice developed over time. Thus Yona ben Abraham Gerondi explains in the Sefer ha-yira (Seyfer ha-yiro): ‘And every week he should read the weekly portion with the community twice in Hebrew and once in the Targum. If he has no Targum, then he should read the Hebrew twice and once in loshoun la’az. But it is much better for him to read three times in Hebrew. For the Targum functions to make it possible for someone who is already expert in Hebrew to understand the Bible better. And thus all the more reason that one should read the Torah in la’az––that is, in Romance (in velsher shprakh)––as an accompaniment to the Hebrew text.’25 In the poetic Yiddish version of this text, the author explains that it is necessary to translate the holy text twice, which then offers three possibilities. One may read the Targum once; one may read in Yiddish: ‘If you do not have the Targum, [read] once in taytsh.’ Or one may read in Hebrew three 23 From the Hebrew root parash (parosh) which signifies ‘separate’ or ‘cut’. ‘In explaining’ could thus indicate ‘by distinctly separating the words’, ‘by separating the sections from one another’, ‘by translating and commenting’, and ‘by developing the interpretation of the biblical text according to the Targumic method’. 24 BT Ber 8a: ‘Rabbi Huna ben Judah said in the name of Rabbi Ami: “a man should always complete the parashot (poroshous) with the congregation, twice in the Hebrew text and once in the Targum”.’ 25 Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi, Sefer ha-yira (Fano, 1505; Salonika, 1529; Zurich, 1549), ¶ 58; translated here from the Yiddish translation, published Frankfurt, n.d., extant in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Opp. 8o 1102 (2), fol. 21v.

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times.26 The transmission of the Torah by means of the vernacular became a common practice in all the communities of the diaspora and the practice is thus present at the beginning of practically all literatures in Jewish languages. Whatever the geographical context, it is always a matter of a compelling need, in so far as exile, forced migration, multiple discrimination, or a tendency toward assimilation demands that they adapt to a new linguistic environment, limit the risks of gradual disintegration, and preserve the essence of the Jewish tradition. Vernacular translations of the Bible have always played an important role as a protection against the erosion of the tradition and the spread of ignorance, particularly during periods of crisis, such as those through which the Jewish communities of Europe passed during the modern period. The uneducated were always able to return to drink at the fountain of Torah, despite the hardships of daily life that sometimes forced them to neglect the study of the Law. The point of disseminating the Bible in the vernacular was also to combat the latent danger of intellectualizing Jewish religious life and the professionalization of knowledge which risked excluding a portion of the faithful from the tradition. All of the principal Jewish literary traditions had their translations of the Bible, proof of the constant concern to popularize the divine word and adapt it to the koine of the many individual diaspora communities. In view of the specific conditions of the emergence of these translations and their strictly defined purpose, tied essentially to a pragmatic concern for the education of the least educated classes, Yiddish biblical translations are characterized by several particular traits which it would be useful to specify. Let us recall briefly several principles of interpretation and exegesis characteristic of rabbinical literature, which the Yiddish translators adopted, while at the same time introducing the terms proper to defined practice and the readership of the vernacular Bibles. Yiddish Bibles were characterized by a return to the literal sense of the holy text, to pshat,27 the first level of the explication of the text. The authors thought that the accumulated rabbinical and talmudic exegesis had distorted and obscured the original text which needed to be returned to its own purity and clarity. The point was to make direct access to the text possible, freed of additions that increased the distance 26 See St., CB, no. 5859. 25. The Yiddish version reads: ‘But it is much better that one reads three times in Hebrew, for the Targum exists only so that one might better understand the Hebrew text, that is, one who is not expert in understanding Hebrew; all the more so that one not read the Torah only in the vernacular [loshoun laaz], which means in Italian [velsh shprakh]’ (fol. 25r). In the Seyfer khayey oulom (Freiburg in Breisgau, 1583), one finds: ‘Each week the sidro is to be read with other people. Twice in Hebrew and once in the Targum. If you do not have a Targum, you should have the text prepared in taytsh’ (fol. 13a). The texts of both Seyfer khayey oulom and Seyfer ha-yiro are cited by Nokhem Shtif, ‘Mikhael Adams dray yidishe bikher’, Filologishe shriftn 2 (1928), coll. 166–7 (fol. 25r) and 168 (fol. 13r). 27 On pshat, see BT Yev 11a, 24a; and also Wilhelm Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditionsliteratur, 2 vols. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1899–1905), vol. i (1899), pp. 25–7; vol. ii (1905), p. 173.


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to the original source.28 The exposition of the biblical text was carried out either by means of a strict literality (mamosh) which made use of the multiplicity of meanings implicit in each Hebrew word of the text, or by means of connections to other biblical passages. This was another means for commentators to resolve apparent internal textual contradictions without calling into question its authenticity or sanctity. Old Yiddish literature took up these traditional hermeneutic techniques, while of course adapting them to a nonelite reading audience whose primary need remained an ability to read and understand the Bible at a minimal level of comprehension. On the other hand, a portion of the Yiddish texts was based on the second basic principle of access to the meaning of the biblical text, that is the drash, commentary as such.29 In this approach, which is not directly literal, the commentator, who has come to an understanding by means of comparisons apparently quite distant from the initial text, seeks the sense of all the details and the plurality of meaning of the Holy Scripture, taken as a coherent totality and possessing an internal logic. It is at this level of interpretation, which is less strictly tied to a literal explication of the Hebrew text than is pshat, that the Yiddish authors managed to integrate their considerations of contemporary problems, religious tensions, the ethical and moral imperative better to educate and control the Jewish populace. In addition to the immutable meaning transmitted by the texts of the tradition, there was added an updating of the biblical commentary, intended to provide concrete solutions to the specifically Jewish problems of transmission and education of the time. On the other hand, the authors took the role of spokesmen for the opinions and ideas that were widespread among the Jewish population and expressed the strongly held religious positions that appeared in the internal conflicts specific to the Jewish community. Far from being no more than a simple vernacularization of the sacred tradition, the tradition of Yiddish Bibles shows itself to be a rich source of information about both the desires of common readers and the spiritual demands of the Yiddish writers, who had made the choice to write in the vernacular. The specific pedagogical and religious needs, the intended readership and the strict limits within which the biblical translations were tolerated––all 28 One finds, for example, in the Talmud this passage which can explain the Yiddish authors’ intentions: ‘R. Kahana said: “By the age of eighteen, I had studied the entire Talmud, but I still did not know that a text cannot depart from its literal sense (pshat), even up to today.” What should we understand? That one must first study thoroughly and only later understand’ (Shab 63a). 29 On drash, see Roger Le Déaut, ‘À propos de la définition du midrash’, Biblica 50 (1969), 395–413; Renée Bloch, ‘Midrash’, coll. 1263–81 in vol. v of Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplément (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1957); Hermann Leberecht Strack and Günter Stemberger. Einleitung in Talmud und Midrash, 7th edn. (Munich: Beck, 1982; subsequent edns. by Stemberger alone); English: Midrash Rabbah, vols. i–ii (Genesis), transl. Harry Freedman and Maurice Simon (London: Soncino, 1939); French transl.: Midrach Rabba: Genèse Rabba, ed. B. Maruani and A. Cohen-Arazi, Collection ‘Les Dix Paroles’ (Lagrasse, Verdier, 1987).

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these factors conditioned the printing of a well-defined type of text that was linked to the Bible, and thus offered little opportunity for innovation or for breaking out of the very strict, established structures. There was never a possibility that Old Yiddish literature might take the place of Hebrew in the domain of commentaries or rabbinical exegesis. It did no more than rework by means of adaptation an already existing tradition on which it was itself at all times dependent. Cabbalistic exegesis, which was founded on the sod, the hidden meaning of the biblical text, was thus also necessarily off limits. To write an esoteric commentary in Yiddish on the holy text would have breached the strictly enforced boundaries between the sacred and the vernacular languages. Everything that had to do with the halakhic domain was also excluded, with the exception of a minimal popularization of Jewish law, which had as its purpose to familiarize the people with the most current accepted customs and practices of Jewish life. What kind of biblically focused texts does one thus find in Old Yiddish literature? First of all, glossaries and concordances, which were printed in the course of the sixteenth century in Europe. This tradition harks back to Yiddish glosses, introduced by the formula bilshouneynu or bilshoun ashkenaz, which one finds in the medieval manuscripts intended to clarify difficult terms found in the Bible.30 Even beyond their linguistic richness (particularly for the study of the relationship between Middle High German and Yiddish), they played a significant role in establishing the typical forms which were repeated up to and including the printed versions.31 In this way a lexicon of Yiddish terms was developed that served as a basis for the tradition of vernacular translations over the course of several centuries. By way of example, let us look at how several passages from Psalms 2 were rendered in the following texts:32 A. Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek, MS Vollers 1099 (13th century): biblical glosses, attributed to Samson ha-Nakdan, in Hebrew and old French, to which a scribe has added glosses in Middle High German written in the Hebrew alphabet.33 (fol. 128rv) 30

Literally: ‘in our language’ or ‘in the language of Ashkenaz’, one of the names of Old Yiddish which one finds in manuscripts and printed books. See Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 25–53; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 1–60; Perles, Beiträge, 113–30, 145–53. 31 Adolf Neubauer explains, for example, on the subject of the work of Perles: ‘The book by Mr. Perles, filled with documents still unpublished or taken from less accessible printed texts, would have more interest for the German language of the thirteenth–fifteenth centuries than for Aramaic or talmudic lexicography’, review of Perles, Beiträge, in REJ 9 (1884), 152. 32 On the techniques and variants in Yiddish translations of the Psalms, see Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Zeks hundert yor tehilim af yidish’, in Maks Vaynraykh tsu zayn zibetsikstn geboyrn-tog // For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 5–31. 33 See Zunz, Zur Geschichte und Literatur, 113. On the latter glosses, see Johann Christoph Wolf, ed., Bibliotheca hebraeae (Hamburg, 1715–33), iv 1003; Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge, 81; Arnold Aron, ‘Das hebräisch–altfranzösische Glossar der Leipziger UniversitätsBibliothek [Ms. 102]’, Romanische Forschungen 22 (1908), 828.


Yiddish Bibles

B. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS 6 (Codex Reuchlin ): Hebrew–Middle High German biblical glossary (13th–14th century). (fol. 34v) C. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS 7 (Codex Reuchlin ): Hebrew–Middle High German biblical glossary (13th–14th century). (fol. 241v–242r) D. Lekakh tov of Moshe Sertels (Prague, 1604).34 E. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS 8 (Codex Reuchlin ): translation of Job, the Prophets, and the Psalms (15th century), (fols. 228v–230r) F. Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS 181: translation of Psalms and Proverbs (1532).35 (fol. 1rv) G. printed edition, Venice: translation of the Psalms by Elia Levita (1545).36 Modern English Translation of Ps. 2 (RSV) 1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the L and his anointed, saying, 3 ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.’ 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the L has them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ 7 I will tell of the decree of the L: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the L with fear, with trembling 12 kiss his feet, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 34 See Johann Christoph Wolf, ed., Bibliotheca hebraeae (Hamburg, 1715–33), vols. i and iii, no. 1582; St., CB, no. 6553. 1–8, 10; 1213; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 22–5. 35 See Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 35; BH iv 203; St., CB, no. 429. 36 See St., CB, no. 1268; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 53–87; EYT 49.


Yiddish Bibles A


2. 1


iA uD UN vD ½vYRe AG v½N vQ v 'IW

2. 2 2. 3 2. 4 2. 5 2. 6 2. 7

½vYZ V iv UvWUW N i Rmv B IWRYH e NoW

YRiEL x ½VvYZ i IU v Rmv d B IRvYH e vW Ni A

AL v YYvZ a vYZ Na v UiWUWoP$ v iA YZ iv UiWQYRa$ v RvW i v UW$RvYH e $G d v vH Nx V ½vYA i


½vYD V di NWP ½x $d vG vH Nx V ½vYA i

IN vYÑ id vG UK v ½M xd vG IH x V ½vYA i

2. 8 2. 9

AB v ½ RvYE a vYD N i NoW

½vYD V di iA IYG i½YYvA x IYD i 'N vW

YZ iv KRav B RvWC i BH RvEN eW

REN xB v ½x HM v NÑ i

2.10 2. 11

YZ iv UNWGWCYÑ i v UiW½GiWU$YQ idG v UvYZ Ni v UvYÑ N iRuv B NoW

UU v WP od$ v RE x YZ i UQ v YRe$ v RA v RE x U$ v RvYH ed vG IH x V ½vYA i

YZ iV ½vYRiB d RC v v

IG v½YC i YÑ i UG d v½YU i$ v YQ ed vG UN vYZ i iWA IWWR iA UYYvQ xvYY N vRx ½Vv ov W 'N vW



2. 1

i A / IYM REQ eLWB v ½ 'A IRxYH a YD i 'NW i RWU v$ v YZ i OWRum Ñ

2. 2

UYYQ xREL e IYDERe YZ i/ i A / IYU / VYZ i IYD vWRxv d B YZ i / IRxYH a YD i 'NW i$ v UNYZ i YZ i

2. 3


2. 4 2. 5

IYA i iWC / UU i WP m$ v RE e UPMY$ i RE e i A / IRWC / IRWC m OYRiG v ON xYZ i UYM i 'NW m ON xYZ i UYM i


IYZ i UQE v Re$ v RED e RE e

2. 6



2. 7

IWZ RU e $RYA a IYM i / IYL i EC e RD e LYWiW VYA i ie VYD i ULYD iE evG IWH m VYA i / WU$YB

2. 8

i A / RYM iB IYYD x / IYB i EG e LYWiW VYA i 'NW i IW ½ $YYH x


$D iNAL x $ED e IRxYH a / BRE e

2. 9

IYDYWR RNYYA x UYM / YZ IYK i ERev d B iWC U$YM u iWD i i YZ i IYK i Rev d B WC U$YM u WD / IYZ xYA i

2. 10 2. 11



$YN iREU a YC i

2. 12



IYYL xvQ IYYA x ZA x 'UD iN vWC uNA x IA x $E e IEWeW



UCW$B d UNYZ v i AD x YD i DNWU$ v



Yiddish Bibles -




These examples demonstrate the continuity of these translation models over the course of several centuries. One can of course locate both dialectal variations which identify the geographical origin or the scribal tradition and morphological, lexical, and syntactic differences that depend on the modality of the translation from Hebrew into the vernacular. The identical translation method is noticeable, however, as is a coherent stylistic system. In some cases, such as that of Elia Levita, the translator bases his translation on an earlier version of the text, which he reproduces with no

Yiddish Bibles


more than a few alterations. A specific vocabulary of types of biblical words and phrases is established, which serves as the basis for word-for-word translations of the sacred text. Without doubt the biblical translations played a role in the establishment of a standard lexicon of Yiddish and promoted a certain stabilization of the language, in which certain forms that had up to that time fluctuated now became standardized. At the same time, this consolidation of Yiddish promoted the emergence of the literary language. As a result of the rise of the printing industry, it became possible to disseminate this medieval tradition of glossing more widely.37 Printing played an obvious role in the standardization of the Yiddish language that characterized this period. Among such published glossaries, one might mention the anonymous Mirkeves ha-mishne or Seyfer shel rabi Anshel (Cracow, 1534), the first known printed book substantially in Yiddish.38 The preface to this

One finds this same phenomenon in the Christian milieu, where manuscript glossaries of the Bible for school use were printed in the sixteenth century. See Johannes Marchesinus’s Mammotrectus super bibliam (c.1300): ‘Impatient with my own ignorance and sympathetic with the inexperience of the young clerics who are responsible for preaching, I have decided to skim through the Bible quickly and, if my life is preserved, to scrutinize the books which are in use in the Church. I want to indicate the meaning, accent and gender of difficult words to the poor reader. I will gather what I can in the works of others (to the extent that their intelligence allows). . . . And then my book should take its place as a tutor; it can be called “the nurse” [mammotrectus poterit appelari]’, translated from the citation by Berger, La Bible au XVIe siècle, 20. 38 Other such glossaries include the Eym ha-yeled (Prague, 1597), the Luakh ha-dikduk (Cracow, 1598), the Khinukh koton (Cracow, 1640), the Seyfer mosakh ha-pesakh (Amsterdam, 1710), the Seyfer khanekh la-naar (Amsterdam, 1713), the Mare ha-ksav (Berlin, 1715), and the Kehilas shloumou (Frankfurt am Main, 1722; Amsterdam, 1772). The title Mirkeves hamishne ‘the second chariot’ was borrowed from Gen 41: 43, an allusion to the two chariots which convey one to the Torah, the one in Hebrew, the other in Yiddish. Steinschneider (St., CB, no. 4423) attributes this work to the printer Asher Helicz. M. I. Goldwasser suggests that the book could have been composed by Rabbi Anshel ben Eliakim ha-Levi Tsion, head of the yeshivah in Padua and Venice in 1518–20. The latter city maintained close relations with Cracow in the sixteenth century; see Goldwasser, Azhoras noshim (New York: Weinreich Centre, 1982), 3. The Mirkeves ha-mishne was reprinted in Cracow in 1552 and 1584. See Wolf, BH i, p. 206, no. 328; St., CB, no. 4423. 1; St., Serapeum, no. 376; Perles, Beiträge, 33 Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 23; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die Jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 61–2; EYT 40; Weinreich, Shtaplen, 115–23; Balaban, ‘Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckereien in Polen’, 2–3; B. Shlosberg, ‘ “Mirkeves hamishne”, der eltster gedrukter yidisher shprakh-dokument’, Yivo-bleter 13 (1938), 313–24; Abraham Meir Habermann, ‘Ha-madpisim bnei Hayim Helits’, Kiryat sefer 33 (1957–8), 509–20, no. 5; Shmeruk, ˙ ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 75–6. One of the sources used in the compilation of the book was the Meir nesiv or Seyfer yair nesiv, attributed to Rabbi Isaac ben Nathan Kalonimos, the first biblical concordance (which was itself inspired by the concordance of the Franciscan friar, Arlottus, written in 1290). It was compiled between 1437 and 1448, published in Venice in 1523, and reprinted in Basel in 1581. Other scholars attribute this work to Mordecai Nathan (Avignon, 15th century). 37


Yiddish Bibles

bilingual dictionary of biblical terms gives quite a precise idea of its use. The compiler explains that: It is to be noted that by means of this little book a person can manage to translate every word correctly and grammatically. Secondly, everyone can study the twenty-four books of the Bible as a whole, with a Yiddish translation of every word. Thirdly, if anyone were to live alone and have a son who has no one with whom the boy can study, and if the father is also not well educated but nevertheless has this little book, then he can study the entire Bible with his son, translate each word and well understand its literal sense [pshat]. If the father cannot read anything but Yiddish, which is here written after every word [of the Hebrew], or if the father has no time, or if he has a wife or a daughter who also can only read Yiddish, then she can also manage to teach the boy to translate the entire Bible.

He adds that he drew his inspiration from the dictionary by Dunash ben Labrat, the Mahberet (tenth century) in which the words are classified ˙ Hebrew root;39 he also specifies that in order to keep the according to their introduction brief he does not explain this principle in Yiddish. The work is printed in three columns, each of which includes the components: the lemmata in rabbinical square font, reference to the biblical source, the Yiddish equivalent(s) in an Ashkenazic semi-cursive font (vaybertaytsh). To this information are occasionally added brief interpretive glosses or phrases drawn from commentaries, in particular from Rashi. In the preface, the author remarks: You should also know that in this little book one often finds a word that has one root and several meanings. Thus I have translated the various senses of each word, while indicating in each case, in which book, chapter and verse it has that sense. . . . For example, the word yad means ‘hand’ in Genesis, ‘bank/side’ in Exodus, while elsewhere it is/others say [yesh omrim] ‘power’ and others ‘force’.

The principle of literal translation of the Bible, as found in Khumeshtaytsh, serves to preserve the physiognomy of the Hebrew language. It thus appears as a calque of the Hebrew, in which each Hebrew morpheme corresponds to a Yiddish equivalent, as illustrated here from the root gadoul ‘large’: WY A 'Y$ARB ISARG YD

OYL i WoDG vH x


LWoDG mH x


TWoLWoDG d v


LYD avY Gx


HL mD vG xA qx W


LD xG vA e


LD xG vYi


LWoDG d m

3 ‘[U]n rôle historique fort’; see Henri Meschonnic, ‘La Bible en français’, in Pour la poétique, ii (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 409.


Yiddish Bibles ha-gdoulim ha-godoul gedoulous yagdel va-agadlo egdal yigdal godoul

the great ones the great one great (plural) he should make great and I will honour I will honour he should honour honour

Gen. 1: 16 Gen. 1: 16 Num. 13: 28 Isa. 42: 21 Gen. 12: 2 Gen. 41: 40 Gen. 48: 19 Exod. 11: 3

Dictionaries were also published in which the words were classified according to the order of their appearance in the Bible: the Seyfer beeyr Moushe, for instance, a glossary of the Pentateuch and the Five Scrolls; and the Seyfer lekakh tov, a glossary of the Prophets and Hagiographa, by Moses ben Issachar ha-Levi Sertels, both published in Prague in 1604 by Moses ben Bezalel.40 In the preface to Seyfer beeyr Moushe, the author explains that in his youth he had heard, studied, read, and written all the words of the Pentateuch with the children of his master Chaim Friedburg. His work is based on what he had learned at this time both orally and by writing, and on what he wanted to pass on to his own children. He identifies himself as a simple teacher and, despite the fact that he reminds each father of the duty to teach his child grammar, he even admits that he is not strictly speaking an ‘expert in grammar books’. On the other hand, he criticizes the teaching methods common to the elementary school (khadorim): the children leave school during the holiday weeks and do not study, and in the villages, no one supervises their studies, while the teachers wander from one community to another. And thus the study of the weekly Bible portion is neglected. The structure of the lessons also left much to be desired: the teacher worked through only half of each weekly portion before going on to the next. The author suggests studying the entire weekly portion of the Bible before beginning the next portion, and to make use of his book in order to understand the Hebrew words. He ends by explaining that one should quickly get the money necessary to buy the book, so that he can begin work on the glossary to Ecclesiastes. The beginning of Seyfer beeyr Moushe (fol. 3r) may illustrate the method employed in biblical glossaries, in which each Hebrew expression corresponds to a Yiddish calque translation: GNP ½ IA OA RDWA · SYNU$RE IYA $YNP ½ E$YB REL 'NWA U$YÑ


40 See St., CB, no. 6553. 1–10. It was reprinted in Prague (1605, 1612, 1682, 1689) and in Frankfurt an der Oder (1707). It was likewise included in editions of the Pentateuch, Amsterdam (1650, 1674, 1693, 1700, 1729), Frankfurt am Main (1662, 1692, 1698, 1704, 1708–9, 1724), Hanau (1617–18, 1716), Prague (1686, 1695), Sulzbach (1687, 1705, 1725), Frankfurt an der Oder (1708), Wilhermsdorf (1716), Fürth (1726). Sabbatai Bass published it in an abridged form, preceded by a grammar in Prague (1669) and Dyhernfurt (1694, 1710); EYT 90, 91.


Yiddish Bibles UNWRGPA

breyshish bara tohu vavohu tehum ve-ruakh merakhefes yehi rakya be-toukh mayim la-mayim yekavu yamim tadshe ose pri le-minehu
























on the first or in the beginning creation void and empty deep spirit or prophecy hovers; he makes the throne of glory hover let my firmament be strengthened in between; in the middle the lower water to the higher water they should gather together sea it should put forth grass makes growth fruit of its kind

Sertel’s Seyfer lekakh tov, a bilingual glossary to the prophetic and hagiographical books of the Bible, was a companion volume to the Seyfer beeyr Moushe.41 In the preface, the author explains that he was inspired by the book of a great teacher, from which he extracted literal interpretations of the Bible. He justifies the title of his work with a parable (moshol) based on the proverb also known in modern Yiddish––di toyre iz di beste skhoyre ‘the Torah is the best merchandise’: a person goes to the market to buy good things, but he returns time and again after having been disappointed, swindled, or without having bought anything. The Torah, on the other hand, is high quality merchandise which God provides for everyone at all times, and which gives joy and satisfaction for all time. This book was primarily intended for children, so that they could accurately learn the vocabulary of the Bible. At the beginning of the Song of Songs, Sertels adds that ‘as you can see, by means of this book every person can understand and need not go to a rabbi. From this book each father can study with his son. Every elementary teacher [melamed] can teach 41 The title Lekakh tov ‘good precepts’ is drawn from Prov. 4: 2 (‘for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching’). See St., CB, no. 6553. 10.

Yiddish Bibles


with this book. Women should also buy it.’ The structure of the text reproduces the teaching style of the elementary teachers who in their lessons combined literal commentary and brief exegetical explanations based on the principal Jewish commentaries, especially Rashi. There was also another book published with the same purpose, intended for schoolmasters: the Seyfer melamed siakh by Eliakim b. Jacob Melamed Schaff of Camorna (Amsterdam, 1710), in the preface to which the author criticizes schoolmasters:42 Some melamdim among you teach as if they had never been among Jews. . . . He knows not a single word from the whole Torah, not to mention being unable to translate grammatically. . . . Thus you have a double loss: the money is paid the teacher in vain, and your children remain ignorant. . . . For that reason I had an idea and did this good thing for you: [I translated] all the common and difficult words into Yiddish. This will be a whip for these schoolmasters, for he [sic] will have to teach correctly, or it will not go well with him. A woman will also be able to see that he does not know anything, if they [sic] buy this small book for themselves. The melamed will also be compelled to buy it. . . . Because of its merits, we will be able to know hidden things that are sweeter than honey. (fol. 2r)

Thereafter follows a dictionary of the most important words of the Tanakh in the order of their appearance in the text, each accompanied by a Yiddish equivalent and without further explanation or commentary. This glossing tradition was continued in the Khumesh-taytsh, a word-forword translation of the Pentateuch, which was used primarily in the schools as an aid in sight-reading, interpretation, and comprehension of the sacred text and to preclude all chance of errors in understanding the text.43 Several essential principles that were associated with the teaching methods proper to the traditional Jewish school structured these Yiddish translations of the Bible.44 Most importantly, they are of course based on the Hebrew source text, whose structure they tend to reproduce to the maximum degree possible and without taking into account the syntactic, morphological, and lexical rules of spoken Yiddish. This practice results from the scrupulous respect for the sanctity of the biblical text and thus from the desire to preserve in Yiddish the syntactic structure of each phrase and indeed to the extent possible even 42

The book reveals its usage in its title: ‘the melamed’s conversation’. It was reprinted in Dyhernfurth (1716), Frankfurt an der Oder (1726), and in Fürth (1726). The glossary was also included in the 1726 edition of the Pentateuch, the Megilous and Haftorous; see St., CB, no. 5021. 2–7. 43 Such books were called hilfsbikher (vademecum). On this subject, see Shlomo Noble, Khumesh-taytsh: an oysforshung vegn der traditsye fun taytshn khumesh in di khadorim (New York: YIVO, 1943); Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens, i. 92; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 53–95; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 138–61; Shmeruk, Prokim, 171–4; Baumgarten, ‘Les Traductions de la Bible en yiddish’, 305–10. 44 The principles of translating the biblical text are not without relation to those of the targumim, the interlinear Christian translations of the Middle Ages, and the pre-Luther German translations. See Eduard Brodführer, Untersuchungen zur vorlutherischen Bibelübersetzung: eine syntaktische Studie, Hermaea 14 (Halle: Niemeyer, 1922; rpt. Walluf: Sändig, 1972).


Yiddish Bibles

each individual word of the holy language: the primacy of the Hebrew text could never be called into question. Thus we are dealing with a language that is caught between the evolving spoken language and the sacred, canonical language whose every trivial detail is absolutely determinative of all meaning. The translators thus attempted to create an intermediary, semi-sacred language, which had neither the appearance of the language of daily usage nor the intangibility of the Torah, and which served primarily as the language of instruction in the khadorim. This language is characterized, first of all, by a great rigidity in its forms, such as the order of words and the morphological and semantic features. It embodies an oral tradition scrupulously passed down by its masters, committed to writing beginning in the fourteenth century and thereafter to printed books.45 The authors of these translations were in essence compilers, who based their work on earlier versions and needed only to adapt already extant models. Thus one reads on the title page of the Khumesh-taytsh published in Augsburg in 1544: ‘All of this is translated accurately and well from an old Khumesh written long ago . . . .’ In the Mirkeves ha-mishne, the translator explains: ‘You should know that many of the words that are found therein [in this text] are ones that I received from my teacher, of blessed memory’ (fols. 1v–2r). The translators thus have a tendency to borrow archaic words (known also from Middle High German) that were no longer used in daily speech. Nonetheless there are many lexical innovations to be observed, as well as neologistic Yiddish coinages intended to be as close as possible to the original source word.46 Among the notable versions of the Khumesh-taytsh is the one that appeared in Constance in 1544, published by Paulus Fagius and translated by Michael Adam.47 There are two 45 Numerous manuscript versions of the Bible exist in Yiddish; for example: Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, de Rossi collection, codex judaeo-germ., no. 1 (Pentateuch, 15th century); Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Handschriften der Königlichen Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in München (Munich: Palmische Hofbuchhandlung, 1875; 2nd edn. 1895), no. 347. 2 (Esther) and no. 306 (Job); Moritz Steinschneider, Verzeichnis der hebräischen Handschriften der königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1878–97; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1980), no. 50 (Psalms), no. 145 (Pentateuch), no. 146 (glosses); George Margoliouth, Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the British Museum, 4 vols. (London: British Museum, 1899–1935; rpt. 1967–77), no. 102 (Pentateuch, 16th century); Moritz Steinschneider, Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana, 2 vols. (Berlin: Friedlander, 1852–60; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1998), no. 170 (Pentateuch, 1544); Moritz Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, MS 144, cat. no. 34 (Esther, rhymed version); Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cat. Hébr. 445 (Song of Songs), Hébr. 487 (Ruth). 46 See Nechama Leibowitz, ‘Die Übersetzungstechnik der jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, dargestellt an den Psalmen. 1. Teil: Syntaktisch-stilistische Untersuchung’ (diss. Marburg, 1931); and eadem, ‘Die Übersetzungstechnik der jüdischdeutschen Bibelübersetzungen des xv. und xvi. Jahrhunderts dargestellt an den Psalmen’, BGDSL 55 (1931), 377–463. 47 In 1543 Paulus Fagius published the first four chapters of Genesis in a Hebrew–Yiddish bilingual version: Prima qvatvor capita Geneseos Hebraice cvm versione germanica (Constance, the version of 1544 is identical to that of 1543; see St., CB, no. 5048. 11 and 1188). Michael Adam was a converted Jew, known especially for his Yiddish translations of the Seyfer Yousifoun

Yiddish Bibles


versions of this text, one intended for Jewish readers and the other for nonJews.48 The only differences are found in the title page and the preface. In the German version, Fagius castigates––in a bluntly antisemitic tone––the religion of the Jews and their ‘misunderstanding’ of the Pentateuch, and explains that by means of this vernacular Bible, he wishes to acquaint Christians with the manner in which Jews translate the Pentateuch. The preface to the Jewish version provides interesting information about the composition, use, and audience of the translation. The compiler explains first that he collected and compared a number of extant versions in order to put together his own text, which is closely based on those earlier texts. As cited above, Chapter 3, Michael Adam comments extensively on the broad use to which the Yiddish translation can be put, especially for women who otherwise would read popular romances, such as Ditraykh fun Bern and Hildebrand. On the internal organization of the book, the translator adds: ‘And when we found several explanations or senses for individual words, we note them in the margin of the book, so that if one is sometime not satisfied with one of the explanations or senses given for a word, then he can choose another’ (unpag. preface, fol. 1v). The definition is generally chosen according to the literal sense in Hebrew (ivri ki-pshuto); as given by Rashi in his commentary. For the more difficult words, the translator has added in the margin the commentary of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, or David Kimhi. He also explains that he translates ‘YHVH Elohim’ and ‘YHVH YHVH’˙ by her got (Herr Gott). To this Constance edition must be added quite a number of other literal translations of the Bible, which share numerous points in common. The first was published in Augsburg in 1544 by the converted Jew Paulus Aemilius, and included the Pentateuch, the Five Scrolls, and the haftorous.49 In addition, one might cite the Khumesh-taytsh of Cremona (1560) by Leo Bres´c´ (Leyb Bresh).50 The preface to the Cremona translation begins––typically (Zurich, 1546; St., CB, no. 6033. 11) and the Seyfer ha-yiro (Zurich, 1546; BH i. 489]. On the Constance Pentateuch, see BH ii. 455 and iv 188, 191; St., CB, nos. 1187, 1189–90; and Shtif, ‘Mikhael Adams dray yidishe bikher’. 48

One encounters a like phenomenon in the Ladino Bible of Ferrara (1553), one version of which was distributed among Jews and another among Christians; see Nokhem Shtif (Bal-Dimyen), ‘Der taytsh-khumesh: tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur’, Di Tsukunft 29 (1924), 568–73. 49 See St., CB, nos. 1187, 1189; cf. Adolf Neubauer’s critical note on Grünbaum’s Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, REJ 5 (1882), 143; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 130–42; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 12–14; Joseph Perles, ‘Bibliographische Mitteilungen aus München’, MGWJ 25 ( 8) (1876), 350–75. 50 Reprinted in Basel, 1583 (St., CB, no. 1190) and 1603 (St., CB, no. 1191), Prague, 1608 (St., CB, no. 1192) and 1610 (St., CB, no. 1193), Frankfurt am Main 1687 (St., CB, no, 1194). On these translations, see BH, ii. 455; iv 188, 190; St., CB, nos. 1189–94; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 12, 53–75, 155–8; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 115, 121–2, 129–30; EYT 58; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 12; Meir Benayahu, Ha-defus ha-ivri be-kremonah (Jerusalem: Institut Ben-Zwi, Mosad ha-rav Kuk, 1971), pp. 211–12, no. 25.


Yiddish Bibles

for a work of this kind––with a talmudic aggadah of Hillel, concerning the necessity to spread the study of Torah.51 The translator then explains: And thus I, the undersigned, have observed the great need of Torah demonstrated by this generation. Everyone desires it, except in our land, where we do not study the Torah a great deal. Women and young women and girls who see that the men do not study then do not study themselves. And many a householder would like to study, who in his youth neither could nor wanted to do so. And in their older days they would very much like [to study], but are ashamed to study the sidro and the commentary with a teacher. All this have I seen, and I thought that it could be of great service––and people could derive great benefit in both worlds––if I printed this Khumesh in the most accurate Yiddish translation possible. In earlier Khumoshim, words, half-lines, whole lines, even entire verses were often omitted. At other times a word or thing was poorly translated. Therefore I rested neither day nor night before I had checked the whole and eliminated the mistakes and errors. I have also added the commentary in the margin in numerous passages where it was necessary and not possible to understand the Khumesh by itself. I have inserted many nice things, stories, and occurrences that have taken place which will please the readers. After each sidro I place the haftoro and everything that one reads during the holidays, in addition to the poroshous, the days of fasting with the corresponding haftorous, which one does not find in the earlier Khumoshim. I have also added the Five Scrolls, that is: the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and a table by means of which one can easily find everything: sidro, haftoro and megilo, and on which page and which line they are to be found. Above all I have taken pains to print the book in a fine and precise font, as you can see, so that everyone has all the more desire to study. . . . Thus every woman or young girl will be able to know the teachings of God, praised be he, and know what piety means, by reading it every sabbath and holiday. They will no longer waste their time with other Yiddish books that are foolishness. They will thus be worthy to have children lovingly who will study in holy books other than Khumesh-taytsh. They will be worthy to receive God’s grace in this world and in the next. May it be granted us to see in our days that for which we wish. Thus speaks the servant of all pious and virtuous women, Judah bar Moses Naphtali, of blessed memory, called Leyb Bresh.

A few excerpts from the first verses of Genesis, as they appear in various of the literal versions of the Pentateuch, make clearer the rules and methods employed in the Yiddish translations. The Hebrew text is followed by A = Augsburg, 1544; B = Constance, 1544; G = Cremona, 1560, and Basel, 1583 and 1603 (cited from Basel, 1583). Genesis 1: 1–5 (RSV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day. . . . 51 BT Ber 63a; see Israel Konovitz, Beit shamai u-veit Hilel (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-rav Kuk, 1965), 14.

Yiddish Bibles









A Yiddish equivalent corresponds to each Hebrew word, no matter how many times it recurs in the course of the biblical text. One may likewise note here a number of characteristic translations that have continued to be used even up to recent versions; a syntactic and orthographic imprecision that bears witness to a language that is still not completely standardized; and finally numerous dialectal features.52 Except for these few variants, the texts reproduce a tradition whose rules were well defined and which was utilized in the Jewish educational system for learning to read the Hebrew Bible. These 52

The translation by Yehoash comes to mind, published beginning in 1922, which was based on the language of the Old Yiddish translations and the tradition of biblical study of the melamdim in the Jewish schools.


Yiddish Bibles

translations made it possible for schoolteachers to teach the Tanakh to children and for the uneducated to gain some familiarity with the Bible. The preservation in the Yiddish translation of the structure of each biblical verse then made it possible for each reader, even those at a low level of preparation, easily to come to an understanding of the original text. The two types of holy readings carried out during the liturgical cycle of the Jewish year––the one focused on the Khumesh, the other on the Prophets and the Hagiographa––came to define the impression of two categories of biblical books in Yiddish. At the same time as the translations of the Pentateuch, the text that occupied the central place in the life of each Jew, individual books of the Bible were also printed, some intended to accompany the liturgy, such as the haftorous and the Five Scrolls, some utilized as pious reading material for the sabbath and Jewish holidays. In the end the Bible more or less as an entirety was translated into Yiddish, in order to satisfy the various religious needs as they were associated with studying and with the synagogue service. The biblical book most commonly translated into Yiddish in the period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries was the Psalms, the recitation of which occupied a central place in the Jewish liturgy.53 The reading of the Psalms is not associated only with the synagogue service, but appears in numerous other situations, such as, for example, during the pious readings in the khevras tehilim and as a means of healing in the Sifrey refuous.54 The earliest printed Yiddish version is that by Elia Levita, published in 1545 by Cornelius Adelkind in Venice.55 It is noted on the title page: ‘Here you have the Psalms translated from Hebrew into Yiddish by the scholar Elijah Bahur ˙ Ashkenazi Halevi. This book has been printed by Cornelius Adelkind and Meir ben Jacob of the family Prenz [Parenzo], in the year which one reckons [5]305 [ = 1545] in the abbreviated form, in the great city of Venice.’ In the preface, which is composed in poetic form, the translator explains to the addressees of his psalter: You pious and devout women | who desire to praise the Almighty. | Raise your eyes and regard | the holy psalter which is good and just. | King David composed it, may peace be with him. | It is recited in the whole world. | But one cannot easily find it in Yiddish | and so we have undertaken to print it. | In it are to be found masterpieces | 53

The Psalms are also published in some bilingual editions of the Bible and in some makhzourim and sidurim. On the translations of the Psalms in Yiddish, see Leibowitz, ‘Die Übersetzungstechnik’. The Psalms were also a source of spiritual sustenance for craftsmen who were organized into confraternities that met prior to morning prayers to recite the Psalms. 54 The khevro tehilim is a holy brotherhood in which one studies and recites the Psalms. On the Sifrey refuous, see the Seyfer shimush tehilim (Book of the (magical) Use of the Psalms), a common book in Jewish communities of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. See Ron Barkai, Les Infortunes de Dinah, le livre de la génération, la Gynécologie juive au Moyen Âge, transl. J. Barnavi and Michel Garel (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1991), 101. 55 See BH iv 302; St., CB, no. 1268. 79; EYT 49. The edition was reprinted in Zurich, 1558, Mantua (sixteenth century), Prague, 1688 and c.1661.

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translated according to [Hebrew] grammatical principles | so that schoolmasters who teach young children | and who wish to translate the Psalms correctly | can make use of this psalter in their teaching | and hereafter avoid errors in translation. | That is why no woman should do without it, and she should buy it when she can | and should read it through every week | according to the order of the Psalms indicated in the book. | Thus may she gain God’s grace | and the light of the Garden of Eden when she dies.

In the book’s epilogue, the printer explains what motivated him to publish this translation into the vernacular: Cornelius Adelkind writes this for pious young girls and for householders who do not have the time to devote themselves to study. In my youth, I helped to get printed numerous important, splendid, and great holy books. I put all my energy into it, as one can see by looking at the books published in the print shop of Daniel Bomberg, where one finds my name at the beginning and at the end. Now that I have become old, I reflected that I have done nothing for the pious young girls and for each of the householders who did not have the time to study during their youth. Later they would have liked to devote their time, on sabbath and holidays, to the reading of the holy tradition, instead of reading the stories of Ditraykh fun Bern or Der sheynen glik. In the interest of those who wish to read the word of God, and because of the fact that one finds few holy books in Yiddish correctly and well translated, I went to master Elijah Bahur and contracted with him that he translate several books into Yiddish for ˙ me. First of all, the Psalms, according to the principles of grammar. And soon, God willing, I will print the book of Proverbs, Job, and Daniel, well translated. If God grants me life for a while, then I will do all that I can so that great and small may have easy access to a knowledge of what is written in the twenty-four books of the Bible, which unfortunately everyone else knows better than we do. So, I ask you, dear pious young women and householders, to buy this psalter with joy and a good heart, and thus to give us the money, so that we can soon begin printing Proverbs.

Other Yiddish versions of the Psalms were published in the principal places of Yiddish publishing, such as Italy, Poland, Germany, Amsterdam, and Prague, which bears witness to the broad dissemination of Psalters in the vernacular.56 There are also various versions of Proverbs (Cracow, 1582; Frankfurt am Main, 1713), Job (Prague, 1597; Frankfurt am Main, 1713), the historical and prophetic books,57 such as Isaiah (Cracow, 1586), Jeremiah (Prague, 1602), Ezekiel, Jonah, the Five Scrolls and their Targum,58 the apocryphal texts, such as Judith and Tobit (Frankfurt am Main, 1715; Fürth, 56 Mantua, 1562; Cracow, 1598; Frankfurt am Main, 1687 and 1696; Dessau, 1696; Dyhernfurt, 1705; Wandsbeck, 1732; Amsterdam, 1676, 1705, 1714, 1724, 1730; Prague, 1708, 1710, 1735. 57 Dos taytsh esrim ve-arba (Hanau ?, c.1628; Prague, 1674; Dyhernfurt, 1704). 58 The Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes (Prague, 1708, and Cracow, 1579). On the tradition of the translations of the Five Scrolls in Yiddish, see Karl Habersaat, Die ältesten jiddischen Hohelied-Handschriften von 1394 bis 1590 nebst Chronologie der jiddischen Handschriften (Freiburg in Breisgau: privately printed, 1964) and Leo Landau, ‘A Hebrew–German Paraphrase of the Book of Esther of the Fifteenth Century’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 18 (1919), 497–555.


Yiddish Bibles

1691; Prague, 1703; Wandsbeck, 1728), and the intertestamental literature, such as Ben Sira (Prague, 1610; Amsterdam, 1660; Fürth, 1695; Offenbach, 1717). The method of teaching the Bible in the kheyder was based on two forms of explication of the Khumesh. The first consisted of a word-for-word analysis of the verses which were translated with a view toward an understanding of their literal sense. This practice is the origin of the literal translations of biblical texts such as those just discussed. Thereafter the melamed reviewed each verse as a whole in order to reveal the more general sense, adding interpretations taken from talmudic and midrashic literature and from medieval rabbinical commentaries such as Rashi. These additions were intended to reveal the larger sense of the biblical text in order to bring out all of its rich complexity. A multitude of interpretations extended out from the primary authority constituted by the biblical text, aiming to investigate and elucidate the divine message.59 The traditional method of rabbinical exegesis produced a kind of text in which translation (fartaytshung) alternated with explanation of pshat or drash. Thus, in the version of the Song of Songs by Isaac Sulkes (Cracow, 1579), one reads on the title page:60 Seyfer shir ha-shirim, which King Solomon composed, may peace be with him, inspired by the Holy Spirit, well translated into Yiddish along with its additions,61 as I learned them from my rabbi in my youth. I have also collected many fine stories [maasim] and fables [mesholim] which are applicable to each verse, and also some literal interpretations [pshotim] taken from Yalkut, Midrosh rabo, Tankhumo, and also some agodous taken from Eyn Yaakouv.

At least with respect to the adaptations of the Bible, Old Yiddish literature may be characterized by a vernacularization of the hermeneutical methods that were currently in use in traditional Jewish literature. Most often this is a matter of including in the text the orally transmitted teachings of the schoolmasters for children whom they were introducing to the first level of study. The intended audience (the ‘ignorant’) and the goals pursued (the instruction of the Jewish masses) nonetheless resulted in a narrow style of presentation: on the one hand, there was recourse to the aggadic tradition which provided access to the legal and ethical teachings, and on the other hand, an anthologistic style dominated, as a result of the fact that the majority of Yiddish texts had as their goal a simplified presentation of the most fundamental aspects of the religious tradition, instead of a scholarly 59 See David Banon, La Lecture infinie: les voies de l’interprétation midrachique (Paris: Seuil, 1987). 60 See Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 83–4. 61 The term employed here is tsuzats, equivalent to Hebrew khibur, which designates the additions to the text of the porosho, comprising talmudic, especially aggadic, interpretations, midrashic phrases and medieval rabbinical commentary; see Shmeruk, Prokim, 174.

Yiddish Bibles


exegesis.62 Furthermore, this practice which consisted of alternating literal translation and commentary is already found in some examples of the Khumesh-taytsh. Thus, for example, in the Seyfer beeyr Moushe (Prague, 1604), the compiler inserts some brief interpretive glosses as well as some brief extracts from Rashi. In the Khumesh-taytsh published in Cremona in 1560, the translation of the Bible is accompanied by extracts (in Yiddish) from the commentary by Rashi, printed in a column that surrounds the biblical text. In other translations, the commentary is integrated into the translation itself. This difference is clearly demonstrated in two passages from the Song of Songs: Song of Songs 1: 1–4 (RSV): The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s. O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you. Constance, 1544: YNYYD RSEB IYYZ AYZ IED UNWM $NYYZ GNWSÏQ IWB ½ VYM ISÏQ LWZ RE : HML$ OED WC $D (GNAZYG RED GNAZYG) OYRY$H RY$ IMAN IYYD ZYA WZLA (URYÑ URELYG) $WA AD ZD LÏA IYYA IUAWG AYD ILÏA RNYYD QAM$G WC : JYÑ IED AYM (UP ½ A$NÏRW) YNYYZ IYA GYNÏQ RED 'NYM UK ½ ARBYG UH RE IP ½ ÏL ILEÑ RYÑ RYD VAN VYM VYC : VYD BYL IBAH AYZ IAÏRW QNWY YD OWRAD UK ½ ER YD IYYÑ IED AYM UP ½ A$UNÏRW ENYYD IQNEDG IK ½ AM ILEÑ RYÑ RYD IA IAYYRW ILEÑ 'NWA IYYZ VYLERW ILEÑ RYÑ IRMAQ : VYD BYL IBAH YZ IGYUREW


In this example, literal translation alternates with an allegorical interpretation, according to which the Song of Songs is a song of the love between the 62

The title page of the Megilas Ester, edited by Judah Leyb ben Joseph Meler of Braulach, published in Amsterdam in 1663, clearly displays the multiple dimensions characteristic of Jewish exegesis that are found in Old Yiddish biblical translation: ($DWQH IW$L) IYA HLYGM AYD YNY$ IWA







(‘The Esther Scroll in Hebrew . . . and Yiddish . . . with all the midrashic additions and commentaries, interpretations and fine aggadic tales’. On the text, see St., CB, no. 538; and Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, vol. ii, no. 299. · OY$EM


Yiddish Bibles

people of Israel and their god.63 Numerous texts of this kind, in which passages from the Tanakh and the commentaries (touro im peyrush ha-magid) are mixed, were printed in Yiddish beginning in the sixteenth century. Among them are the Seyfer ha-magid (Lublin, 1623), a translation of the Prophets, the Hagiographa, Rashi’s commentary, and various religious interpretations drawn especially from the midroshim.64 In the book’s introduction, the editor writes: And just as [the author] has taken pains throughout his life [to write the book], so you ought to follow his example and read in this important holy book a chapter every day, or two or three. . . . And I hope that there will no longer be ignorant people anywhere in the world. . . . You and your children can make use of it. Whoever the father might be, he can study well with his child. . . . It has been printed for scholars as well as for common people. Do not therefore be stingy, for your studying will certainly not be wasted.

In the preface, the author then adds: All twenty-four books of the Bible have thus been printed, so that a person need not seek out a magid who can explain the Bible to him. For when one draws the conclusion and establishes a rule [takono] that people are obliged to sit as if in a classroom and listen to [the reading of and commentary on] the Bible, it often comes about that one misses the lesson. Thus it is a good thing to have the twenty-four books of the Bible fully prepared so that one can study by oneself [lernen zelbert] at home in the evening or whenever one has time and can read a passage twice with understanding. That is why this book is called Seyfer ha-magid, because one has no need of a preacher [magid] to explain the twenty-four books to him.

The text was reprinted, with the Pentateuch, in Amsterdam under the title Magishey minkho (1755 ?) and continued to be reprinted up to the nineteenth century.65 Among such editions one should also mention those that were based on individual books of the Bible, such as Megilas Ester or Di lange 63 On this allegorical sense of the Song of Songs, see Avot de Rabbi Nathan 20; BT Sanh 101a; M Taan 4. 8; M Yad 3. 5; Wilhelm Bacher, Die Aggada der Tannaiten (Strasbourg, 1884; rpt. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1965–6), i. 310–13. 64 The Seyfer ha-magid was published in Wilhermsdorf (1689), Prague (1692, 1704, 1706). See BH ii. 397; iii. 471; St., CB, no. 447; St., Serapeum, no. 355; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 41–3, 103–6. On the author of the book, which has been attributed to the author of the Tsenerene, see Khayim Liberman, ‘Vegn dem “Sefer ha-magid” un zayn mekhaber’, Yidishe shprakh 26 (1966), 33–8; and idem, ‘Nokh a vort vegn “Sefer ha-magid un zayn mekhaber”’, Yidishe shprakh 29 (1969–70), 73–6. 65 See Judah Joffe (Yuda Yofe), ‘Di amsterdamer tanakh-iberzetsung Magishey minkho fun 1755 (?)’, Yivo-bleter 14 (1939), 229–50. The book was intended for the use of both educated and uneducated Jews, as is explained in the Yiddish preface: ‘Thus we have thought it good and decided, with God’s help, to print the Torah, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa, with Rashi’s commentary and also with an explication in Yiddish, so that one might understand the literal meaning of the Bible, exactly as one ought to study and translate it, explicitly and clearly, according to the opinion of Rashi and also the commentary on the verses [khibur ha-psukim]. We

Yiddish Bibles


Megilo (Cracow, 1589), an anonymous paraphrase of the book of Esther, augmented with commentaries;66 the Song of Songs by Isaac Sulkes, Seyfer shir ha-shirim (Cracow, 1579);67 the book of Jeremiah adapted by Moses Sertels (Prague, 1602);68 and Job by Mordecai ben Jacob Singer (Prague, 1597).69 The greatest and most famous text of this tradition was, however, the Tsene-rene (Tseeno u-reeno) of Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov, which was written in the sixteenth century, although the earliest extant edition dates from Lublin, 1622.70 There is a paucity of information concerning the book’s author: he was from Janov, probably the village in the Lublin region (although there are many other towns and villages by that name), and was an itinerant preacher and probably also a bookseller. He died in Prague in 1628. On the basis of his extensive erudition, it is obvious that he must have been a scholar, well-versed in the Torah and the commentaries. Three of his works have survived: one in Hebrew, Seyfer shouresh Yaakouv (Cracow, 1585), a collection of dinim71; and two in Yiddish: the Meylits yousher (Lublin, 1622), a collection of biblical commentaries; and the Tsene-rene, a commentary on the Pentateuch, the Five Scrolls, and the haftorous, organized according to

have also collected from commentaries and midroshim what they write concerning the verses, so that an ordinary man who is not a great scholar, can know, by means of the Yiddish language, what our holy Torah contains. There are of course already many books printed in Yiddish about the Torah . . . but we have included the Hebrew text with Rashi’s commentary so that a scholar can make use of it, and the Yiddish language for the simple people.’ 66

Reprinted in Amsterdam, 1663, Frankfurt am Main, 1698, Berlin, 1717. See BH ii, no. 456; St., CB, nos. 287, 538, 700, 1225; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 88–9. Other editions of the Esther Scroll include: the Targum sheyni (Amsterdam, 1649), and the edition of Frankfurt, 1718 (St., CB, no. 4367). 67 Reprinted in Cracow, 1588 and 1599; see BH ii., no. 457; St., CB, nos. 1212, 5432; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 83–4. 68 See Leon Nemoy, ‘A yidishe ibersetsung fun Yirmeyahu’, Yivo-bleter 26 (1945), 236–40. 69 See BH i, no. 1481; see Gabriele Brünnel, Maria Fuchs, and Walter Röll, eds., Die ‘Hiob’Paraphrase des Avroham ben Schemuel Pikartei: in Handschriftenabdruck und Transkription (Hamburg: Buske, 1996); and Walter Röll and Gabriele Brünnel et al., eds., Die jiddischen Glossen des 14.–16. Jahrhunderts zum Buch ‘Hiob’ in Handschriftenabdruck und Transkription (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002). 70 See BH iii, no. 1054; St., CB, no. 5545. 4–32; St., Serapeum, no. 244; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 150–9; Erik, Geshikhte, 222–30; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 192–202; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-dentschen Bibelübersetzungen, 296–307; Shmeruk, Prokim, 177–9; Julius Carlebach, ‘Ze’nah Ur’enah: The Story of a Book for Jewish Women’, L’Eylah 23 (1987), 42–7; Dorothy Bilik, ‘Tsene-rene: A Yiddish Literary Success’, Jewish Book Annual 51 (1993–4), 96–111; EYT 98. On the edition Lublin, 1622, see St., CB, no. 5545. 1–32; Harvey Minkoff and Evelyn B. Melamed, ‘Was the First Feminist Bible in Yiddish?’ Moment 16/3 (1991), 28–33, 52; Simon Neuberg, ‘Mesholim in “Tsene-Rene”’, World Congress of Jewish Studies 11/3.3 (1994), 275–82; idem, Pragmatische Aspekte der jiddischen Sprachgeschichte am Beispiel der ‘Zenerene’ (Hamburg: Buske, 1999). 71 See St., CB, no. 5545. 33.


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the weekly portion read in the synagogue.72 This text is based on a multitude of sources, such as interpretations of Torah, talmudic and midrashic legends, excerpts from the Zohar, medieval commentaries, in addition to ethical passages in the tradition of the musor-sforim and observations on customs and practices associated with the tradition of minhogim-sforim. This compendium of the principal forms of Old Yiddish literature comprises a people’s encyclopedia of religious traditions and a spiritual and moral guide to customary practice for readers unfamiliar with the Hebrew-language textual tradition. This quasi-anthology format explains in large part why the work became the most common book throughout the Ashkenazic community. The title, taken from a Bible verse, ‘Go forth and behold, O daughters of Zion’ (Song of Solomon 3: 11) suggests that it was a Bible intended particularly for women as the primary audience for this kind of vernacular text. In Jewish homes, especially during the pious readings of ouneg shabos, when men studied a page of the Talmud (a blat gemoro), women also read books or studied, in particular the Tsene-rene. In fact these books were addressed to all those for whom the holy books had remained texts sealed with a hermetic seal (seyfer khasum), male or female, due to their inability to understand them. The preface to Meylits yousher observes on this topic: And if a person were interested in studying, he cannot, because of his very laborious occupations, in particular those who were students in a talmudic academy [bokhurim] before marriage. As soon as he takes a wife he casts away the Torah and becomes an ignoramus. When he grows old, he regrets it, and as soon as he sees a book in Yiddish [seyfer af taytsh], he buys it and thinks: let me also study the Torah. (fol. 1r)

On the title page of the first edition of the Tsene-rene (Basel, 1622), the author identifies the book’s audience as both ‘men and women’; in a later edition, it is noted: ‘The Holy One, blessed by he, has come to my aid in the publication of “Go forth and behold”, and my book has the favour of both men and women. . . .’ At first glance, this book seems to be no more than a vernacular adaptation of the holy texts for the use of the Jewish people. One might then wonder why it is considered a classic text and what constitutes its originality within the Jewish literary tradition. For the most part it is from a historical perspective that the book’s importance becomes clearest. The Tsene-rene marks a rupture in the method of transmission of and access to the biblical text and bears witness to a slight increase in the freedom of translation, as compared with the tradition of the Khumesh-taytsh. Here it is not a matter of a mechanical translation but rather of a free adaptation of the Torah intermixed with a diverse collection of other source texts which have themselves been extensively adapted. A major transformation takes place in the passage from a didactic text utilized by a schoolmaster for teaching the 72 The Meylits yousher was reprinted in Prague (1688) and Amsterdam (s.d.). St., CB, no. 5545. 2; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 102.

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Bible to children to a book for readers defined by a lively narrative of the principal episodes of the Bible. In this context it is then easier to assess the importance of this kind of text that introduced the great narratives of the tradition into even the humblest Jewish homes and thus reached a reading audience that was not necessarily acquainted with the Hebrew text. This book is interesting because it also enables us to understand the dynamic movement and complex relations between the scholarly sphere and that of the common reader. One can, of course, view the book as no more than a bowdlerized version of the original sources, a banal popularization of the Hebrew texts which, by means of successive ‘percolations’, made the descent from the circle of the initiates to that of the common people. It has incidentally been by means of this method that this literature has, for a number of centuries, been discredited: by presenting it as no more than a by-product of Jewish high culture. By that means one avoids the more complex analytical issues having to do with the composition of these texts, and thus one need make no effort to understand the treatment of the primary sources and how the canonical texts were reworked to structure the weave of this text. In the Tsene-rene it is never a matter of a passive submission to the models formed by the educated class, nor of a mere simplifying adaptation of random scraps of religious knowledge. Here we have before us a systematic recomposition for the use of those who stand outside the tradition, which presupposes an authentic creative act, a perfect mastery of the original sources, the talent required to infuse into the vernacular the richness and profusion of the commentary tradition, the ability to make clear and explain in a lively style the multiple and sometimes abstruse meanings of the Torah. The Tsene-rene appears to be a collection of fragments so disconnected that it sometimes gives the impression of instability and dismemberment. How can one not be struck by the clash of so many heterogeneous forms and by the transformations that the Hebrew sources have undergone? It is only that the author works within the territory constituted by the Jewish tradition: in order to compose his text, he draws on the immense repertoire of religious literature which supplies him with an infinite number of stories. He reassembles the fragments taken from diverse sources, reuses or transforms motifs time-honoured within the tradition, and transposes into the vernacular the essence of the biblical material. To begin with, the text gives the impression of a grand coherence, as much because of the choice of the sources as for the unity of composition. We have before us a work whose rigorous structure is complex and itself reveals to us an author in the modern sense. Furthermore, Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov knew how to clarify the complexities of the holy text, transmit the quintessence of the Torah in a lucid manner, and explain the most impenetrably difficult passages. The originality of this kind of book is thus less to be found in its exegetical innovation than in its rich combination of elements collected from a range of religious texts; the author composed his own multi-layered text, based on the


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vast corpus of the Hebrew tradition, always with unfailing fidelity to the original texts. What is particularly striking is the scrupulous rigour with which the author translates the Hebrew citations and the meticulous respect for the details of the interpretation: a witness to the infallible knowledge of the talmid khokhom and the literary talent for rewriting without betraying the sources. Moreover, the originality of the work is seen in the choice of commentaries. The author favours the most useful passages from the Midrash Rabbah and Rashi, but also some less mainstream interpretations which thus become more prominent. Very often he chooses a less common citation which seems to clarify the biblical verse in a more relevant and daring manner. Let us recall that the author was an itinerant preacher, an occupation that is both significant in this context and at the same time casts light on the social and cultural origin of many Old Yiddish authors and on the organization of the text and the relationship displayed in the text between Hebrew and vernacular culture. The preacher in effect possessed the knowledge of the scholar, but without being obliged to receive official community or rabbinical recognition. He occupied an intermediate position, since he came from the world of religious study, but could at the same time be at odds with or even in opposition to those who embodied the authority or who wielded the power in the community. Thence came both his itinerant life in contact with the Jewish people and his understanding of the needs and the aspirations of the people. His intermediate position was that of a privileged diffuser of the tradition to those who had little time and opportunity to study. Preachers formed one of the essential channels for the reformulation and circulation of religious knowledge in the vernacular. A text such as the Tsene-rene makes it possible to understand clearly the relationship between scholarship and narratives intended for the use of the people. The text is related to sermons linked to the weekly Torah reading which were delivered in the synagogue during the service or holidays whose purpose was to inculcate the rules for life, moral teachings, the teaching of the Law, and obedience to the commandments. The design of the text represents a wellcodified style. An explanation begins with a paraphrase in the vernacular of the verse (fartaytshung), followed by an introduction (pesikho) most often consisting of a quotation drawn from one of the prophetic books, generally from Proverbs or the Psalms; thereafter come parables, stories, talmudic legends, and midrashic commentaries which make it possible finally to get at the actual interpretation of the verse of the porosho. In such exegesis one finds a mélange of substantive excerpts from biblical commentaries, brief passages from the Midrash, words of moral edification, and reminders of Jewish religious practice. These sections sometimes end with a prayer or invocation for the redemption of the people of Israel and the repentance of the Jews. In the commentary associated with each verse, the author makes use of literal interpretation for difficult words and basic ideas, a return to the fundamental issue, followed by responses based on the primary commentators. Moralizing

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narrative takes precedence over theological or casuistic interpretation associated with pilpul, from which it clearly differs. The author demonstrates some fondness for dialogue, particularly in the dramatization of scenes for the sake of fostering a desire for repentance and engaging the attention of his readers. The interpretations are defined by a constant insistence on allegory. The use of narrative makes it possible to introduce the teachings of the Torah by means of fiction, aggadic legends, and talmudic parables; narrative thus functions to introduce moral precepts and gives the reader access to the Law and ethical teachings. The first verses of Genesis provide an illustration:73 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [Gen 1: 1]. At the first creation of heaven and earth, the earth was void and emptiness and there was darkness on the deep, and the divine throne hung in the air over the waters. Why does the Torah begin with beys? It is because the beys has three closed sides and the fourth is open, exactly as is the world. The Holy One, blessed be He, closed three sides, but he did not close off the heavens in the north. The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to show to the nations: ‘Let your idols come and close the fourth side. Since you think they are gods, well, see if they are competent.’ Another interpretation: the beys is a benediction, the aleph a curse and malediction. That is why the Holy One, blessed be He, began with the beys. The aleph flew up to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said to him: ‘Begin the Torah with me, for I am the first letter of the alphabet.’ God replied: ‘On Mount Sinai I will give the Ten Commandments, and there I will begin with an aleph: “I am the Lord your God.” ’74 The Torah begins with breyshis in order to teach us that the world was created for the sake of the Torah which was identified as the beginning of his work (Prov. 8: 22), and for Israel, the first fruits of the harvest (Deut. 18: 4; Jer. 2: 3).75 Rashi said: ‘Why does the Torah describe how God created the world? Because the Torah is a commandment of the Holy One, blessed be He, and it ought to present nothing but commandments. But then nations would say to Israel: ‘Why do you conquer and steal the land of Canaan?’ Israel will respond: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, and he gives it to those to whom he wishes.’76 Our sages said: 73 The Hebrew text in rabbinical square font is followed by the Yiddish translation (fartaytshung) in Ashkenazic mashait font (mashket, vaybertaytsh). Thereafter the commentaries begin, among them Rashi’s. On the primary sources of the Tsene-rene, see Jean Baumgarten, ed. and transl., Le Commentaire sur la Torah: Tseenah ureenah de Yaakov ben Isaac Achkenazi de Janow, Collection ‘Les Dix Paroles’ (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1987), 31–4. Beit (beys) is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Torah begins with the word bereshit (breyshis). Berakhah (brokho) is ‘benediction’; arur or ariro is ‘malediction’. This reference is found in BT Hag 11b; Pes 118a; JT Hag 2; Tossafot Hag 2; Gen Rabba 1. 10 and 21. 9; Song of Songs Rabba 5. 11; Yalkut Shimeoni 2; Yalkut Mekhiri on Ps. 105: 7; Pesikta Rabbati 21; Pesikta de Rav Kahanna 12; Tanhuma (Buber ˙ edition) Ytro 16; Tanna de-vei Elijahu Rabba 31. 74 See Exod. 20: 2. On aleph in the midrashic tradition, see Adolph Jellinek, Beit ha-midrash, 6 vols. (Leipzig and Vienna: Friedrich Nies, C. W. Vollrath, Brüder Winter, 1853–73; rpt. Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967): ‘Midrash alfa beta de-Rabbi Akiva’, iii. 12–14. 75 See also Pirkei avot 1. 2; Avot de Rabbi Nathan 8; Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 16. 76 On the various excerpts, see Rashi’s commentary, ad loc. See Jer. 27: 5 and also Yalkut Shimoni (Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 1973), i/2, no. 460; ii (1991), nos. 836 and 870; Yalkut Mekhiri Ps. 86: 12; Gen Rabba 3. 8; Tanhuma (Buber), bereshit 1. 12; Ex Rabba 15. 22, Pirkei de ˙ Rabbi Eliezer 4.


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God created the world for three reasons: the Torah, which is called the beginning of his works, and the sacrifices offered in the Temple, named reyshis ‘the first’, for the Temple was created before the creation of the world. And the third reason is because of charity and tithes, called first fruits. The first verse of the Torah refers us to the Temple, so that it can indicate to us that it will be destroyed, as is explained by the verse: ‘The earth was without form and void’ (Gen. 1: 2). The earth will be ravaged, for the Shekhino will move away during the destruction.77 This is because it is said: ‘and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1: 2). This proves that even in exile the Torah will not abandon us, and that we will continue to have the Torah with us in exile.78 And therefore it is also written: ‘And God said, “Let there be light” ’ (Gen. 1: 3). This proves that, after the exile, the Holy One, blessed be He, will make light for us and will send us the Messiah, about which it is written: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come’ (Isa. 60: 1), which means: come and arise, Light, and let your light shine on us. The porosho teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, has told Israel how it will go with her [Israel] and that the world was created for the sake of the Messiah. (fol. 1b)

This excerpt shows the method employed by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi: he draws on the vast tradition of rabbinical interpretations, which serves as the framework of his own commentary, while nonetheless introducing some modifications, especially for the sake of brevity and concision. The commentary is not so much a series of citations as a text that––while based on the recognized authorities (rarely explicitly identified)––nonetheless has a rhythm of its own. It is less a simple stringing together of biblical and post-biblical references than an independently integral work of its own, with its own unity and individual style. The author’s art may be measured in the way that he sets up an interplay between his unwavering fidelity to his sources and his creation of an original text. The style oscillates between a respect for the forms proper to midrashic literature and the creation of a new language that can already be designated ‘literary’.79 The wealth of a text such as the Tsene-rene is revealed in the constant tension between, on the one hand, the most orthodox of ideas, intended to familiarize the people with traditional sources, and, on the other hand, the levelling integration of intellectual knowledge with popular practice. In many of the book’s chapters, images and beliefs filter through that justify a way of life or social practice specific to the Jewish people. It makes it easier to understand the daily existence, the travails of exile, and the messianic hopes of the Jewish masses in Europe. The author can thus insist at one and the same time on the imperative of teshuvo: to repent, to catalogue the offences and misdeeds that delay the redemption, to warn against enticement and the 77

See BT Shab 33a; Ex Rabba 2. 2. See BT Yoma 56b, 75a; Meg 29a. 79 On this subject it is necessary to recall the importance that the Tsene-rene had as a lexical source for modern Yiddish writers such as Shalom Jacob Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim). 78

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superstitions castigated as intolerable deviance, and to present a vivid tableau of magical practice, of prejudices and beliefs connected with the important points of one’s life and with domestic holidays. The Tsene-rene seems a mirror of the contradictions of the Jewish people, a work that brings together the most conflictual components of Jewish culture. It bears witness to the peculiarity of vernacular Jewish literature that, while dependent on the culture of the educated, also took into account the life of simple Jews in an obvious desire to unify them and bring them together. The representation of the Jewish woman in the book provides a good example of the dynamic tensions which characterize the text. Women occupied an important role as pillars of textual transmission, and of education, and as the vital heart of the Jewish home. They were celebrated, like the matriarchs, as producers and dispensers of many kinds of knowledge. The Tsene-rene thus witnesses to a clear advocacy of women within Jewish society. Long left on the margins of religious Jewish literature, the female figure here bursts forth as the central character, both in daily life and as a motivating element in the process of messianic redemption. Even so, women are still belittled, even condemned as the source of sin and transgression. The magical tradition is likewise present in the text, as demonstrated in the many allusions to practical demonology scattered through the work––clearly the better to be exorcised and denounced. The universe is peopled by demons, evil spirits, and omnipresent maleficent forces, which strike humans, and which the author unstintingly lists, classifies, and names. Also to be noted is the importance granted the human body, the essential site of conflict and constant struggle between order and turmoil. Disease, death, sexuality, pregnancy, and birth are frequently mentioned, as is also corporeal bliss in the next life. One notes thus a continual conflict between a kind of puritanism and an evocation of the evil impulse (yetser horo), between rational tendencies and superstitions, between established religion and popular heterodoxy. So many such oppositions are found in the book that it becomes a primary illustration of the extreme contradictions of Judaism and a meeting-place of shattered and contradictory beliefs representing fundamental aspects of Jewish thought in the modern period. In his reintegration of a marginalized group, rejected by Jewish society, back into the centre of the cultural system, and in his acceptance of the irreconcilable dimensions of Judaism, the author demonstrates his intention to establish a new cohesion beyond social and religious rifts. This unifying design becomes all the more important in this era (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) that is marked by anti-Jewish violence, persecutions, forced conversions, and internal crises which threatened the survival of many communities. Thus the historical significance of this literature in Yiddish becomes clear: it is a space not only for the manifestation of the culture of ordinary Jews, but also for a response by the learned faced with the threat of the disintegration of Jewish life. It thus becomes more comprehensible how the Tsene-rene became so


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important to so many generations of Jews overcome by ignorance and despair, and likewise how it achieved such celebrity in the Yiddish-speaking world. The exemplary character of this book is to be found in the exceptional longevity of its use.80 The earliest edition that has survived was printed in Hanau in 1622.81 The title page mentions three earlier editions, one of which was published in Lublin (1615) and the other two in Cracow (1618, 1620). Wolf erroneously lists an edition printed in Basel in 1590.82 In the seventeenth century there were more than twenty editions of the Tsene-rene printed in the main European centres of Hebrew publishing: Prague, Amsterdam, Cracow, Wilmersdorf, Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt an der Oder, and Sulzbach.83 From the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries more than 210 editions of the text followed.84 From 1622 to 1785 the printings were concentrated in western and central Europe, particularly in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Sulzbach. In 1786, the first printing in Lemberg (Lvov) appeared, which marked the beginning of the predominance of editions from eastern Europe. From 1786 to 1900, one counts more than a hundred editions, of which only thirty are from central Europe. In the twentieth century, the book has followed the migrations of the Jews: it has, for instance, been published in the United States, Argentina, and Israel. On the basis of the history of the text, one can reconstruct the lines of distribution of Old Yiddish literature and follow the principal stages of the establishment of Jewish publishers in Europe. The vast territory in which the Tsene-rene was distributed makes it possible to draw up a map of the sites of publication, the networks of distribution and readers, and to study the modifications of the book in its various editions over the course of time. The differences are first of all dialectal and vary according to the region in which the edition was produced. But they also have to do with content, which was adapted to various modes of thought and for audiences in various periods. Up until the eighteenth century, the Tsene-rene changed relatively little. The text was reprinted with minute abridgement and modifications, according to the model of the earlier versions and without necessarily 80

See Yankev Shatzky, ‘Dray hundert yor Tsene-rene’, Literarishe bleter 31 (Warsaw, 1928); rpt. in Yankev Shatsky, In shotn fun over (Buenos Aires: Union Central Israelita Polaca, 1947), 69–76. 81 The title page of the edition identifies the place of publication as Basel, although it was in fact printed in Hanau; thus there are occasionally mistaken scholarly references to two editions of 1622. 82 See on this topic, BH iii. 470; Bass, Seyfer sifsey yesheynim (Amsterdam, 1680); St. CB, no. 5545. 4, 5, 6; Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke, 475; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 115. 83 Prague, 1630, 1649, 1695; Amsterdam, 1648, 1669, 1690; Cracow, 1648; Wilmersdorf, 1670, 1671, 1675–6, 1693; Frankfurt am Main, 1687, 1693, 1698; Frankfurt an der Oder, 1693; Sulzbach, 1692. 84 According to Chone Shmeruk, ‘Di mizrekh-eyropeyishe nuskhoes fun der Tsene-rene (1786–1850)’, in Maks Vaynraykn tsu zayn zibetsikstn geboyrn-tog // For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 195–211. This number (210) includes the various editions as well as successive reprintings from the same publisher.

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taking into account the growing distance between the literary language and its spoken form, which had changed.85 Beginning with the period of the Haskalah, the text underwent a variety of modifications. The development of specific dialect territories, along with the modernization of the literary language, which moved toward the spoken form of the language, favoured the diversification of editions. One could thus find, for instance, specifically Galician and Lithuanian versions. The content of the book itself also underwent transformations. The nineteenth-century maskilim adapted the language and modernized the text by suppressing references that were too superstitious, allusions to magical practices and to beliefs deemed obsolete and thought to be obstructions to the emancipation of the Jewish readers. Certain fantastical aspects and some fanciful legends, which ran counter to the rational spirit or were in opposition to scientific knowledge, were edited out.86 This type of modernization contrasted with versions that preserved their traditional characteristics, such as, for example, those printed in the Hassidic centres, which were quite faithful to the old tradition.87 Another indicator of the popularity of the Tsene-rene was the abundance of adaptations and translations.88 The first was the translation into Latin of Genesis 1–5 from Tsene-rene by J. Saubert (Helmstedt 1660).89 Thereafter follow versions in the principal European languages, particularly English, French, and German.90 If one considers the long series of Yiddish translations of the Bible, one discovers that the first complete vernacular version of the Jewish Bible was not published until the seventeenth century in Amsterdam.91 This was the 85 On the specific lexicon of this text, see Mendl Mark, ‘Tsene-rene verter’, Yidishe shprakh 16 (1956), 117–23. 86 See Chava Turniansky, ‘Nusah maskilei shel “Tsene rene”, ktav-yad bilti-yadua shel herz ˙ ˙ homberg’, Hasifrut 2 (1969–70), 835–41. 87 This is the case with the edition of Yosepov, 1845. 88 See Chava Turniansky, ‘Iberzetsungen un baarbetungen fun der “Tsene rene” ’, in Sefer Dov Sadan, ed. Shmuel Werses et al. (Tel Aviv: Kibbutz ha-meuhad, 1977), 165–90. ˙ 89 See BH iii. 479 (reprint of the Latin text). 90 See the English translation of Genesis by Paul Isaac Hershon, transl., Tseenah Ureenah: A Rabbinical Commentary on Genesis (London: Hodder, 1885); Exodus by Norman C. Gore, transl., Tzeenah Ureenah: A Jewish Commentary on the Book of Exodus (New York: Vantage, 1965); and the entirety of the text by Miriam Stark Zakon, transl., The Weekly Midrash: Tz’enah Ur’enah––The Classic Anthology of Torah Lore and Midrashic Commentary, 3 vols. (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1983–4; rpt. in 2 vols. 1994). The French adaptation by Alexandre B. Créhange, La Semaine israélite: ou . . . la Tseénah ourénah moderne. Entretiens de Josué Hadass avec sa famille sur les Saintes Écritures, dans leurs rapports avec la religion et la morale des Israélites (Paris: privately printed by the author, 1846), and the translation of the Pentateuch by Jean Baumgarten, Le Commentaire sur la Torah. The German editions by Sal Goldschmidt and A. Marmorstein, ‘Zeëne ureëne’, Mitteilungen zur jüdischen Volkskunde 13 (1910), 37–47; 14 (1911), 49–63, 130–5; 15 (1912), 49–71; 16/1 (1913), 21–5; 16/4 (1913), 14–31; 17 (1914), 9–10, 92– 5, 121–8; Alexander Eliasberg, transl., Die Zerstörung Jerusalems. Aus dem Buche Zeena u’reena, Jüdische Bücherei 23 (Berlin: Gurlitt, 1921); and Bertha Pappenheim, transl., Zeenah u-reenah Frauenbibel: Bereschit, erstes Buch Moses (Frankfurt am Main: J. Kaufmann, 1930). 91 Sholem ben Abraham, who worked at the shop of Isaac ben Aaron Prostitz in Cracow in


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Khamisho khumshey touro, translated by Jekuthiel ben Isaac Blitz at the shop of Uri Phoebus ben Aaron ha-Levi (1676–9) and the Touro, neviyim, u-ksuvim, translated by Joseph ben Alexander Witzenhausen at the shop of Joseph Athias (1679).92 The double publication of the two complete versions seems a natural consequence of the climate of intellectual effervescence and economic expansion characteristic of Amsterdam, a city which during the seventeenth century became not only a centre of European Judaism but also the most important centre for the publication and distribution of books that were exported to the principal Jewish communities of the continent. The material prosperity and the cultural upheavals that Jewish life in Amsterdam experienced favoured the launching of such significant work, which remains without peer as one of the pinnacles in the creativity and art of the book in Yiddish.93 An obvious sign of this expansion was the importance of the production and distribution of Jewish books in Amsterdam, which became the primary centre of European printing. This expansion was so great that during the seventeenth century there were more books printed in the city than in all the other countries of Europe combined. From 1626, when Menasseh ben Israel founded the first Hebrew printing shop in Amsterdam, to 1732, there were no the sixteenth century, had the idea for a complete translation of the Bible into Yiddish, but the project was never realized; see Erik, Geshikhte, 230. 92 On these two Bibles, see Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 158–61; Erik, Geshikhte, 230–9; Heinrich Graetz, Die Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, 11 vols. (Leipzig: Leiner, 1863–76; rpt. of the Ausgabe letzter Hand 1890–1909: Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1998), vol. x (1868), pp. 330–1; Gustav Karpeles, Geschichte der jüdischen Literatur, 2 vols. (Berlin: Oppenheim, 1886), ii. 1008–9; Johann Jacob Schudt, Jüdische Merkwürdigkeiten, 4 vols. (Frankfurt am Main, 1714–18; rpt. Berlin, 1922), 285; Lajb Fuks, ‘De twee gelijktijdig te Amsterdam in de 17 eeuw verschenen jiddische Bibelvertalingen’, Het Boek 33 (1954), 146–65; Baumgarten, ‘Deux Bibles’; Marion Aptroot, ‘Blits un Vitsnhoyzn: naye penimer fun an alter makhloykes’, in Oksforder yidish, i, ed. Dovid Katz (London: Harwood, 1990), 3–38; Erika Timm, ‘Blitz and Witzenhausen’, in Keminhag ashkenaz ve-polin: sefer yuval le-khone shmeruk, ed. Israel Bartal et al. (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Centre, 1993), pp. 39*–66*; EYT 113, 114. There are divergent bibliographical descriptions in the following works: Jacques Le Long, Bibliotheca sacra (Paris, 1709), i. 69–70, 406–67; Johann Albert Fabricius, Historia bibliothecae Fabricianae (Wolfenbüttel, 1718), 20–2; BH i. 552, 689; ii. 453–4; iii. 416, 621; iv 182–206; Johann Christoph Wolf, Nachrichten von einer Hallischen Bibliothek 13 (1749), 93–112; R. J. Wunderbar, ‘Literatur-Berichte’, Literaturblatt des Orients 26 (Leipzig, 1850), coll. 401–3; 28 (Leipzig, 1850), pp. 433–4; Meier Schüler, ‘Der “Artushof ” und Josel von Witzenhausen’, Zeitschrift für hebræische Bibliographie 8 (1904), 117–23, 145–8, 179–85. 93 Among the abundant literature on the Jewish community of Amsterdam, see Henry Méchoulan and Gérard Nahon, eds., Menasseh ben Israel, Espérance d’Israel (Paris: Vrin, 1979); see the introduction: ‘Amsterdam, des marranes à la communauté juive portugaise’, 15–34, and the bibliography, 185–98. See also Salo Wittmayer Baron, ‘Dutch Jerusalem’, in A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York, 1973), xv. 3–73 (2nd edn., 18 vols., New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); Gérard Nahon, ‘Amsterdam, métropole occidentale des Sefarades au XVIIe siècle’, in Métropoles et périphéries séfarades d’Occident: Kairouan, Amsterdam, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Jérusalem (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1993). On the economic life, see Herbert Ivan Bloom, The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Williamsport: Bayard Press, 1937).

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fewer than 318 Jewish printers in this metropolis.94 The production of Yiddish books bears witness to this development: beginning in the seventeenth century and continuing for a period of about a hundred years, more than 220 Yiddish books were printed in Amsterdam.95 Besides translations and commentaries on the Bible, bilingual prayer books, and secular texts, there also appeared a broad range of didactic texts, such as manuals of correspondence, books intended for merchants,96 and books on arithmetic and calculations, especially concerning weights and measures,97 but also grammatical manuals98 and textbooks99: all of which bear witness to the prominent role of commerce and the importance of education in Jewish life in Amsterdam.100 The two Yiddish translations of the Bible published in 1676 and 1679 are in keeping with this context of commercial activity and intellectual renewal characteristic of Amsterdam.101 In comparison with the existing printed versions, they constitute works of great accomplishment, even perfection, particularly with respect to the attention to page design and the beauty of the typography. In so far as they changed the rules and methods of biblical translation, they nonetheless also revealed the beginnings of a rupture with the tradition, and–– under the direct influence of the spirit of the Reformation––already seemed to anticipate the translations of the Enlightenment and the Haskalah. 94 See Bloom, Economic Activities, 45–59; M. M. Kleerkooper and W. P. Van Stockum, jr., De boekhandel te Amsterdam voornamelijk de XVIIe eeuw. Biographische und geschiedkundige aanteekeningen, 2 vols. (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1914–16). 95 See Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography. 96 In particular, Joseph ben Jacob Maarsen, Seyfer tikun soukhrim ve-tikun khilufim (1714; St., CB, no. 5954. 7); and Arye (Löb/Leyb) Levi, Seyfer yedios ha-kheshbon (1699; St., CB, no. 5553). 97 See the books by Shabbetai ben Joseph Bass, Masekhes derekh erets (1680), which is both a travel guide for merchants and a calculations book in which one finds in particular an explanation of equivalences in weights and measures in the principal European countries. See St., CB, no. 6862. 1. 98 See Eliakim ben Jacob Melamed Schaff of Camorna, Seyfer melamed siakh (1710); St., CB, no. 5021. 2. 99 See in particular Seyfer khanekh la-naar (1713) and Loshoun zohov (1715) by Joseph ben Jacob Maarsen. See St., CB, nos. 5954. 2–4. See Marion Aptroot, ‘Yosef ben Yankev Marsen: iberzetser un moykher sforim’, unpublished paper from the Fourth International Conference on Research in Yiddish Language and Literature, Jerusalem, Hebrew University, 2 June 1992. 100 See Chava Turniansky, ‘Al sifrut didaktit be-yidish be-Amsterdam (1699–1749)’, Mehka˙ rim al toldot yahadut holand 4 (1984), 163–77. 101 These two simultaneous translations are at the origin of a conflict between the two printers Uri Phoebus and Joseph Athias. See Fuks, ‘De twee gelijktijdig te Amsterdam’; and idem, ‘Hareka ha-hevrati veha-kalkali le-hadpasat shnei targumei tanakh be-yidish be-Amsterdam, ˙ samukh li-shnat 1680’, Gal-ed 1 (1973), 31–50. On Joseph Athias and Uri Phoebus, see Bloom, Economic Activities, 48–52; J. S. Da Silva Rosa, ‘Joseph Athias (1635–1700). Ein berühmter jüdischer Drucker’, Soncino Blätter 3 (1930), 107–12; Lajb Fuks, ‘De druckers familie Athias’, in Amor Librorum: Bibliographic and Other Essays. A Tribute to Abraham Horodisch on his Sixtieth Birthday (Amsterdam: Erasmus Antiquariat; Zurich: Zafafo Foundation, 1958), 65–9; and Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, ii. 233–85.


Yiddish Bibles

The new manner of rendering the biblical text in the vernacular is consistent with the calling into question of earlier traditions, which resulted from the conjunction of two influences. First, that of the Protestant translations published during the same period in Holland.102 The official version of the Bible (Staatenbijbel) of 1637 indubitably served as a model for the two Yiddish versions. Joseph Athias observes in his preface: ‘One sees what the powerful members of the Estates General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, that is, the seven provinces . . . have done in the year 1619. They brought together from far and wide twenty-five great scholars in the city of Dordt or Dortrecht to make a good translation of the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Hagiographa according to their literal sense (al pi peshuto)’ (unpag. preface, fol. 3r). Jekuthiel Blitz went so far as to praise the more accessible Christian translations, in comparison to which the Yiddish translations were inarticulate. Another obvious influence was that of the Bibles published by the Sephardim and the Jews of Italy, as is specified in the preface to the version by Jekuthiel Blitz:103 ‘Why are we worse than all other nations? Look at the sons of our people in the communities of Italy who are master translators of the Holy Tongue. They have a Bible in their vernacular in a clear style. Likewise the Sephardim . . . have a translation of the Holy Bible according to the nature of their language in a clear style and in accordance with the rules of grammar. . . . Let us Ashkenazim be comparable to them’ (preface, fol. 3r). The two Amsterdam versions are based on the same principles of translation and criticize the existing tradition in the same manner. Jekuthiel Blitz and Joseph Witzenhausen reject rabbinical and talmudic exegesis: these accumulated interpretations obscure and distort the original text which must be rendered in its own purity and clarity. The point is to have direct access to the text unencumbered by additions that distort the original source. Two principles guide their work: a return to a literal sense (pshat) and a rejection of exegetical interpretation (drash). In the preface to Blitz’s translation, one reads, for example: ‘These are the twenty-four books of the Bible altogether, that is, the Pentateuch, the Former and Latter Prophets, the Hagiographa . . . and the Five Scrolls, according to the literal sense, translated word-for-word from the Holy Tongue into our taytsh according to the nature of the language [lefi teva loshoun ashkenaz] . . . and not as in other Yiddish books [taytshe sforim] whose texts are full of agodous and midroshim alien to the biblical text’ (preface, fol. 4r). A second critical issue also appears here: that of calque-translations in the tradition of Khumesh-taytsh which form an obstacle to understanding the biblical text. It is no surprise that one of the texts most harshly criticized would be the Tsene-rene, in which the biblical 102 See Lajb Fuks, ‘Zum Einfluß der niederländischen Kultur auf die jiddische Literatur des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddish, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 74–7. 103 Joseph Athias makes allusion in his preface to the Ladino Bible of Ferrara (1553).

Yiddish Bibles


text is enveloped in a multitude of surrounding commentaries. Concerning that book, Blitz says: ‘Ordinary people cannot make anything of it, for it is nothing but midroshim and agodous, and asks a lot of kashous [questions] about the porosho, to which responses are given according to commentaries and sermons. But not once in a thousand times does it provide the literal sense of the verse. . . . It is of no use for the ordinary reader, for the pshat is commented upon as a function of drash, and in this way the two levels of meaning are muddled together’ (preface, fol. 3v). The significance of these two translations cannot be appreciated except in the context of the long process of the questioning of the teaching methods employed in the Jewish schools of Europe. The authors reproach them in particular for their leading to a semi-ignorance of the Bible. The influence of the instructional method in use in Amsterdam schools is here quite evident. The testimony of Shabbatai Hurwitz is quite clear on this subject, when he compares Ashkenazim and Sephardim: ‘I have seen that the children there learn the Pentateuch in depth; then, they study the remaining twenty-four books of the Bible, and finally the Mishno. Only after they have become adults do they begin to study the Talmud with Rashi’s commentary and the Tousofous. In this way they develop and in turn broaden their own knowledge. Tears come to my eyes and I say to myself: “Why is it not the same with us [Ashkenazim]?” ’104 One remarks thus in the Amsterdam Yiddish translations the positive effect of the methods employed in the Sephardic schools of the city. Uri Phoebus remarks elsewhere: ‘I have had the opportunity to observe in the Sephardic community that most of them are well versed in the Bible, both young and old. . . . There are few who are the equals of the Sephardim in their study of the Bible’ (preface, fol. 1v). According to Joseph Athias, when he was unsure in translating certain difficult passages, he turned to the batei-midrashim (botey-medroshim) of the Sephardim––‘great masters of the Torah and well versed in the study of the Bible’––in order to consult them and thus reduce the number of errors in his Yiddish version. The two translators likewise agree in condemning the serious faults of the schoolmasters in the elementary schools: the primacy accorded to the Talmud to the neglect of other sacred texts. Joseph Athias explains, for example: ‘In our time one also sees in almost the whole of Poland, Bohemia, and in other provinces that, as soon as a child can speak, the rabbi teaches him a section of the Torah. Then right away one continues with the Mishnayous and the Gemoro, placing a special stress on intellectual acuity [kharifus] and complicated talmudic hair-splitting [khilukim]. But the essential foundation, the fountain of water and of life, the written Torah, one leaves aside.’ At the same time, the translators criticize the poor sequence of studies (seyder ha-limud). 104 See S. Hurwitz, Vawe ha-amudim (Amsterdam, 1649); cited from Simha Assaf, Mekorot le˙ toledot ha-hinukh be-yisrael (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1924), i. 70–1. translated from the citation in Judith ˙ C. E. Belinfante, J. Kingma, and A. K. Offenberg, Spinoza: troisième centenaire de la mort du philosophe (Paris: L’institut neérlandais, 1977), 74.


Yiddish Bibles

From a very young age, children are confronted with texts that are too complex, such as the Talmud. Instruction is based on memorization and the recitation of memorized passages, at the cost of an understanding of grammar and an imperfect knowledge of Hebrew and an illusory comprehension of the texts. Jekuthiel Blitz comments on this subject: ‘The teacher has no other goal than to teach the Gemoro to the young student. When he imagines that the child has learned enough, he begins to study in a “backwards manner” with the child: before he knows how to pray, he begins to study the Pentateuch. After he has learned a bit of the Pentateuch, then he goes on to the Mishnayous. Then immediately on to the Gemoro, which is the most difficult intellectual material in the world, of the analysis of which the youth’s intellect is not capable. The child chirps like a bird, but does not know what he is chirping’ (preface, fol. 3v). The two Amsterdam Yiddish translations signal a radical transformation in the modes of access to the sacred tradition: the literal meaning of the Bible was, as it were, rehabilitated. It again became the focal text of study, text transmission, and training. For the sake of comparison, several verses from the beginning of Genesis of each of the translations are here printed: Genesis 1: 1–7 (RSV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. Jekuthiel Blitz: FÏA RU$NYP ½ RAÑ 'NWA . REL 'NWA U$YÑ RAÑ DRE AYD 'NWA B : DRE 'NWA LMYH UAG FW$YB . GNAP ½ IA OA

TY$ i oARav d B



This version was reprinted twice (1679, 1687). It was also used in the Biblia pentapla (Wandsbeck, 1711) alongside the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reform Protestant, and Dutch Parliament (Staten Generaal) versions.


Yiddish Bibles Yosef Witzenhausen:105 . RHEL 'NWA U$YÑ IZEÑYG ZYA DRE AYD 'NWA B : DRE AYD 'NWA . LMYH AYD . IP ½ A$YB UAG UAH GNAP ½ IA OED




One immediately remarks the reprise of some lexical forms and expressions inspired by earlier translations. Although they criticized those versions, these two translators adopted many of their expressions perhaps even without realizing it. On the other hand, these are translations based on the syntactic rules of the spoken language and no longer characterized by the fragmented and artificial aspect of earlier Yiddish Bibles that were word-for-word adaptations. These translators wished to write in a language closely related to the spoken language that could be understood by the whole community of German and Polish Jews who had not necessarily been initiated into the subtleties of the Holy Language. This was also the reason for the reduced number of Hebraisms and the rejection of Dutch loan words. Aside from their lexical and morphological variation, the texts of these two Bibles give an impression of stylistic coherence and unity. They play a fundamental role both in moving away from the earlier versions, which were now considered obsolete, and in transforming the methods of biblical translation. In this sense, they already foreshadowed modern literary forms, such as those of the Haskalah. They also had another, albeit negative, influence: for it was in reaction to these two translations of the Bible that Moses Mendelssohn undertook his own translation into New High German.106 While, due to the ever expanding importance of the Tsene-rene, the translations by Blitz and Witzenhausen had scarcely any impact on their own era, they nonetheless proved that vernacular translation was a territory favourable to experimentation and renewal of earlier modes in the transmission of the sacred traditions. They thus played an obvious role in the evolution of Yiddish language and literature on the threshold between the old and modern periods. 106

See Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto: The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation 1770– 1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973; rpt. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998), 129, 149–50, 157–8; Werner Weinberg, ‘Les Traductions et commentaires de Mendelssohn’, in Yvon Belaval and Dominique Bourel, eds., Le Siècle des Lumières et la Bible, Bible de tous les temps 7 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1986), 599–621.

 Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

Among the accusations levelled at the Jews in many historical eras and especially during the period on which this study focuses, one has had a particular ‘fortune’: it has to do with a prejudice about the refusal of Jews to mingle with other peoples. This is an idea expressed, for instance, in the terrible biblical injunction of Balaam: ‘lo, a people dwelling alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations!’ (Num. 23: 9).1 There is no better refutation of this argument than the simple existence of the Jewish languages and literatures of the diaspora. It is clear, for instance, that the Yiddish language was formed in contact with coterritorial languages, with which it shares many common characteristics, but from which it is also distinguished by a series of specific differences. In defining Yiddish as a ‘fusion language’, Max Weinreich has focused attention on one of the essential characteristics of the formative process of Jewish languages. He also insisted on the phenomenon of linguistic ‘porosity’, which existed between Jewish languages and their coterritorial counterparts. Old Yiddish literature can also be defined as a ‘fusion literature’, for it incorporated a great many traits characteristic of medieval European literatures as well as characteristics directly borrowed from Hebrew sources.2 There is a rich domain of Old Yiddish literature that allows one to take the measure of these phenomena of cultural borrowing, of encounters between diverse and seemingly opposed traditions, and of the firm anchorage in the Hebrew tradition: the epic poetry and courtly romances written in Yiddish in the course of the Middle Ages. In addition to books intended for study and training, there were also aesthetic creations intended for entertainment, amusement, laughter, or song, which, based on their constant reprintings, must have been much appreciated by the Jewish public. Once again the Bible proved itself an inexhaustible source for narrative poems that could be read, recited in public, and sung, particularly during holiday celebrations in the home. These texts are in the first instance simple biblical adaptations, such as, for example, the rhymed Ezekiel (Prague, 1602), the Seyfer kehilas Yaakouv by the cantor Jacob ben 1 On antisemitism in the Middle Ages and the modern era, see, among others, Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish–Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961; rpt. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1980); and Leon Poliakov, Histoire de l’antisemitisme, 4 vols. (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1955–77). 2 See Nokhem Shtif, ‘Ditrikh fun bern: yidishkayt un veltlekhkayt in der alt-yidisher literatur’, Yidishe filologye 1 (1924), 1–11, 112–122.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


Isaac Levi Segal (Fürth, 1693),3 a poetic version of the Pentateuch and the books of Joshua and Judges, and the Mizmour le-toudo (Amsterdam, 1644) of David ben Menahem ha-Cohen, a rhymed adaptation of the first books of the Khumesh.4 The˙ introduction provides us with interesting information about the significance of this kind of poeticized form of the Torah (fol. 1v): · RBYYR$ RED IHK DWD VYA : RBYYÑ YMWRP ½ YK ½ YLUE IYREGYB FÏA I$WL RUNWA UYN BH · IAYYL VA IRWA IYREG AD AYD : IAYYRP ½ RA VYZ UYYC LA URAÑ $UAG UYM · IYREG RG IUEH VA AYZ 'NWA : IYREÑ GYUK ½ ÏC 'NWA OWRP ½ VA IDYYM 'NWA RUK ½ ÏU YRYA · ICEÑ$ 'NWA IP ½ ÏL ISAG RED FÏA UYN : IYCEGRA IULWZ IURAÑ $UAG UYM VYZ RDNWZ

I, Dovid Cohen, the author, have not ignored the wishes of several pious women, who willingly pray and read and rejoice at all times with God’s word. And they would also very much like for their daughters and young girls to be pious and virtuous and not run about on the street and gab, but rather take delight in God’s word.

The preface continues: However, that is not the case, as they have informed me, for reading would demand too much of their time. They prefer to listen to lute music (saitenshpil) and sweet songs; and they prefer to listen to beautiful singing. And this is why they neglect the reading of Khumesh. Even if they take a Yiddish translation of the Bible in hand, they understand it poorly, for it is too difficult and complicated. Many of them think, oh, if only I could get away from here; I would prefer to go to sleep. If they take a Tsene-rene in hand, they come upon unfamiliar midroshim. It bores them; they fall asleep and lay the book aside. This is what I have taken into consideration for the sake of honouring of God, blessed be he, in another way. I have taken the Khumesh and undertaken to render it into verse, well translated word-for-word, so that everyone can read it with comprehension, putting it into verse so as to be sung, in order to pass the time with joy and love. Thus I have called it the ‘Song of the Torah’ in order to spread God’s praise. It is entertaining to read from this book. One can be delighted in particular on every sabbath. From breyshis, the creation of the world, each sidro is presented word for word.

The author integrates both biblical and midrashic passages into his rhymed paraphrase, which is based on the verse form of popular songs, as is shown in the beginning of the book. First there is a prologue in the tradition of storytellers, which is designed to quiet the audience and to present the poem’s content (fol. 2r): 3 Reprinted in Wilhermsdorf in 1718; see BH iii, no. 1059; iv, p. 199; St., CB, no, 5546; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 261–70; Erik, Geshikhte, 222. 4 Reprinted in Hanau, 1717; see St., CB, no. 4828; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdischdeutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 218–25.



Listen and be quiet, Pay attention to what I want to sing, | for the honour of the Lord God, | I will make it entertaining, | about the beginning of the world | and let you hear God’s word. | I will not long delay, | revealing the content of the first book, | and speak of the same story, | how God created the world.

After this brief prologue, the narrative itself begins, which closely follows the biblical text and occasionally incorporates midrashic additions. The narrative begins thus: · DRE 'NWA LMYH UAG FW$YB VYLU$RE · DREÑ DRU$NYW RW RG DNL $D · IYBEÑ$ R$AÑ OED FÏA UAG SYL UNYÑ IED · UK ½ YL IDREÑ LAZ $E VARP$ RE · UK ½ Y$YG WZLA UDYR $D RE VYYLG : IYBEG GAU IMAN IYYZ UK ½ YL OED UEU UAG

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. | The earth was quite dark | God let the wind float above the waters | he said that it should become light | no sooner said than done | God gave the light its name––day.

The passage continues: He gave a name to the darkness––night | This took place because it was the will of God | the first day was over. | God said that the heavens should spread out | that the waters should separate | so that they should not mix. . . . | He said that all plants and trees should spring up separately | and not mix together. | That is what he did on the third day. | He then created lights in the heavens | to separate the day from the night | to identify the years, days, and seasons. | He thus created two lights | the greater one was to light the day | and the smaller one was available for the night. (fol. 2r)

On the model of this rhymed adaptation (which stops at porosho Yitro), there is a verse adaptation of four of the Five Scrolls (excepting Lamentations). Other biblical books also inspired rhymed paraphrases, such as the Psalms, notably in Moses Stendel’s version (Cracow, 1586).5 This type of text 5

See St., CB, nos. 1280, 6573; and Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 20.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


was both read and sung, especially during holiday celebrations in the home. It belongs to the class of paraliturgical texts that were based on biblical narratives which could accompany family festivities and also serve as pious readings on the sabbath. This verse tradition culminated in two epic poems: the Seyfer Shmuel (Shmuel-bukh) (Augsburg, 1543) and the Seyfer Melokhim (Melokhim-bukh) (Augsburg, 1544) which can be reckoned among the masterpieces of Jewish vernacular literature.6 These two texts mark the culmination of a long and rich epic tradition that goes back to the beginnings of Yiddish literature. Among such texts there are both Yiddish adaptations of medieval Germanic texts and epic poems based on the tradition of biblical Hebrew. There is a constant movement back and forth between two types of texts: those which are rooted in the Jewish literary heritage (biblical and midrashic epic poems), even if they do show some connections to epic forms of the Christian West; and those simple and obviously Judaized adaptations of texts that derive directly from the coterritorial European culture of the Middle Ages (heroic saga and courtly romance). Yiddish epic literature thus provides a meetingpoint of traditional Jewish culture and those cultures in contact with which the Jews had lived and whose cultural products Jews had adopted and transformed for a Jewish audience. It represents a clear expression of acculturation which remained one of the constant traits of several of the Jewish diasporic literatures.7 The study of this literature thus becomes quite important for understanding both the modes of reception and integration of non-Jewish literary forms and the process of the creation of a national literary tradition that complements the central traditions of European literature. The epic tradition in Yiddish, which experienced a parallel development to that of other European literatures, arose in a Germanic context during a period in which the epic poem and romance were dominant. Such texts were integrated both into the history of Germanic culture and into Ashkenazic 6

On these two texts, see Lajb Fuks, Das altjiddische Epos Melokîm-Bûk; Felix Falk and Lajb Fuks, Das Schmuelbukh des Mosche Esrim Wearba: Ein biblisches Epos aus dem 15. Jahrhundert. Einleitung und textkritischer Apparat, 2 vols. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1961); BH i, no. 1724; St., CB, nos. 1237, 1241, 1243–5; St. Serapeum, nos. 357, 425, 427; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdischdeutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 241–60; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 319; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 123–33; Erik, Geshikhte, 79–81, 112–21; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 69–111; Shmeruk, Prokim, 114–16, 192–8; M. Wolf, ‘Mekom hiburo shel ha-melokhim bukh’, Tarbiz 51 (1992), ˙ 131–4; Gertrud Zandt, ‘Zum Melochimbuch, einem Epos in jüdisch-deutscher Sprache’, Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 43/44 (1995), 589–600; Seyfer Melokhim EYT 45, Seyfer Shmuel EYT 47. 7 One notes the same phenomenon of cultural transfer in the Ladino, Judaeo-Persian and Judaeo-Arabic epic literature. See, among other significant examples, Vera Basch Moreen, ‘Moses, God’s Shepherd: An Episode from a Judeo-Persian Epic’, Prooftexts 11 (1991), 107–30. This epic is illustrated with Persian miniatures, one of which shows Moses in combat with a wild animal.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

Jewish literature, whether in Hebrew or the vernacular.8 The earliest epic text in Yiddish which has come down to us is a collection of poems dated to 1382 which comes from the genizah of the Ezra Synagogue in Cairo.9 The manuscript now forms part of the Taylor-Schechter collection of Cambridge University Library.10 The manuscript includes two types of poems, the one based on biblical and post-biblical material, primarily talmudic and midrashic; the other is based on Germanic epic material. The texts included in this manuscript constitute the first collection of Jewish literature written in the Germanic dialect of the Jews of Germany, i.e. Yiddish or proto-Yiddish:11 1. fols. 1r–2r: ‘Petiras Aharoun’ (‘The Death of Aaron’). At the end of the poem, ‘Itsik der shrayber’ is mentioned. 2. fols. 2r–6v: ‘Gan eyden’ (‘Paradise’). At the end of the poem, ‘Itsik der shrayber’ is again noted. 3. fols. 6v–17r: ‘Avrohom ovinu’ (‘Abraham the Patriarch’). The text is incomplete; at the end of the poem, ‘Itsik der shrayber’ is again noted. 4. fols. 17v–18v: ‘Yousef ha-tsadik’ (‘Joseph the Pious’).12 5. fol. 19rv: ‘Fable of an Old Lion’.13 At the text’s end is the name ‘Abraham der shrayber’ and the date, 4 Kislev 143 (= 3 November 1382). 8

See the dissertation of Eli Katz, ‘Six Germano-Judaic Poems from the Cairo Genizah’, diss. UCLA, 1963; see also Yaakov Maitlis (Yankev Meitlis), ‘Alt-yidishe epishe literatur: afn rand fun L. Fukses “dos shmuel-bukh” ’, Di Tsukunft 72 (1967), 13–17. 9 Fragments of rhymed Hebrew paraphrases of the biblical books of Samuel and Kings, dating from the eleventh century, were found in the Cairo genizah. According to Nehemiah Allony, the rhymed versions of the Bible have their origin in the land of Israel; see ‘Mekorot hadashim le-Shmuel bukh ve le-Melokhim bukh’, Beer-Sheva 1 (1973), 90–123. ˙ 10 Cambridge, University Library, .-. 10 22. The manuscript, which is extensively damaged, comprises 42 folios. It is written in an Ashkenazic cursive hand by a single scribe from one or more sources. The paper came from eastern manufacture, which implies that it was copied by Ashkenazic Jews who emigrated to the East during the Middle Ages. See Jean Fourquet, ‘ErnestHenri Lévy (1867–1940)’, Publications de la faculté des lettres de l’université de Strasbourg 103 (1947), 563. Lévy speaks of ‘writing from memory in Egypt by Jewish refugees from Swabia’. See also Lajb Fuks, The Oldest Known Literary Documents of Yiddish Literature (c. 1382), 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1957) and the exhaustive studies by Eli Katz, ‘Six Germano-Judaic Poems’, and Heikki J. Hakkarainen, Studien zum Cambridger Codex -. 10 . 22, 3 vols., vol. i: Text (Turku: Annales Universitatis Turkuensis  104, 1967); vol. ii: Graphemik und Phonetik (Helsinki: Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae  174, 1971); vol. iii: Lexikon (Helsinki: Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae  182, 1973); EYT 5–9. 11 Linguistically the dialect of the text is the Jewish reflex of Central German. See Max Weinreich, ‘The Jewish Languages of Romance Stock and Their Relation to Earliest Yiddish’, Romance Philology 9 (1956), 405. 12 By means of the poem’s acrostic, the profession of the anonymous author as punctator (nakdan) is revealed; see Chone Shmeruk, ‘The Hebrew Acrostic in the Yoseph Hatsadik Poem of the Cambridge Yiddish Codex’, Michigan Germanic Studies 3 (1977), 67–81; Lajb Fuks, ‘Der eltster literarisher dokument in yidish’, Yidishe kultur 16 (1954), 30–5. 13 See Hans Peter Althaus, Die Cambridger Löwenfabel von 1382: Untersuchung und Edition eines defektiven Textes (diss. Marburg, 1966) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1971). On the use of the word old in title of the poem here, see EYT 7.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


6. fol. 20v: a list of the weekly Torah readings. At the text’s end is the date 143 (= 1382–1383). 7. fol. 20v: a list of the Yiddish names of the precious stones on the breastplate of the High Priest of the Temple.14 8. fols. 21r–42v: Dukus Horant (Duke Horant). An Old Yiddish adaptation of a Germanic epic source. The organization of the manuscript clearly indicates the two distinct types of texts. First, there are those drawn from Hebrew sources, both biblical and post-biblical.15 Thus the ‘Death of Aaron’ (Num. 20) is based on a midrashic narrative which recounts Moses’ ascension to Paradise.16 The poem ‘Gan eyden’ likewise has a midrashic source. Dov Sadan was able to reconstruct the defective and lost passages of the Yiddish manuscript with the aid of the Midrash, demonstrating the structural relationship which exists between the Yiddish version and the original Hebrew text.17 The poem on Abraham the Patriarch is also based on a midrashic source, namely the episode in which Abraham destroys the idols marketed by his father Terah.18 Two further ˙ the Pious’ is poems from the manuscript have midrashic sources: ‘Joseph taken from a narrative found in the Sefer ha-yoshor and the Mahzor de Vitry, which recount the episode of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.19 The˙second is the 14 These terms were published by David Simon Blondheim, Les Parlers judéo-romans et la Vetus latina: étude sur les rapports entre les traductions bibliques en langue romane des Juifs au moyen âge et les anciennes versions (Paris: E. Champion, 1925), p. xxviii. 15 See Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Midraschepik und Bibelepik: Biblische Stoffe in der volkssprachlichen Literatur der Juden und Christen des Mittelalters im deutschen Sprachgebiet’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie (Sonderheft Jiddisch) 100 (1981), 78–97; idem, ‘Goliaths Schwestern und Brüder’, in Jaehrling, Meves, and Timm, Röllwagenbüchlein, 369–89; Chava Turniansky, ‘On OldYiddish Biblical Epics’, International Folklore Review 8 (1991), 26–33; Simon Neuberg, ‘Reimstudien zur jiddischen Midrasch-Epik’, in Jaehrling, Meves, and Timm, Röllwagenbüchlein, 391–409. 16 See Adolph Jellinek, Beit ha-midrash, 6 vols. (Leipzig and Vienna: Friedrich Nies, C. W. Vollrath, Brüder Winter, 1853–73; rpt. Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967), i. 91–5. 17 Dov Sadan, ‘The Midrashic Background of “The Paradise” and its Implications for the Evaluation of the Cambridge Yiddish Codex (1382)’, in The Field of Yiddish, ii, ed. Uriel Weinreich (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), 253–62. 18 See Gen Rabba 38, 13. This Midrash recurs in the Tsene-rene (ad Gen. 11: 28). See also Moses Gaster, The Exempla of the Rabbis, being a Collection of Exempla, Apologues, Culled from Hebrew Manuscripts and Rare Hebrew Books (London and Leipzig: Asia Publishing Co., 1924), 185. 19 See Shmeruk, Prokim, 47; Peter F. Ganz, Frederick Norman, and Werner Schwarz, ‘Zu dem Cambridger Joseph’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 82 (1963), 86–90; Fuks, ‘Der eltster literarisher dokument in yidish’, 30–55; Pavel Trost, ‘Zwei Stücke des Cambridger Kodex - 10. . 22’, Philologica Pragensis 4 (1961), 17–24; and idem, ‘Noch einmal zur Josefslegende des Cambridger Kodex’, Philologica Pragensis 5 (1962), 3–5; James W. Marchand and Frederic C. Tubach, ‘Der keusche Joseph: ein mitteldeutsches Gedicht aus dem 13.–14. Jahrhundert: Beitrag zur Erforschung der hebräisch-deutschen Literatur’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 81 (1962), 30–52. On the Hebrew sources, see Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, translated from the German manuscript by Henrietta Szold (exc. vol. iii, transl. Paul Radin), 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1909–38; rpt. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998; CD-ROM edn. Chicago: Davka, 1998), ii. 50.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

parable of the ailing lion, a common theme also found in the collection of animal fables, the Mishlei shualim (Mishley shuolim) and in the Ki-bukh.20 The manuscript ends with the second distinctive type of text encountered in Old Yiddish literature, namely an adaptation of a Germanic epic poem, Dukus Horant. This epic was part of a narrative cycle concerning Hagen, Hilde, and Kudrun, to which the Jewish text offers a variant form.21 From the perspective of German studies, the primary significance of this text lies in the fact that no trace of the German poem exists, and thus the Dukus Horant of this manuscript remains the only known source of this epic. It is understandable then that this is one of those rare texts in the Old Yiddish corpus that has aroused the interest of both scholars of Jewish studies and Germanic philologists, as is proven by the vast scholarly literature devoted to it.22 The precise characterization of the language of the poems of the Cambridge manuscript has prompted a great deal of discussion. For some, the language is not Old Yiddish, but Middle High German written in the Hebrew alphabet.23 The contents, the poetic form, and the language indicate the clear connection of the texts (especially Dukus Horant) to contemporaneous German literature, despite the fact that the texts are written in the Hebrew alphabet. The linguistic system demonstrates some differences, however, in lexicon, syntax, and phonetics. Some scholars speak of a mixed text, 20

See Erika Timm, ‘Die “Fabel vom alten Löwen” in jiddistischer und komparatistischer Sicht’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie (Sonderheft Jiddisch) 100 (1981), 109–70. On the narrative tradition, see ch. 9, below. 21 See Ganz, Norman, and Schwarz, eds., Dukus Horant; Peter. F. Ganz, ‘Dukus Horant: An Early Yiddish Poem from the Cairo Genizah’, Journal of Jewish Studies 9 (1958), 47–62. 22 This is likewise one of the rare domains in which French Germanists and scholars of Jewish studies have found common meeting ground for discussion. By means of these epic texts, Old Yiddish literature demonstrated that its own borders were not those of the Jewish quarter in which Jews resided. Thanks to this text, one subfield of Early Yiddish studies has found some broader recognition, for the study of this epic has far transcended the circle of specialists in Old Yiddish. On E. H. Lévy, who planned to publish a critical edition of Dukus Horant, see Fourquet, ‘Ernest-Henri Lévy (1867–1940)’, 549–63, and ‘Ernest-Henri Lévy (1867–1940) et le Dukus Horant’, Études germaniques 14 (1959), 50–6; Chaim Ginninger, ‘A Note on the Yiddish Horant’, in Field of Yiddish, i, ed. Uriel Weinreich (New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954), 275–7; J. Carles, ‘Un fragment judéo-allemand du cycle de Kudrun’, Études germaniques 13 (1958), 348–51; André Moret, ed., Kudrun, Bibliothèque de philologie germanique 18 (Paris: Aubier, 1955); Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Hilde, Isolde, Helena. Zum literarischen Horizont deutscher Juden im 14./15. Jahrhundert’, in Walter Röll and Simon Neuberg, eds., Jiddische Philologie: Festschrift für Erika Timm (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999), 133–55; Gabriele Strauch, Dukus Horant: Wanderer zwischen zwei Welten (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1990). A full panorama of the discussions surrounding this text and an exhaustive bibliography are found in Jerold C. Frakes, The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989). 23 See, for example, Fuks, ‘Der eltster literarischer dokument’, 27–9; James W. Marchand, Review of Lajb Fuks, ed., The Oldest Known Literary Documents; in Word 15 (1959), 386–7; idem, ‘Einiges zur sogenannten jiddischen Kudrun’, Neophilologus 45 (1961), 55–63; Marchand and Tubach, ‘Der keusche Joseph’, 30–52.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


composed of a mixture of different influences.24 According to others, these texts constitute the earliest traces of vernacular Jewish literature and cannot have been composed in anything other than Yiddish.25 In my opinion, while the language remains indubitably close to Middle High German, specifically to the dialects of Central German, the text is nonetheless integrally part of the tradition of Jewish literature, as the poems based on Hebrew sources attest, of which some, such as ‘Gan eyden’, remain quite true to their aggadic and midrashic sources. As for the Dukus Horant, despite the fact that it is based on a German source, its Jewish author has specifically adapted it for the audience of the Jewish community. These characteristics delineate the very precise contours of this literature: while the authors demonstrate an obvious familiarity with the language and the techniques of German epic literature, the texts which they create are nonetheless directly tied to the Jewish tradition. Far from constituting simple adaptations of German texts, the narratives of the Cambridge manuscript bear witness to a veritable mastery of the Hebrew tradition. The desire to appropriate or emulate external literary models is not a result of a simple submission to a dominant literary fashion, but rather of an attempt to invent a specifically Jewish literature. An analysis of the Dukus Horant indicates that this poem is far more closely related to the German literary tradition than the other texts in the codex, for it is based directly on a lost German version. The author has, however, subjected the original source to a number of types of modifications. In some places he suppressed allusions to feudal society and the Christian religion, which were too alien for the Jewish audience, of which we might cite two examples: IG DLW$ HLPYT RED WC IYGNWQ YD 'NWA ‘and the queen was to go to church’ (l. 485). Several lines later: IG ADLW$ IKRYQ RED WC 'GNWQ YD AD ‘when the queen was to go to church’ (l. 489). The use of these two distinct forms (HLPYT and IKRYQ) to designate ‘church’ demonstrates that the author was working from a German text which he sometimes transcribed exactly (as in the latter case), while at other times, he judaized the text by adapting it for his audience (as in the former case). This variation makes clear to us the method used by adaptors in working with their German sources: most of the time they transcribed their epic sources into Yiddish, preserving both the metrical structure and the content. They nonetheless undertook some modifications in the course of their work, deleting or adding material drawn from other episodes from German literature, suppressing references that were too specifically Christian, in order better to adapt the text to the taste 24

Hans Neumann, ‘Sprache und Reim in den judendeutschen Gedichten des Cambridger Codex ..10..22’, in Indogermanica: Festschrift Wolfgang Krause (Heidelberg: Winter, 1960), 145–65. 25 See Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Old Yiddish or Middle High German?’ Journal of Jewish Studies 12 (1961), 19–31.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

of its audience, often even adapting the text according to the literary canons of the Jewish tradition.26 The prologues to the poems provide a good example of the adaptational strategies: each of the poems ‘Paradise’ and ‘Abraham the Patriarch’ begins with praise of the divine, which is quite characteristic of Old Yiddish literature.27 Any understanding of the ‘Paradise’ is severely compromised by the poor state of the manuscript’s preservation. The following is an attempt to edit the poem’s prologue:28








26 On these differences between Christian and Jewish texts, see Joseph Perles, ‘Bibliographische Mitteilungen aus München’, MGWJ 25 ( 8) (1876), 356–61. Perles takes the example of the poem Her Ditraykh (Cracow, 1597). The text is based on the Middle High German tradition of poems surrounding the figure of Dietrich von Bern, as the colophon acknowledges: ‘taken from a Christian [galhes] text and translated into Yiddish [yudesh]’ (fol. ˙ 22v). 27 Compare, for example, the quite similar prologues to the Shmuel-bukh and Elia Levita’s Bovo-bukh. 28 The passage cited here from the Cambridge manuscript has suffered from a deterioration of its ink; illegible spaces are indicated by angled brackets < > ; some possible reconstructions are offered within the brackets; the placement of the brackets in the translation suggest the points of reconstruction.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


God, you know the one < > my troth that I < > < > mine with mind. You wear the Kingdom’s Heaven’s < > carry with You can bring about joy You can sadness. You can make cares disappear who can sing all your You wound and you heal, you choose and share out the king or peror has the highest choice You give the mighty ones heroic strength You give the intelligent ones mastery You take back, when you wish You always hit the tar is the good of a rich man’s ? What trong man’s pride? What is the good of slyness that does not result from your aid? You know everything that lives here and that in the air and in the deep. You have . . . very rich reward Your good better than gold Your good is better than Wise courage teaches us that.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, a group of texts appears which can be related to the three biblical and midrashic poems of the Cambridge manuscript. Some were recited on the occasion of Jewish holidays. One thinks here of stories read at Purim that were based on the Esther Scroll, such as the Oxford manuscript from the year 1544.29 The most famous of these epic adaptations of biblical material remains the Akeydas Yitskhok or Yudisher shtam, which belongs to the tradition of religious poems in Hebrew (piyutim or akedah-slihot (akeydo-slikhous)) that were recited during the Days of Awe, ˙ of which have been included in the prayer rites for Rosh some versions ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazic culture, particularly during the medieval period, the theme of the sacrifice of Isaac assumed great significance: Jews saw in it a symbol of their own tragic history and of their suffering in exile. The story of Abraham and his son became an allegory of the martyrdom of the Jews, sacrificed for the sanctification of the divine name (kidush ha-shem), but protected by their creator. Thence the great popularity of this liturgical poem which was copied in various versions in manuscript and went through various printed editions up to the eighteenth century.30 The 29 Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Opp. 10; cf. Adolf Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886; rpt. 1994), no. 170; Leo Landau, ‘A Hebrew–German Paraphrase of the Book of Esther of the Fifteenth Century’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 18 (1919), 497–555. Chone Shmeruk has compiled an exhaustive list of such Esther texts, in Mahazot mikrayim be-yidish (1697–1750) (Jerusalem: ˙ Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1979), 131–6. See also Erik, Geshikhte, 127–8; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 131–2; Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Die altjiddische Estherdichtungen: Überlegungen zur Rekonstruktion der Geschichte der älteren jiddischen Literatur’, Daphnis 6 (1977), 27–39; Staerk and Leitzmann, Bibelübersetzungen, 291–2. 30 See Erik, Geshikhte, 124–6; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 120–3; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 134–46; Staerk and Leitzmann, Bibelübersetzungen, 271; Percy Matenko and Samuel Sloan, eds., ‘The Aqedath Jishaq: A Sixteenth-Century Epic’, in Percy Matenko and Samuel Sloan, Two Studies in ˙ ˙ (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 1–70; Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, Akêdass Jizhak: ein altjiddisches Yiddish Culture ˙ Gedicht über die Opferung Isaaks (diss. Hamburg) (Hamburg and Leipzig, 1971); Chone Shmeruk, ‘An opgefunener fragment funem altyidishn “Akeyde-lid” ’, Almanakh fun di yidishe shrayber in Isroel 2 (Tel Aviv, 1967), 202–9.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

text is a versification of the biblical narrative, as illustrated by the initial stanzas:31 · URA YDREÑ AYD OAU$ RE$DWY





The Jewish people, a noble people, | that was born of Abraham the Patriarch, | and of Sarah, the tender mother, | neither of whom was ever grudging in their service of God. And now that they had come into their old age, | to ninety and a hundred years, | there was born to them | a son by name Isaac, the chosen one. Now the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to test him, | whether he would willingly serve him. | He spoke to him: ‘Take Isaac, your only son; | I want him as a sacrifice.’

The poem is likewise based on post-biblical sources such as the Midrosh vayousha.32 The author interwove some midrashic passages into the framework of the story. Thus, for example, he evokes the battle that Satan conducts against Abraham to prevent his carrying out the divine command. God makes the devil drink a vast quantity of water, so that his stomach swells up. Thus the author introduces a humorous note in the style of the comic poetry of the medieval minstrel, which contrasts sharply with the otherwise serious tone of the poem: 31 Here cited from the manuscript version: Paris, Bibliothèque National, MS Hébr. 589. The text is included in a Yiddish adaptation of Avot (Pirkey ovous) which is of Italian provenance, dated 1579; EYT 60. On the manuscript, see below, p. 302. 32 See Leo Landau, ‘Der yidisher “midrash vayoshe” ’, Filologishe shriftn 3 (1929), coll. 223– 42; and idem, ‘Der jiddische Midrasch Wajoscha’, MGWJ 72 ( 36) (1928), 601–21; Yaakov Maitlis, ‘An umbakanter Midrash vayoshe in yidish’, Yivo-bleter 42 (1962), 278–82. Two printed versions from Prague are extant, one from 1687 and another from the end of the seventeenth century (St., CB, nos. 3734, and 3738). Maitlis mentions an edition which was published in Freiburg in 1583. A number of other brief Yiddish poems of this type are extant, as well: especially the Seyfer breyshis (Prague, seventeenth century; St., CB, no. 1205); Yousef ha-tsadik lider (s.l., s.d.; St., CB, no. 3678); Shloumou ha-meylekh lid (Prague, 1657–1700 ?; St., CB, no. 3695), Odom ve-Khavo lid (Prague, 1661–8; St., CB, no. 3669).

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish




God, blessed be he, shouted to Satan with a horrible sound, | that he must drink all the water, | he drank until his belly swelled, | his belly was big and full. | He was quite distraught about this | and because he could do no more with his trickery | and in discomfort ran back and forth | and in great anger he roared like a bear.

Among the other epic poems based on biblical texts, the Seyfer Donieyl (Basel, 1557) might be mentioned, based on the Book of Daniel and augmented by talmudic and midrashic commentaries.33 The Book of Judges was also put into verse and published in 1564 in Mantua, as was the Seyfer Yehoushua (Cracow, 1594).34 Among the prophetic texts, one finds Ezekiel (Prague, 1602), Jonah (Prague, 1686), and among the poetic books, the Psalms (Cracow, 1586) and a portion of the Psalms entitled Taytsh Haleyl, and Job (Prague, seventeenth century). There are also rhymed adaptations of the Five Scrolls, such as the Targum shel khomesh megilous (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1584).35 The epic poems form an important group of texts which circulated from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century in the form of manuscripts or printed books, and were obviously popular among Jews, alongside other 33

On the epic poems based on biblical books, see Shmeruk, Prokim, 182–5. A manuscript of the Seyfer Donieyl exists as well (Oxford, 1600). The text was reprinted in Cracow 1588 (St., CB, nos. 1296–8), Prague, 1609, (1668–75), 1673, and Altona, 1730. See Wulf-Otto Dreeßen and Hermann-Josef Müller, eds., Doniel: das altjiddische Danielbuch nach dem Basler Druck von 1557, Litterae 59, 2 vols. (Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1978); EYT 57; Hermann-Josef Müller, ‘Zur Edition des altjiddischen “Donielbuchs” ’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddish, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 57–62; Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Zur altjiddischen Synonymik’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddisch, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 63–7. 34 Book of Judges, see St., CB, no. 1235. There is a manuscript of the Yiddish Joshua and Judges in the library of Parma, dated 1511 (cod. Pol., no. 2513); see Max Weinreich, Bilder, 126– 30; Book of Joshua, see St., CB, no. 1233; Erik, Geshikhte, 88–9, 122–4; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 31; and Prokim, 183–4; Chava Turniansky, ‘Shtei shirot epiot be-yidish al Sefer Yehoshua’, Tarbiz 51 (1982), 589–632. 35 On Ezekiel, see St., CB, nos. 1250–1. Jonah was reprinted in Prague between 1688 and 1715 and in Offenbach in 1715; see St., CB, nos. 1257–8. On the Psalms, see St., CB, no. 1280; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 20. On Taytsh Hallel, see St., CB, no. 1281. On Job, see St., CB, no. 1293. On the Five Scrolls, see Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke, no. 6. Shmeruk, Mahazot, 134; and Landau, ‘A Hebrew–German [Judaeo-German] Paraphrase’, 497–555. ˙


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

literary creations based on the Bible.36 This tradition culminated in two epic poems, the Shmuel-bukh and the Melokhim-bukh, that are without question two of the classic texts of Old Yiddish literature.37 These two epics form a synthesis of the religious model, represented by the adaptations of biblical material (in this case, specifically the books of Samuel and Kings), and the form of the Germanic epic poems. Metrically, the poems are based on the structure of the Nibelungenlied and show some relation to the Mayster Hiltebrant. The Nibelungenlied is composed in stanzas of four so-called Langzeilen ‘long lines’, each composed of two Kurzzeilen ‘short lines’. In printed texts they are generally divided by a mid-line caesura.38 Each of the 1,800 stanzas of the Shmuel-bukh, rhymed AABB, comprises four such lines of two hemistichs. The form differs slightly from that of the Nibelungenlied, however, where each of the first seven hemistichs has three accents, while the eighth has four; in the Shmuel-bukh all eight hemistichs have three stressed syllables.39 Following the example of many epics in the European tradition, the poem was not simply recited, but indeed sung or chanted to musical accompaniment, as is indicated by a remark in the epilogue to the 1544 edition of the Shmuel-bukh: · LA m Rm$ v iY LK m IAQ IED · LA a WM$ v RP eS ½ a OED IWB ½ IWGYN IED ‘the melody of the Shmuel bukh is known by the entire people of Israel’. This melody was without doubt widely known in Jewish communities, as is attested by the reference to it in other Old Yiddish literary texts, among which one might cite the Shloumou meylekh lid (Prague, 1657; St., CB, no. 3695), the translation of Jonah (1657; St., CB, no. 1256), and the Seyfer Yehoushua (Cracow, 1594).40 The existence of spoken turns of phrase taken directly from medieval epic literature provides further proof that this epic poem could have been 36

Max Erik compiled an inventory of the epic poems: ‘Inventar fun der yidisher shpilmandikhtung’, Tsaytshrift 2–3 (Minsk, 1928), coll. 545–88; see also Erik, Geshikhte, 69–129; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 61–137. 37 Falk and Fuks, Das Schmuelbuch des Mosche Esrim Wearba; Felix Falk, ‘Die Bücher Samuelis in deutschen Nibelungenstrophen des XV. Jahrhunderts’, Mitteilungen zur jüdischen Volkskunde 11 (1908), 79–85, 97–116, 129–50; Max Weinreich, ‘Dos Shmuel-bukh’, Di Tsukunft 32/5 (May 1927), 278–88; Nathan Süsskind (Nosn Ziskind), ‘Das Sˇmuel Buch: eine jüdisch-deutsche Umdichtung der zwei Bücher Samuelis im Stile der mittelhochdeutschen Heldendichtung’ (diss. New York University, 1942); and idem, ‘Shmuel bukh problemen’, in Maks Vaynraykhn tsu zayn zibetsikstn geboyrn-tog // For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 64–74 (Yiddish section); Jean Baumgarten, ‘Une chanson de geste en yidich ancien: Le Shmuel bukh’, Revue de la Bibliothèque Nationale 13 (1984), 24–38; Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Goliaths Schwestern und Brüder’, in Jaehrling, Meves and Timm, Röllwagenbüchlein, 369–89; EYT 47. The Melokhim Bukh was edited by Lajb Fuks, Das altjiddische Epos Melokîm-Bûk, 2 vols. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1965); EYT 45. 38 On the prosody of the Nibelungenlied, see Maurice Colleville and Ernest Tonnelat, eds., La Chanson des Nibelungen. Traduction intégrale avec introduction et notes (Paris: Aubier, 1944), 74–85; and especially Ray Milan Wakefield, Nibelungen Prosody (The Hague: Mouton, 1976). 39 Max Weinreich terms this form the Hildebrand-stanza (Bilder, 99). 40 In stanza 5, the author explains that the poem is written VAN VWB LAWM$ IWP½ IGYN IED ‘according to the melody of the Shmuel bukh’; St., CB, no. 1233.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


declaimed.41 The performer of the Shmuel-bukh often addresses the audience: · IHE$YG U$YA AD $Ñ IGAZ RDNWAÑ VYÏA $WM VYA ‘I must tell you of a marvel that occurred there’ (st. 1275. 1). The transitional formulas among individual episodes also frequently admonish the audience to pay attention: ADNAW IGEÑ RUNWA GYNÏQ RED $Ñ URWH WN : ‘Now listen to what the king found along the way’ (st. 228. 4); IYYA IYYZ RUK½WU IYYZ 'NWA LWA$ m RYM I$WL IWN · GNYD ‘Now let us leave Saul : GNYG DWiD m REH $E AYÑ IGNYZ RUYYÑ ILAÑ 'NWA and his daughter, and we shall go on to sing what was happening to Sir David’ (st. 467. 3–4).42 It is however necessary to differentiate between two distinct phenomena: on the one hand, the recitation (whether prosodic or sung) of epic poems by Jewish storytellers for audiences in the Jewish quarter at festivals or collective assemblies. It is obvious that such public recitations, especially of parts of texts such as the Shmuel-bukh or the Melokhim-bukh, must have taken place and been a highly valued form of entertainment among Jews during the Middle Ages. On the other hand, one notes simple borrowings of expressions and epic formulae taken from the repertoire of Germanic heroic poetry, which were mechanically transposed by the Yiddish authors. The existence of numerous such transpositions of epic rhetoric need not, however, lead one to think that these epic texts in Yiddish were necessarily sung. Beginning in the sixteenth century when Yiddish epics began to circulate in printed form, the reception of the texts was in particular via reading, both individual and collective.43 The structure of the Yiddish epic, the presence of a melody which accompanied the recitation of the texts, and the existence of techniques and formulae identical to those found in the epic poetry of western European minstrels during the Middle Ages, for a long time led scholars to believe that Jewish minstrels, shpilmener, also existed who travelled around the Jewish communities performing epic poems in Yiddish. Brotherhoods of wandering bards, assimilated into the marginal fringe of the Jewish community–– beggars or those entertainers such as leytsonim (‘jesters’), narn (‘fools’), badkhonim (‘wedding entertainers’) and klezmorim (‘musicians’)––would have taken the role of entertaining Jewish families by narrating the exploits of biblical heroes. While there is no doubt that there must have been performers who sung these epic poems, the role that they played in the creation of these texts, on the other hand, remains unclear. With respect to the tradition of the shpilmener, it is difficult to disentangle the threads of pure romantic legend, 41 In some adaptations, it is clearly stated that the poem is to be sung, such as in the final stanza of the rhymed version of Judges (Seyfer Shouftim, Mantua, 1564): ‘well made to be sung with a high and clear voice’. 42 On the other narratological uses of such apostrophes of the audience, see Armin Schulz, Die Zeichen des Körpers und der Liebe: ‘Paris und Vienna’ in der jiddischen Fassung des Elia Levita, Poetica 50 (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovacˇ, 2000). 43 See Shmeruk, ‘Di naye editsye funem alt-yidishn Melokhim-bukh’, Di goldene keyt 59 (1967), 209–11.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

or a conception based on research into the performance and reception of epic poems in the Christian sphere, from that which constituted an actual artistic phenomenon that existed in medieval society for which irrefutable evidence can be adduced. Leo Landau, Israel Zinberg, and especially Max Erik were the first to speak of the existence of a ‘class’ of Jewish ‘professional’ singers, the shpilmener, a term directly borrowed from German literary history: according to Erik, wandering singers (zingers) arose in the communities of Italy, Germany, and Bohemia to perform the Jewish repertoire of biblical epic.44 Taking the example of the Melokhim-bukh, such singers would have been not only the agents of distribution for these songs, but also their composers. One must acknowledge, however, that no compelling evidence for the existence of the Jewish shpilmener exists. In fact, Chone Shmeruk has definitively refuted the entire notion of their existence.45 The only occurrence of the word shpilman in Old Yiddish is found in the text of Dukus Horant (1382), where on three separate occasions there is reference to a poor shpilman.46 But in this case there is no doubt but that the text is a direct adaptation of a German poem and thus a simple reference to a Christian minstrel. Beyond this quite specific and delimited reference, there is no Yiddish source that provides evidence in favour of the Jewish shpilman thesis. Here we have a case of a literary myth formed by simple analogy on the basis of the conditions of composition proper to professional minstrels in the Christian Middle Ages. According to the colophons of various manuscripts of epic poems, the authors of the Yiddish poems quite evidently are to be counted among the shraybers and sofrim (‘copyists’), nakdonim (‘punctators’), and melamdim (‘school masters’), classes of Jews who all had a good knowledge of the Bible and the midrashic tradition and had directly to do with the manuscript texts. The broad integration of the stylistic and literary models from German epic poetry permits one to posit (at least for the period of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and with respect to this particular type of text) profound cultural contacts between the Jewish community and the surrounding society. The abundance of formulae, phrases, themes, and entire narratives taken directly from German epics and masterfully incorporated into Jewish texts 44

See Leo Landau, ed., Arthurian Legends: The Hebrew-German Rhymed Version of the Legend of King Arthur, Teutonia 21 (Leipzig: Avenarius, 1912), 43–5, 84; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 136–7; Erik divided Yiddish literature into three periods, the second of which (fourteenth– sixteenth centuries) is designated ‘di shpilman-tkufe fun der yidisher literatur’ (‘the minstrel period of Yiddish literature’); see Geshikhte, 68–9; and Erik, Vegn altyidishn roman un novele: fertsnter-zekhtsnter yorhundert (Warsaw: Der veg tsu visn, 1926), 13–29; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 60. 45 See Shmeruk, Prokim, 97–120. 46 Dukus Horant (Cambridge, University Library, .-. 1022, fol. 39v): IMRA AMYYA ADLB IMLYP$ ‘soon a poor minstrel’; IMLYP$ AMRA RED IWWRW ARYZ VYZ ADNWGB AD ‘the poor minstrel began to rejoice greatly’; UWG ADLYH AMED WC ADLB LYW UYYR IMLYP$ RED ‘the minstrel rode straightaway to the hero’. See Katz, ‘Six Germano-Judaic Poems’, 159; Fuks, The Oldest Known Literary Documents, i. 160–1.

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clearly demonstrates that the epic literature of the Christian world was well known and widespread in the Jewish community. From this cultural encounter, strictly delimited chronologically, originated some of the most innovative texts and one of the most productive genres of Old Yiddish literature. The Shmuel-bukh is transmitted in two manuscripts and six printed editions.47 The title of the text might suggest that it is a simply rhymed paraphrase of the books of Samuel.48 Far from being an adaptation, the Shmuel-bukh is in fact an original reconception of the biblical material. As could be expected, the text follows the biblical order of the episodes that narrate the conquest of the Promised Land by the people of Israel; it tells of the prophet Samuel, the war against the Philistines, and the monarchies of Saul and David. While the author is both thoroughly schooled in the Jewish sources and loyal to the tradition of biblical literature in Yiddish, he nonetheless garnishes his narrative with a great many talmudic and midrashic legends and with stories drawn from rabbinical folklore. The poem’s originality lies in its subtle synthesis of biblical and post-biblical sources and the courtly romance of the medieval West. In order to understand how this fusion of diverse elements works, let us look at how the Shmuel-bukh reconstructs the episode that introduces the rivalry of Hannah and Peninnah:49 · UAU$ RED IYA HM mRm WC IUYYC IBLEZ IYA $AZ IWN · UAZ IMRA AYD UK ½ M RED HN mQ mvLe A $YH RED IAM IYYA · BYYL ONYYZ WC UH HN mQ mLA e IAM GYBLEZ RED : BYYÑ AYYÑC WC IMWNYG HN mYN iP v 'NWA HN mX x


The manuscripts: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, MS Hébr. 92; Hamburg, cod. Hebr. 313 (Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 33); the editions: the editio princeps––Augsburg, 1544; Mantua, 1563; Cracow, 1578 and 1593; Prague, 1609; Basel, 1612; Ingolstadt, 1652, a German version by Paulus Aemilius. On the different editions of the Shmuel bukh, see BH i. 920; ii. 456; iv 200–1; St., Serapeum, no. 357. Staerk and Leitzmann mention a fragmentary manuscript in the possession of Professor Porges in Leipzig (in 1923). Steinschneider mentions a manuscript that he had seen in Amsterdam, dated 1656 and copied in Granlo, Netherlands (St. Serapeum 25, p. 90). On the comparisons of the versions, see Wilhelm Staerk, ‘Zur Überlieferungsgeschichte des jüdisch-deutschen Samuel- und Königsbuches’, MGWJ 63 ( 27) (1919), 20–33. On Paulus Aemilius, see Friedrich Zarncke, ‘Des Paulus Aemilius Romanus Übersetzung der Bücher Samuelis’, Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlich-sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, philologisch-historische Classe 22 (1870), 212–26. 48 Bibliographical entries are characteristically of the following type: ‘Paraphrase des deux livres de Samuel ou histoire de Saül et de David en vers allemand du XVIe siècle en caractéres rabbiniques. Le volume pourrait faire partie d’une paraphrase complète des livres historiques de la Bible’ (‘paraphrase of the two books of Samuel, or the history of Saul and David, in German verse of the sixteenth century in rabbinical script. The book could be part of a complete paraphrase of the historical books of the Bible’); Bibliothèque nationale: Catalogue des manuscrits hébreux et samaritains de la Bibliothèque impériale (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1866), 9. 49 See 1 Sam. 1–2 and Shmuel-bukh, st. 7–9 in the Augsburg 1544 edition.




At this same time there lived in the city of Rama | A man whose name was Elkanah and who sated the poor. | That same man Elkanah took for himself | Two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was beautiful and well formed. | Her husband Elkanah could not have a child with her. | He was a pious Levite, as it is written. | Peninnah had borne him ten children. He loved the marvellously beautiful Hannah very much, | And could not get her out of his mind night or day. | He never did anything against Peninnah, | But he loved Hannah much more. (sts. 7–9)

These stanzas make it possible to assess how much the biblical passage was transformed: the genealogy of Elkanah was omitted, while a new dimension has been added: the beauty of Hannah stirs the love of Elkanah and the jealousy of her rival, Peninnah. The subsequent stanzas present in quite a vivid manner the conflicts between the two women. Thereafter follows the episode of the visit by the High Priest, Eli, which again highlights the modifications and radical changes of the original text (sts. 23–6): · IUYZ RED UYN $Ñ IUYYC IBLEZ IED IYA · IUYB WC GALP ½ P IK ½ YLEMYG LYPMEU OED RWB ½ UNMYN $D · IYYZ IQNWRU $WM AÏRW AYD IYZ ONYYZ IYA UK ½ WDYG RE : IYYÑ UYN AYHLA UQNYRU IM IWG QEÑ IYH ULWZ AWD VARP$ RE




Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


In that same time it was not the custom | That anyone prayed fervently [silently] in front of the temple. | He thought to himself that the woman must be drunk. | He said: ‘You should go away from here; this is not a place for drinking wine.’ She said: ‘Dear sir, you are mistaken. | I have had no wine today. | You are clearly no prophet, but rather a common man. | Out of my great pain I cry out to my creator.’ Eli the High Priest looked at the woman. | Now may you well hear how he spoke to her: | ‘God Almighty commanded me to say to you, | “Go home to your house; you will bear a child.” ’ Then the beautiful woman bowed to the High Priest. | ‘You are a true prophet; that I now hear clearly.’ | Then she went home happily to her tent. | Elkanah and her family moved out cross-country.

Here once again there has been a significant modification of the biblical text: Hannah responds sharply to the accusation by the High Priest, whom she designates not an authentic prophet, but an ordinary man like all others. It is not until after she has heard the good news from Eli that Hannah admits the High Priest’s prophetic powers. In the Bible there follows the beautiful passage with Hannah’s prayer to God (1 Sam. 2). While retaining the tone of praise, the Shmuel-bukh completely changes the impact of this hymn which takes on the dimensions of a song to the glory of the people of Israel. Some scholars have insisted on this aspect of the text, as a veritable Jewish national epic and thus a counterpart to the epic poems of Christian culture (sts. 39–41):50 · IWZ RBYL IYYM LA a WM$ v IWU UREÑ $D · IWU RE UREÑ IDYYH IED IWB ½ FLÏH $WRG · VYYLG IP ½ LWHYG UREÑ IDREÑ LYW IED LA a Rm$ v iY : VYYRGYNYWQ ONYYA IWB ½ IGNAL RBÏA VWN RD




Franz Delitzsch and Nathan Süßkind speak of the Shmuel-bukh as a ‘Davidiad’, comparable, in Ashkenazic culture, to the Chanson de Roland and Nibelungenlied in medieval Christian society. See BH iv 201; Franz Delitzsch, Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Poesie vom Abschluß der heiligen Schriften Alten Bundes bis auf die neueste Zeit (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1836), 81; and Süßkind, ‘Shmuel-bukh problemen’, 67.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

Shmuel, my dear son, will accomplish this: | He will offer great aid against the heathen. | Israel, the worthy people, will be helped right away. | Later he will long contend with a powerful king Who is named Sankheriv [Sennacherib] and rules far and wide. | When he comes to Jerusalem, he will be conquered. | We will be fully revenged on Nebuchadnezar, | And the weapons of the Greeks will also be destroyed. Haman will be hanged and sold for bread. | Israel will be saved altogether from its suffering. | He will dig a ditch to catch all Israel. | He and his ten sons will all be hanged. (sts. 39–41)

In her prayer to God, which stylistically resembles the Psalms, Hannah opens her heart and glorifies God. The Shmuel-bukh gives a national and messianic dimension to the biblical prayer. It mentions the exile of the Israelites, the punishment of the oppressors, and the final redemption. By this historical addition, the author appears to address his contemporaries: they too suffer, but God will in the end hear their pleas and free them. The end of the prayer, much closer to the original, is based on a series of contrasts and reversals that refer to a number of mystical beliefs associated with the coming of the Messiah (sts. 44–6): : QYDNBEL IK ½ AM 'NWA IUÏU LAÑ IAQ VRBT ½ Y UWG · QYD RDYÑ VÏA UP ½ LYH 'NWA ILYH a AYD IYA IRDYN UK ½ AM RE · VYYR IMRA AYD 'NWA ORA IK ½ YYR AYD UK ½ AM RE : VYYLRK ½ YZ IMRA AYD UK ½ ÏH RD 'NWA RDYN IHWH AYD UK ½ AM 'NWA



God, praised be He, can both kill and raise the dead. | He sends to Hell and also offers the greatest aid. | He makes the rich poor and the poor rich. | He brings low those on high and most certainly raises the lowly. He raises up the poor who lie in the mire. | He makes the great rulers; His praise is not concealed. | He helps those dear to him and repulses his enemy. | The fires in the depths of Hell are blasted at them. Holy God will set up judgement. | Neither the poor nor the rich will he forget. | He will send the Messiah, the high-born king. | Thus will our enemies surely be destroyed. (sts. 44–6)

One of the great accomplishments of the poem is found in the integration of the biblical story with Christian narrative motifs. The knightly world of the medieval epic cycles, the feudal sphere with its lords, vassals, and sacred

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


rites, its passion for war and combat, of course remain alien to Judaism. The social stratification characteristic of German life of the period also remained quite distant from the distinctive hierarchies of the Jewish community. But the residents of the Jewish quarter were for all that no less fond of secular Christian literature, as is witnessed by the success of German epic poems adapted into Yiddish. Without in any way submitting to the dominant culture, and still respecting the taste of the Jewish audience, the author of the Shmuel-bukh had an expert knowledge of chivalric romances and medieval poetic forms. In fact these Yiddish epic poems clearly demonstrate the affirmation of an independent cultural identity and the discovery of literature as a communal dimension of the society. Here was a situation that had not yet existed in vernacular Jewish literature, for a tradition characterized by defined social goals was here transformed into a form of literary and aesthetic expression found in all other European literatures. This appropriation of epic rhetoric, archetypal images, heroic scene and action, all well mastered and all borrowed from the literature of the surrounding culture, enabled the poet to avoid models imposed by the Jewish tradition and to invent a new and very specific literary tradition. The Shmuel-bukh itself is a challenge cast by Jewish poets at the Christian world and sets itself up as the Ashkenazic ‘national epic’. Confronted with the Christian heroic traditions, the Jews of the communities of Germany developed this text by drawing on the materials of the historical books of the Bible that narrate and glorify the exploits of the Israelites and trace the most important episodes of the foundation of the Israelite monarchy. Composed during a period of torment that was marked by expulsion and persecution, the Shmuel-bukh serves to remind those suffering exile of the promise of redemption and the liberation of the Jewish people who were subjugated to other peoples, but it also presents itself as a new text, a foundation of myth and legend. Consequently, the biblical texts are rewritten according to the technique and on the model used in German epic poetry. Thus the heroes are provided with titles borrowed from the German feudal lexicon, such as Degen (‘warrior’), Held (‘hero’), Recke (‘warrioradventurer’), Ritter (‘knight’), Weigand (‘warrior’). One reads, for example, of · UNNYG DWiD m U$YA IGNWY IGED RQRAU$ IYYA ‘a valiant, young warrior named David’ (st. 397. 1); of IKYLRUYR RAG IUKENQ $DvWiD m $GYNÏQ $D ‘King David’s very knightly servants’ (st. 1555. 4); B½m AWY DWiD m GYNÏQ RED UQY$ AD · UNAGYYÑ OED ‘Then King David sent to Joab, the warrior’ (st. 1189. 1). The combat narratives assume a prominent role in the Shmuel-bukh, and their structure is quite like that found in Christian epic poetry. The weaponry and armour used by David and Saul are the same as that used by Christian knights. The narrative order in combat and jousting scenes follows the classic epic model, characterized by preliminary invective and provocation, preparation for battle, utilization of tactics and strategems, all culminating in the physical confrontation. A short extract from the battle between David and Goliath illustrates the structure (sts. 374–6):





And when the great giant went against David, | David positioned himself to fight; he received him with great severity. | He quickly took his sling in hand | And wrapped a large pebble in it. He threw the stone with great force at the giant’s forehead, | Through all his armour into his brain. | He threw it with such velocity at the huge man | That he had to fall upon the plain. David the warrior leapt onto the giant | And took the giant’s sword in hand. | He broke off his helmet, took him by the hair, | Struck off his head and laid it on a litter. (sts. 374–6)

The Paris manuscript includes an additional stanza (lacking in the printed versions) which ends the episode of the combat between David and Goliath with a moralistic allegory (MS hébr. 92, st. 383). It recounts a legend, borrowed from a Midrash, that relates to the rite of circumcision and proposes an interpretation which would substitute an iron knife for the sharp stone: IWUYG FYWA UWH IYYU$ OED LYHU$ RED $D OWRAD IWL INYYZ IBEG OYA RYM ILAWW OWRAD REH ZYB UCWYG LWM LA IYYU$ RABY$ UYM UWH IM : R$EM IYYLHEU$ UYM IDYYN$B RDNYQ IWN LWZ IM

Because the steel split open the stone, | For that reason we want to reward it; | Up until now circumcision has been performed with a splinter of stone, | Now children should be circumcised with a steel knife.

The originality of this text lies in its formulation according to the patterns and poetic form characteristic of German poetry, as well as to the biblical stories which the author enriches by means of his use of talmudic and midrashic legends. Mixing these two opposing orders of narration, the author redesigns them for the use of an Ashkenazic audience. The text demonstrates no strict division between the Christian and the Jewish culture, between

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


scholarly and popular texts, but rather embodies the cultural exchange, reciprocal influence, and a dynamic circulation between the two. That is the source of the richness of the Shmuel-bukh, a fusion of the Hebrew tradition and the Jewish vernacular tradition, of the world of German epic poetry and the Jewish heritage comprising both biblical themes and post-biblical legends and tales. This long poem constitutes a major work of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ashkenazic culture, for both its magisterial poetry and its structure elucidate the characteristic traits of Jewish literature in Yiddish. It functions as a ‘textual mirror’ that reflects the multiple cultural spheres with which German Jews were in contact at the end of the Middle Ages. Critics and scholars have long sought to identify the author of the Shmuel-bukh. The question has fuelled discussions and passionate controversies, but is now, with the exception of some residual murky issues, more or less resolved. Names are mentioned three times in the manuscripts of the text. On the last page of the Hamburg manuscript one finds the following statement: VYA IYB QWP$NGER IWB AÑYL / UNAH RNYYM UYM IBYR$G VYA IWH VWB $D 'NWA ICWN $E AYZ LWZ DYYRB WC / UNNG AYZ U$YA ILDYYRB IYRYNWG IUWG RNYYM / UNNG

‘I have written this book with my own hand. | My name is Liva of Regensburg. | Freydlin is the name of my dear patroness. | I hope that she will be able to read this book with pleasure.’ This statement does not indicate the identity of the author, but that of the copyist (shrayber), while also noting the name of the patroness, Freydlin, for whom the manuscript was copied. J. C. Wolf was the originator of the misconception that the author of the Shmuel-bukh was a woman, Litte of Regensburg.51 This idea reappeared in various later publications, including Meyer Kayserling’s study of Jewish women.52 In his study of the Hamburg manuscript, Gustav Karpeles recognized that this female poet was only a product of Wolf ’s fertile imagination.53 ‘Liva’ (‘lion’) is simply an older form of the name Leyb, which remained a common male name into the twentieth century. On the last two pages of the Paris manuscript, two names are found in the poem’s concluding stanzas (1761. 2–conclusion): VYA REGB $D IAYYL












BH iv 201. Meyer Kayserling, Die jüdischen Frauen in der Geschichte, Literatur und Kunst (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1879), 150. 53 Gustav Karpeles, Geschichte der jüdischen Literatur (Berlin: Oppenheim, 1886), ii. 1001; and idem, ‘Litte von Regensburg’, in Festschrift zum siebzigsten Geburtstage A. Berliner’s, ed. Aron Freimann and Meier Hildesheimer (Frankfurt am Main: Kaufmann, 1903; rpt. New York: Arno, 1980), ii. 190. 52


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish UNANYG VYA IYB












The book has an end, so says Zanvil the scribe. | David established his fine monarchy with honour. | God helped all Israel to go to Jerusalem. Send us the Messiah soon; God must soon redeem us. | And protect your people, Israel, from all evil. | Moshe Esrim Ve-arba is my name. | I made this book with my own hand. One should also remember what I have said. | God helps his servants and does not leave them in pain. | He performed great miracles for our ancestors. | Now let Almighty God on his heavenly throne help us. End of the Book of Samuel. Praise be to God.

This conclusion, which conforms to a model that appears in numerous other Yiddish texts, includes a prayer to God to protect his people from evil and to lead them to Jerusalem, hastening the coming of the Messiah. Two names are mentioned: Zanvil the scribe and Moses Esrim Ve-arba. According to Max Weinreich, these are the names of the two copyists, and the work itself remains anonymous.54 Even on the assumption that the second name is that of the author, we gain no real information about the time or place of the poem’s composition. It was Zalman Rubashow’s achievement to have lifted the veil of mystery that had obscured the name of the Shmuel-bukh poet.55 Moses Esrim Ve-arba is mentioned in a number of historical texts which give some information about his life and deeds. He was a meshulokh: an emissary of the Holy Land to communities of the Diaspora charged with the task of collecting money for the benefit of the charitable institutions and the poor of Jerusalem. While passing through Constantinople, he became involved in a quarrel between Moses Capsali and Joseph Kolon. Taking the part of the rabbi of Constantinople, the historian Elijah Capsali speaks in these terms of Moses Esrim Ve-arba: ‘Among the adversaries of Rabbi Moses Capsali was numbered the Ashkenazic Rabbi Moses Esrim Ve-arba, who was so named because beyond the Bible he knew nothing. . . .56 This rabbi had been sent to 54

Max Weinreich, ‘Dos Shmuel bukh’, 283. The third president of the state of Israel, he is better known under the name Zalman Shazar; see Zalman Rubashow, ‘R. Moshe Esrim Vearba’, Di Tsukunft 32 (1927), 428–9; rpt. in Zalman Shazar, Urei Dorot, mehkarim ve-he’arot le-toldot yisrael ba-dorot ha-ahronim ˙ ˙ (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1971), 235–8. 56 In Hebrew esrim ve-arba means ‘twenty-four’ and is the expression used to designate the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible, according to the traditional count. 55

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collect money in the communities [of Europe] for the poor of Jerusalem. He came to Constantinople and asked the rabbi of the city to help him. . . . At this time the sultan of Turkey and the sultan of Egypt were at war, and the rabbi feared lest the ruler learn of this dispatch of money to the enemy’s country. He therefore refused to help him. . . .’57 Beyond specifying the role of Moses Esrim Ve-arba for us, this text also provides information concerning the period in which the conflict took place: according to Heinrich Graetz, the war broke out in the years 1487–8, when the Mameluks of Egypt, who also ruled Palestine at the time, came into conflict with the sultan of Turkey. These details cast light on the situation in which the Shmuel-bukh was composed, in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. This date likewise indicates that the poets who wrote in Yiddish could draw on much older non-Jewish epic sources in composing their own original poems. As for the pejorative remark about the emissary from the Holy Land, it had no other purpose than to discredit him in the eyes of his adversaries, for it is altogether inaccurate. In fact, quite the contrary is true: the epithet ‘Esrim Ve-arba’ conventionally designates a man with a deep knowledge of the books of the tradition, a sage and scholar, as is proven in this case by Moses Esrim Ve-arba’s perfect mastery and memory of the Hebrew texts and biblical themes. His profession as itinerant preacher, envoy of Israel to the Diaspora, lamdon (scholar), and epic poet make him a perfect representative of the authors of Old Yiddish literature who made use of the vernacular for the pleasure and moral edification of their audience in the Jewish quarter, and in order to create a repertoire of original Jewish texts. The second major text of this tradition is the Melokhim-bukh, an epic poem by an anonymous author, based on the Book of Kings, which recounts the monarchy of Solomon and the history of the tribes of Judah and Israel up to the Babylonian Captivity.58 The text is extant in several manuscripts and early printed editions: a fragment of twenty-two folios dated to 1519–25 and found in the binding of an edition of a Mikroous gedoulous (Venice, 1542);59 a manuscript in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana in Amsterdam, dated to 1555–7 (MS Ros. 176); the editio princeps, Augsburg, 1543, printed and published by Paulus Aemilius,60 and the later editions of Cracow, 1582, and Prague, 1607. Although the Shmuel-bukh and Melokhim-bukh participate in the same tradition of epic poetry, the two texts differ distinctly from one other. Of course they are both based on the biblical source, augmented by numerous 57 Heinrich Graetz, Die Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, 11 vols. (Leipzig: Leiner, 1863–76; rpt. of the Ausgabe letzter Hand 1890–1909: Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1998), viii, pp. 440–9, no.7; citation from p. 444. 58 The text comprises 2,262 quatrains; see Lajb Fuks, ed., Das altjiddische Epos Melokîm-Bûk, 2 vols. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1965). 59 See Allony, ‘Mekorot hadashim le-Shmuel bukh ve-le-Melokhim bukh’, 90–7. ˙ 60 According to Fuks, there are two versions of this edition: Paulus Aemilius printed one for Jews and the other for Christians; see Das altjiddische Epos, 32–3.


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borrowings from talmudic and midrashic sources, and they possess a similar metrical structure drawn from German epic poetry. Nonetheless in the Book of Kings, the chivalric aspect and the references to the style and rhetoric of heroic poetry are less frequent, while ethical and historical elements seem instead to dominate. Rather than adapting epic sources from the medieval West, the author composed an epicized historical poem which drew its inspiration from the history of the Jewish people, with the purpose of imparting moral instruction to its audience. The central focus on the history of the monarchy, the narration of the great deeds of the biblical heroes, and the wealth of aggadic legends have the purpose of entertainment, extolling the glorious adventures of Israel, and providing the Jewish audience with models of conduct and moral teachings. Similarly to the many other Yiddish poems, such as the Shmuel-bukh, this poem begins with a glorification of the divine (sts. 1–3): · UREÑ $BWL LAÑ U$YB WD ICREH IWB ½ UWWG VYD BWL VYA · DRE 'NWA LMYH IP ½ $YB IUP ½ ERQ INYYD UYM U$WH WD · IAQ ILYC a UNMYN AYD IK ½ YYC 'NWA RDNAÑ LYW WC RD : IAM AYD VÏA 'NWA AÏRW YDLYÑ VÏA 'NWA OAC



I praise you God with all my heart; you are worthy of praise. | With your power you created heaven and earth, | And in addition many wonders and signs that no one can number: | Both tame and wild animals, both female and male. Thus it is better to be silent, for one would never be done [with the praise], | For you are so powerful that you can change all things. | Therefore you should be feared; that is appropriate and right. | You can make straight anything that is bent. You have often given the children of Israel signs. | Thus they are obligated to have you as their Lord; | And they should fear your name; that is useful and good for them. | The man who opposes your name is indeed a simpleton. (sts. 1–3)

Thereafter follows an abridged version of the history of the Jewish people from the captivity in Egypt up to the end of David’s reign. The prologue provides the author with an opportunity to show his talent as a storyteller and poet (sts. 4–7):

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish






When the children of Israel were in the land of Egypt; | There you showed them many signs through your powerful hand | And led them out of exile into the wild desert | And gave them the Torah on Mount Sinai. You fed them forty years with divine bread | Until unfortunately it came time for Moses to die. | Thereafter your servant Joshua led them into the Holy Land | And subdued it with the strength of your powerful hand. They occupied it for a long time; no one may say otherwise. | Israel desired a king, just as other nations had, | Who would judge them and fight for them | So that they might be safe in their home at all times. God, praised be He, established a king from the Jewish land over them. | Saul, the son of Kish, was the hero’s name. | No man in Israel was his match in looks and piety. | And in the affair of Amalek, he kindled God’s wrath.

The poem, which is based primarily on the biblical source, follows the structure of the historical books. Nonetheless, the poet, who had a perfect mastery of the broad range of Jewish sources, mixed talmudic and midrashic passages and excerpts from medieval commentaries into the narrative, which he subtly integrated into the development of the biblical plot.61 An analysis of the episode concerning King Solomon, Ashmedai (Asmodeus, the king of the demons), and the worm shomir offers a clear illustration of the method by which the author artistically recombined and recomposed multiple sources borrowed from the religious tradition.62 The passage recounts the 61

On the Jewish sources of the Melokhim-bukh, see Fuks’s introduction to his facsimile edition of the Augsburg 1543 edition (Das altjiddische Epos, 1–52). 62 This episode is narrated in sts. 255–348. On this talmudic legend, see Max Grünbaum, Neue


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

construction of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6 and 7), and corresponds specifically to 1 Kings 6: 7: ‘When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry; so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple, while it was being built.’ The Talmud offers the commentary (BT Git 68a): [Solomon] asked the rabbis how shall I do this [sc. build the Temple without iron tools]. ‘There is the shamir that Moses used for [cutting] the gems for the ephod,’63 the rabbis told him. ‘How can I find it?’ he asked. ‘Bring together a male and female demon and tie them together; perhaps they will tell you.’ So Solomon brought together a male and female demon and tied them together. But the demons said to him: ‘We do not know. Perhaps Ashmedai, the king of the demons, knows.’ ‘How do I make him come?’ he asked them. ‘He is on such-and-such mountain. There he dug a ditch and filled it with water and covered it with a stone, which he sealed with his seal. Every day he goes up to Heaven to study in the academy of heaven, then he comes back down to study in the academy of the earth. Then he goes and checks his seal; he opens [the ditch] and drinks. Then he closes it again, seals it and goes away.’ Solomon sent Benayahu, the son of Yehoyada, having given him a chain engraved with the name [of God], a ring engraved with the name [of God], some balls of wool, and skins of wine. Benayahu left and dug a ditch downhill [from Ashmedai’s ditch] and let all the water flow into it. Then he plugged the hole with wool. Then he dug another ditch uphill [from Ashmedai’s ditch], in which he poured wine and then filled the ditch [of Ashmedai]. Then he went and sat on a tree.

This is how the legend is related in the Melokhim-bukh (sts. 255–9, 265–6, 273–6): The house that one built was of good stones; | No hammer and no iron struck the stones | The king considered, what should I do? | I cannot cut stones without iron. King Solomon said: ‘Who will counsel me? | I may not cut the stones with iron.’ | He had wise men summoned to counsel him. | He was not permitted to use iron, for God had prohibited it. ‘I will not dig them out with my fingernails. | I must have your prudent advice.’ | The wise men responded: ‘King, this is how you should do it. | There is a worm called shomir, which you must have. When the wise and intelligent Moses | Cut out the ephod which is worn by the high priest, | He made use of this worm called shomir.’ | ‘But tell me, how I can bring it here?’ Beiträge zur semitischen Sagenkunde (Leiden: Brill, 1893), 229; Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. vii, index; Georg Salzberger, Die Salomo-Sage in der semitischen Literatur. Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Sagenkunde (Berlin-Nikolassee: Max Harrwitz, 1907). One finds also this legend in another Yiddish text, the collection of four tales in Parma, Biblioteca Palatine, cod. 2513 (cod. de Rossi, Pol. 1); see Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi, Mss. codices hebraici Biblioth. I. B. De-Rossi . . . accurate de eodem descripti et illustrati (Parma: Ex publico typographeo, 1803), iii. 200; St. Serapeum 30, no. 410; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 133–8; Felix Falk, ‘Di talmudishe agode fun shloyme hameylekh mitn ashmeday un dem shomir in tsvey altyidishe nuskhoes’, Yivo-bleter 13 (1938), 246–74. 63

The garment of the high priest.

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


The wise men said: ‘King, you must master the demon.’ | They will have to dance to your tune. | So that they tell you where he is. | Such things are not hidden from them; they know it surely. . . . They said to the king: ‘There on that mountain | Whence no one returns, neither giant nor dwarf. | On that same mountain, he dug a ditch, | Which he fills with the water that he needs every day. He covers it with a stone on which he places a seal. | He is very afraid that it will be touched. | For he goes to heaven every day. | He studies in heaven without sparing any effort.’ . . . [The king then called Benayohu, gave him the chain, the ring engraved with the divine name, the wool, and the wineskins; then Benayohu left to find Ashmodai] . . . He came to the mountain where he found the ditch. | Benayohu said: ‘Let’s see what this devil’s whelp demon wants.’ | He dug another ditch downhill from the Ashmodai’s ditch, | And uphill yet another ditch. In the lower part of Ashmodai’s ditch he made a small hole, | So that the water would drain into the next ditch. | He took wool and plugged the hole, | So that no one would notice anything, he did it so well. From the upper ditch there was a small hole | Into which he could pour the wine. | Then he plugged it so that no one would notice anything, | And covered the ditch up again right away. Count Benayohu went to perch on a tree.

This passage demonstrates that the author knew the source of the legend quite well, which he transposed on the basis of the metrical and rhythmic constraints of German epic poetry. This is a good example of the style of Yiddish epic poetry which was firmly rooted in Jewish myth and legend while making use of the dominant poetic models favoured by the audience. Alongside adaptations of biblical and midrashic material there was another category of epic texts in Yiddish: the texts based directly on Christian material such as German sagas and Italian chivalric romances. These texts are generally designated galkhes bikher or galkhes sforim in the Yiddish sources, referring to the fact that they are translations from Christian texts.64 Thus one finds in the introduction to Eyn nay lid af der megilo by Ephraim bar Judah Halevi (Amsterdam, 1649), a rhymed adaptation of one of the biblical scrolls65: ‘For I have seen young men and maidens run to buy Christian books (galkhes bikher), from which they asked me to transcribe,66 in order to spend their time with such obscenity. Once I was reflecting on this and decided that I would offer something to the young people.’67 The epics 64 Galkhes is from the Hebrew root galah ‘Christian priest’, gilah ‘to shave/tonsure’, and giluah ˙ ˙ ˙ ‘shave/tonsure’, and designates monks, Christian priests, Christian texts, texts written in the Roman alphabet, and the Latin language and the language of the priests, specifically in opposition to Jewish texts in the Hebrew alphabet. 65 On this text, see Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, no. 258. 66 This suggests that the author transcribes the Roman-alphabet Christian romances into the Hebrew alphabet so that they can be read by Jewish readers. 67 Translated from the text citation in Shmeruk, Prokim, 41.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

are known to us primarily by means of the negative reactions of the rabbis and community authorities, who condemn them as no more than frivolous and secular books, which at base show a certain alienation from religious books.68 Numerous texts demonstrate the success and the popularity among Jews of such secular texts. The Sefer hassidim thus condemns the mixture of ˙ one should not use parchment on pure and impure literature: ‘Likewise, which romants are written as a new binding for a sacred book.’69 This is a reference to the Jewish adaptations of chivalric romances, such as Melekh Artus (1279), described as ‘pointless stories of the battles of kings and nations’. Prefaces to religious books in Yiddish filled with virulent condemnations of these adaptations of chivalric romances are ubiquitous. Michael Adam, for instance, in his preface to his Pentateuch translation (Constance, 1544), explains: ‘This book is likewise good for wives and young women who all know well how to read Yiddish, but who pass their time by reading worthless books such as Ditraykh fun Bern, Hildebrand and others like them which are nothing but lies and invented things. These wives and young women could use their free time to read this Khumesh which is nothing but pure truth.’ In his preface to his edition of the Psalms (Venice, 1545), Cornelius Adelkind takes up the same argument, which becomes a commonplace in numerous Yiddish religious texts: ‘Now that I have become old, I reflected that I have done nothing for the pious young girls and for each of the householders who did not have the time to study during their youth. Later they would have liked to devote their time, on sabbath and holidays, to the reading of the holy tradition, instead of reading the stories of Ditraykh fun Bern or Der sheynen glik.’ The same diatribe is found in the adaptation of the Song of Songs by Isaac Sulkes (Cracow, 1579; fol. 2r): ‘I believe that it is pleasing to almighty God to write such holy books in Yiddish [daytsh] that are useful and pious. But certainly not Ditrikh fun Bern and Hildebrant and all the many others.’ In the books of morals there is also no dearth of invective against secular literature, as is demonstrated in this passage from Lev tov (Prague, 1620; fol. 64r): ‘[on the sabbath] it is also forbidden to read promissory notes or bills. . . . The Yiddish books of fables or battles or proverbs or other such things are confusion; one may not read such things even on weekdays; that is frivolous jesting. And whoever writes or makes them leads many people to sin. But when 68 One notes a similar reaction in Christian society on the part of the clergy which criticizes secular books which they call libri pestiferi (‘pestilential books’). On this subject, see Weinreich, Geshikhte, iii. 285; Chone Shmeruk, Ha’iyurim le-sifrei yidish ba-meot ha-taz ha-yaz (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1986), 32. 69 See Judah ben Samuel Hassid, Sefer Hassidim; French transl. Édouard Gourévitch, Sefer ˙ ˙ hassidim / Le Guide des hassidim (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1988), 296. See also Landau, Arthurian Legends, p. xxi; idem, ‘A nit bakanter yidish-daytsher nusekh fun der artus-legende’, 129; Efraim Elimelech Urbach, Baalei ha-tosafot (Jerusalem: Mosad byalik, 1955; 5th edn. 1986), 271. A passage of Tossafot (Shab 116b) explains that on the sabbath and weekdays it is forbidden to read ‘tales of battles written in the vernacular’.

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books of battles or fables are written or printed in Hebrew, it is permitted to read from them even on the sabbath.’ In the Mayse-bukh (Basel, 1602), the criticism is directed against epic texts: ‘That is why, dear men and women, [you should] read this book, and you will be edified. But you should also not concern yourselves with the Ki-bukh, Ditraykh fun Bern, or Mayster Hildebrant. For they are truly nothing but filth/stains [shmits] which give you neither warmth nor heat. For they are not holy books. You have need of God’s forgiveness. Our holy books write: it is a sin as big as a house to read this kind of book on the holy sabbath. If you wish to spend your leisure in reading, I will write a fine collection of stories.’ The significant number of such adaptations of non-Jewish romance proves, however, their wide distribution among the Jewish masses which counted them among their favourite reading materials.70 Some of these adaptations of German sagas have not survived: Mayster Hildebrant and Hertsog Ernst are known only from references, especially to the melody.71 Others were transcribed into Yiddish and have been preserved in manuscript or in printed editions. Such is the case with Ditraykh fun Bern, a version of which was published by Aaron Prostitz in Cracow in 1597, entitled Her Ditraykh.72 As the book’s colophon indicates, the text is ZYWA U$YYURW $DWY FYWA 'NWA TWXLG IWP ½ IMWNYG ‘taken from a Christian book and translated into Yiddish’ (fol. 22v). According to Joseph Perles, the text is a Jewish adaptation of the edition of Sigenot published in Nuremberg in 70 One also finds such comments in various epic texts, such as the adaptation of Joshua (Cracow, 1594). The author compares the courage of the Jews who defend themselves from their attackers to the courage of Dietrich of Bern. Additionally, in 1599 there was published a collection of zmirous in which is found a ‘Dispute between Wine and Water’, sung to the melody of Ditraykh fun Bern. In the Bovo-bukh, Elia Levita compares the courage of Bovo to that of Dietrich of Bern and Hildebrand (st. 512. 7–8). 71 Eleazar Shulman mentions two Hebrew-alphabet transcriptions of Hertsog Ernst, published in Fürth and Frankfurt in the eighteenth century (Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis usifruso: mikeyts ha-meyo hates-vov vead keyts shnoys hameyo hayud-khes (Riga: Levin, 1913), 166–7). In the manuscript collection of Eisik Wallich is found a brief poem, ‘Hildebrant lid’, which is related to the German epic poem (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Opp. add. 4o 136; see Felix Rosenberg, ‘Über eine Sammlung deutscher Volks- und Gesellschaftslieder in hebräischen Lettern’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 2 (1888), 232–96; and 3 (1889), 14– 28; also appeared as separate title: Braunschweig: Eugen Appelhaus, 1888); Erik, ‘Inventar’, 558–62. In the collection of bilingual songs by Menahem b. Naphtali b. Judah Oldendorf (1516; ˙ Frankfurt, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, cod. hebr oct. 17, (olim cod. Merzbacher 25); several are written according to the stanzaic structure and with the melody of Hertsog Ernst. There is also a ‘Dispute between Hannukah and the other Holidays’, written with the same melody (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Mich. 311 (olim 666); fols. 107r–108r); see Erik, ‘Inventar’, 547–553. 72 See Nokhem Shtif, ‘Ditrikh fun bern: yidishkayt un veltlekhkayt in der alter yidisher literatur’, Yidishe filologye 1 (1924), 1–11, 112–22; John A. Howard, ed., Dietrich von Bern (1597) (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1986) (facsimile edn. with accompanying Germanized Roman-alphabet transcription); EYT 78.


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1560.73 To be noted are also two adaptations of the ‘Ritter von Steiermark’: a poem found in Eisik Wallich’s collection (c.1600) and a printed edition published in Prague under the title Shteyer mark.74 The most representative text among the Yiddish adaptations of chivalric romance is the Kinig Artis houf, an anonymous version based on the legends of the cycle of the Round Table and adapted in particular from the Wigalois by Wirnt von Gravenberg.75 There are three manuscripts and eight printed editions of this text that bear witness to the uninterrupted popularity of the text among the Jewish audience from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.76 73 Perles, ‘Bibliographische Mitteilungen aus München’, 351–61; Karl Schorbach, ed., Seltene Drucke in Nachbildungen (Leipzig: Spirgatis; Halle: Haupt, 1893–1905), 10–11; Erik, ‘Inventar’, 553–7; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, 96–7. 74 The Shteyer mark was sung to the melody of Hertsog Ernst; see Erik, ‘Inventar’, 557–8. 75 The Yiddish text comprises 3,403 lines. See Landau, Arthurian Legends; Erik, Vegn altyidishn roman un novele, 91–142; Wulf-Otto Dreeßen, ‘Widuwilt’, in vol. x of Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters, Verfasserlexikon, 2nd edn., ed. Burghart Wachinger et al. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999), cols. 1006–8; idem, ‘Wigalois––Widuwilt. Wandlungen des Artusromans im Jiddischen’, in Astrid Starck, ed., Westjiddisch: Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit/Le Yiddish occidental: Actes du Colloque de Mulhouse (Aarau: Sauerländer, 1994), 84–98; idem, ‘Lilith und der Artusritter’, Jiddistik Mitteilungen 29 (April 2003), 1–9; Robert G. Warnock, ‘Frühneuzeitliche Fassungen des altjiddischen “Artushofs” ’, in Kontroversen, alte und neue: Akten des VII. Internationalen Germanisten-Kongresses Göttingen 1985, ed. Albrecht Schöne, vol. v: Auseinandersetzungen um jiddische Sprache und Literatur, Jüdische Komponenten in der deutschen Literatur––die Assimilationskontroverse, ed. Walter Röll and Hans-Peter Bayerdorfer (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1986), 13–19; idem, ‘The Arthurian Tradition in Hebrew and Yiddish’, in King Arthur Through the Ages, ed. Valerie M. Lagorio and Mildred Leake Day (New York: Garland, 1990), i. 189–208; idem, ‘Widwilt’, in The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, ed. Norris J. Lacy et al. (Chicago and London: St. James Press, 1991), 512–13; Achim Jaeger, Ein jüdischer Artusritter (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2000); EYT 80, 111, 112. There is also a Hebrew text adapted from the Arthurian romance cycle (based on an Italian source), entitled Meylekh Artus or Seyfer ha-shmad ha-tavlo ho-agulo (‘Book on the Destruction of the Round Table’), mentioned above. See Curt Levant, ed. and transl., King Artus: A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279, Studia Semitica Neerlandica 11 (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1969). See also Abraham Berliner, ‘Melekh Artus’, Otsar tov 12 (1885), 1–11; Moritz Steinschneider, Die hebräischen Übersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher. Ein Beitrag zur Literaturgeschichte des Mittelalters, meist nach handschriftlichen Quellen (Berlin: Kommissionsverlag des Bibliographischen Bureaus, 1893; rpt. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1956), pp. 967–9); Moses Gaster, ‘The History of the Destruction of the Round Table. As Told in Hebrew in the Year 1279’, Folklore 20 (1909), 272–94. 76 Manuscripts: Hamburg, cod. 289, 15th c., Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 288; Hamburg, cod. 255, 16th c., Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, no. 327; According to Landau, these two manuscripts have a common fourteenth-century source (not necessarily Jewish); see Landau, Arthurian Legends, pp. xxxvi–xxxvii; Cambridge, Trinity College, . 12. 44, 2nd half of 16th c., Herbert Martin James Loewe, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Hebrew Character Collected and Bequeathed to Trinity College Library by the Late William Aldis Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), MS 135; Printed texts: Prague, 1671–9, a version in ottava rima (extant Oxford, Bodleian Library, Opp. 4°. 1422 (1) (olim 1696); Arthur Ernest Cowley, A Concise Catalogue of the Hebrew Printed Books in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929; rpt. 1971), 42); Amsterdam, 1671 (published by Joseph Witzenhausen, the

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The taste of the Jewish readers is also indicated by a whole range of German poems and popular romances (Volkslieder and Volksbücher) that were transcribed into Yiddish.77 We might note in particular: Kayser Oktaviano,78 Zibn vayzn maynstr vun Rom,79 Til Aylenshpigl,80 Shildberger,81 Spanishe haydn oder tsigouners or Pretsiosa,82 Sheyne artlekhe geshikhtn, based on Boccaccio’s Decameron,83 Fortunatus,84 Di sheyne Magelona.85 Other texts have disappeared and are known only through references in other books or publisher of the Yiddish translation of the Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1679), 1683, 1700; see Bass, Seyfer sifsey yesheynim (Amsterdam, 1680), p. 67, no. 39; St. CB, no. 6024. 6; Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, ii, nos. 458, 632; Königsberg, 1699 (in Wagenseil, Belehrung, 157–292); Hanau, 1707 (reprint of Amsterdam, 1683); Wilmersdorf, 1715 (reprint of Amsterdam, 1683); Fürth, 1771 (according to Yizhok Isaac Ben-Yacob, Otsar ha-sefarim (Vilnius: Romm, 1877–80); Frankfurt an der Oder, 1789. 77

See Hermann Süß, ‘Der “Graf von Rom”, ein altes deutsches Volkslied und sein jiddischer Druck aus dem 17. Jahrhundert’, Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Fürth.Nachrichten für den jüdischen Bürger Fürths (September 1980/Elul 5740), 18–24; this edition was published in Prague. On the subject of the Yiddish adaptations, see Meier Schüler, ‘Beiträge zur Kenntnis der alten jüdisch-deutschen Profanliteratur’, in Festschrift zum 75-jährigen Bestehen der Realschule mit Lyzeum der Israelitischen Religionsgesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Hermon, 1928), 79–132; Arnold Paucker, ‘Yiddish Versions of Early German Prose Novels’, Journal of Jewish Studies 10 (1959), 151–67; and idem, ‘Das deutsche Volksbuch bei den Juden’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 80 (1961), 302–17. 78 Hamburg 1730 (St. CB, no. 4173). See Erik, Vegn altyidshn roman un novele, 198. A manuscript version is also extant, copied by the scribe Isaac bar Judah Reutlingen (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. hebr. 100, fols. 1–66, from 1580). See the critical edition by Theresia Friderichs-Müller, ed., Die ‘Historie von dem Kaiser Octaviano’, 2 vols., Jidische schtudies 1–2 (Hamburg: Buske, 1981); and idem, Die ‘Historie von dem Kaiser Octaviano’. Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien zu den Druckausgaben eines Prosaromans des 16. Jahrhunderts und seiner jiddischen Bearbeitungen as dem Jahre 1580, Jidische schtudies 3 (Hamburg: Buske, 1990). 79 In addition to the version in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. hebr. 100 (fols. 90–132), printed versions also exist: Basel, 1602; Berlin, 1707; Offenbach, 1717; Amsterdam, 1663; 1674, 1676; St. CB, no. 5572; Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, ii, no. 630. A portion of the text was also printed once without place and date, under the title, Di maase fun Ludvig un Aleksandr; see Paucker, ‘Das Volksbuch von den Sieben Weisen Meistern in der jiddischen Literatur’, Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 57 (1961), 177–94; see also Erik, Geshikhte, 215; St. Serapeum, no. 59. 80 See Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. hebr. 100 (fos. 143–91); this codex comprises 102 stories and was copied in 1600. There are also two printed versions (Hamburg, 1737; Frankfurt am Main, s.d.). See St. Serapeum, no. 388; St. CB, no. 3389. 81 Published in Amsterdam, 1700, 1717, and one edition without date; Offenbach, 1777; Fürth, 1798; see St. Serapeum, no. 288; St. CB, no. 4065. See Arnold Paucker, ‘Di yidishe nuskhoes fun shildburger bukh’, Yivo-bleter 44 (1973), 59–77. 82 Published in Offenbach in 1717 and Amsterdam between 1700 and 1730; see St. CB, no. 4077. 83 Published in Amsterdam in 1710. 84 Published in Frankfurt am Main in 1699; see St. Serapeum, no. 189; St. CB, no. 3924; facsimile edition: John A. Howard, ed., Fortunatus: Die Bearbeitung und Umschrift eines spätmittelalterlichen deutschen Prosaromans für jüdisches Publikum (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1991). 85 Published in Fürth in 1698 and 1791, Prague in 1705–1711, Offenbach in 1714; see St. Serapeum, no. 109; St. CB, nos. 3655–8.


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bibliographies.86 This corpus of Volksbücher presents the broad range of variation in the potential relationships between the German original texts and the Jewish versions, and of the techniques of transposition and adaptation characteristic of Jewish authors in reworking this German narrative material for both reading by an individual or a small group and recitation during group celebrations.87 Some scribes or adapters did no more than transcribe the original texts without attention to the Christian tonality or the references to feudal society. They retained most of the ideas and terms borrowed from Christian theology, even though they might have offended some members of the Jewish audience. Thus in the version of Kinig Artis houf reprinted by Wagenseil in his Belehrung der jüdisch-teutschen Red- und Schreibart, the transcriber obviously left the Christian references and was satisfied mechanically to transcribe the German text. In the Yiddish version, for example, one can read: VA$YG $E ZD GAU RU$WA IYYA FÏA IWN RAÑ $E ‘Now it was on an Easter day that it took place.’88 Most of the time, however, the authors eliminated that which was directly associated with Christianity, or ‘Judaized’ the German version in order to make it more acceptable to the Jewish audience. Christian references are sometimes replaced by more neutral concepts, sometimes by ironic expressions intended to create a comic distance, a source of mocking humour or denigration. In other stories, some entire passages that are too distant from the realities of Jewish life are omitted. In other cases, the transcriber adds scenes taken from biblical or midrashic literature. In the Kinig Artis houf, the author replaces the episode of Vidvilt’s combat with the giants with a scene based on the conflict between Moses and the giant Og.89 The following adaptation is characteristic of the Her Ditraykh (Cracow, 1597): German text:90 Nempt hin mein Christenliche trew (st. 18. 4) ‘Take my Christian faith’ 86


‘Take my divine faith’

Such is the case with Printsesin Helen (Frankfurt am Main, 1782), Flore un Blankeflere (Offenbach, 1714, and another edition without place and date), Tristan un Iseult, Eyn vunderlekhe sheyne historye fun dray vayber, Die getraye parizrin (Offenbach, 1721). See Theresia Friderichs, ‘Zu Flere˙ Blanke˙flere˙’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddisch. Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann-Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 68–73. 87 See Robert G. Warnock, ‘Wirkungsabsicht und Bearbeitungstechnik im altjiddischen “Artushof ” ’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie (Sonderheft Jiddisch) 100 (1981), 98–109. According to Warnock’s theory, passages from the Arthurian romance were recited for the guests during Jewish weddings. 88 See Wagenseil, Belehrung, 157–302, here p. 180; cf. Chone Shmeruk, ‘Tsi ken der kembridzsher manuskript shtitsn di shpilman-teorye in der yidisher literatur?’ Di goldene keyt 100 (1979), 251–71; English translation (cited here): ‘Can the Cambridge Manuscript Support the Spielmann Theory in Yiddish Literature?’ Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore. Research Projects of the Institute of Jewish Studies, Monograph Series 7 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1986), 11. 89 The author bases this scene on the talmudic story found in Berakhot 54ab; see Warnock, ‘Wirkungsabsicht’, 103–4. 90 Cited from: Sigenot: Nach dem alten Nürnberger Drucke von Friderich Gutknecht, ed. Oskar

Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish


Maria Maid so hoch genant (st. 20. 9) ‘Maria, maiden of such great renown’

‘Almighty God of great renown’

Jch bitt dich durch deins kindes todt (st. 163. 5) ‘I ask you by your child’s death.’

‘I ask you by your grace’



In the Kayser Oktaviano, the author suppresses long passages intended to edify the Christian reader and avoids elements alien to the Jewish religion:91 German text: sie hetten jhn auch von stund an lassen Tauffen. (vr) ‘they right away also had him baptized.’ da die Bilger mit jrer Galeen auff hetten gekert . . . das es Christen Leut waren. (viijr) ‘since the pilgrims had returned with their ships . . . that they were Christians.’ Yiddish text: SWNYRaALW IMAN OWNYYZ UYM DNYQ $D I$YH 'NWA

(fol. 7r)

‘and they named the child Vlorenus.’ . . .IRAÑ OYiWoG $E $D . .· . IDNU$YG $ÏA IUH FY$ ORYA UYM UÏLP½ÏQ AYD AD (fol. 8v) ‘since the merchants stood off with their ship . . . that they were Gentiles.’

In another passage of the Yiddish text, the heroine Marcebilla undertakes to become not Christian, as in the German text, but rather Jewish: German text: ‘auch von ewrend wegen will ich meinen Glauben verlassen vnd den Gott Mahon verleügnen vnnd den Christlichen Glauben annemen vnnd wie ein fromme Christin mich halten.’ [viijr] ‘and for your sake I will renounce my faith and deny my God and accept the Christian faith and conduct myself as a pious Christian.’ Yiddish text: IYYA 'NWA · IMEN IA IBÏL x G IREÏA 'NWA · I$WL RW HN mM xA v AYNYYM VYA LYÑ IGEÑ · UREÏA IWB VÏA IDREÑ IDWYu IMWRW : (fol. 49v)

‘And for your sake I will renounce my faith and accept your faith and become a pious Jew.’

In another part of the Yiddish text, a similar method of Judaization is employed by the adapter: ‘In the morning he got up early, went to the stable, Schade (Hanover: Karl Rümpler, 1854); see also: Die ältere und der jüngere ‘Sigenot’: Aus der Donaueschinger Handschrift 74 und dem Straßburger Druck von 1577 in Abbildungen, ed. Joachim Heinzle, Litterae 63 (Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1978). 91

Theresia Friderichs-Müller transcribes the Yiddish text of Munich, cod. hebr. 100 into the Roman alphabet in vol. i, and prints a facsimile of the German edition by Matthäus Franck (Augsburg c.1568) in vol. ii of her Die Historie von dem Kaiser Oktaviano (cf. here, 20, 22); here the Yiddish text is cited from the manuscript, while the German text is cited from the Franck edition.


Medieval Epic and Romance in Yiddish

saddled his horse before he blessed his talis and tfilin’ (fol. 16v). In general, if the translator faithfully follows the structure of the story and makes no more than superficial modifications, he nonetheless adapts certain details of the text for a Jewish audience: the entire process of adaptation––transposition of the text into the Hebrew alphabet, additions to the vocabulary of words drawn from the Semitic component of Yiddish, toning down of Christian elements or ‘Judaization,’ modification of the prologue and epilogue taken directly from other Jewish books, which begin with praise of God and end with messianic themes––participates in an established technique of appropriation and conversion of Christian epic and courtly romance into a work of entertainment for a Jewish audience. The larger corpus of epic texts assumes a great significance in the history of Old Yiddish literature. These Yiddish epics go beyond the simple didactic purposes of a number of the texts published up to that point, especially the translations of the Bible, for they are themselves authentic and original literary compositions. The authors of these stories, some of which are of great artistic value, demonstrate a great mastery of the form of German epic, as well as a scrupulous respect for the Hebrew sources. For the first time, Yiddish is here used for purposes other than strictly theological and pedagogical ones. These epic poems, especially the Shmuel-bukh and Melokhim-bukh, mark the actual moment of birth, as it were, of a vernacular Jewish literature that had attained the level of other medieval European literatures. The tradition of Jewish chapbooks (parallel to the German Volksbücher), on the other hand, occupies a more marginal position in Old Yiddish literature. Such texts are after all primarily adaptations of German texts, and as a result their originality is quite limited. They do nonetheless demonstrate the strength of the cultural contacts between Jewish and Christian society at the time and the role of the Jews as translators and transmitters of themes drawn from coterritorial literatures. The authors appropriated widespread forms that were valued by a popular audience in the Middle Ages and, by means of quite creative adaptation, transformed them into Jewish texts. This capacity for integration of alien materials without at the same time breaking with the foundations of the Jewish tradition, remains one of the constants of Old Yiddish literature and otherwise of a number of other literatures of the Jewish diaspora. These texts reveal above all the productivity of encounters between coterritorial cultures and the importance of the phenomena of acculturation––the transference from one cultural sphere to another––as it traverses Jewish culture.

 Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

Perhaps surprisingly for some twenty-first-century readers, northern Italy was the centre of one of the most creative periods in early Yiddish literature, and it was there that two of the indisputable masterpieces of Old Yiddish courtly romance were published. These texts are associated with the character and work of Elia Levita (Elye Bokher), well known as a friend and teacher of Christian Hebraists and as a Hebrew grammarian and author of treatises on the Massoretic tradition. The Bovo-bukh and Pariz un viene (whose authorship remains uncertain) are adaptations of Christian texts and display a rare degree of sophistication and stylistic achievement. It is in Italy that one clearly observes the break with existing literary forms and thus the creation of a new literature and the radical adaptation of poetic models that originated in the Germanic world––in fact, the birthplace of Old Yiddish literature. As a result of both a greater intellectual freedom than Jewish authors had had the opportunity to enjoy in other European countries, and the productive contact with the surrounding culture, Yiddish literature diversified: texts of ‘secular’ origin were published. The decompartmentalization and opening up of Yiddish literature in Italy, which might at first glance seem surprising if one were to consider the linguistic situation of these Italo-Jewish communities, located as they were beyond the borders of Germany and Poland, where the overwhelming majority of Yiddish speakers lived, is to be explained by means of the convergence of a number of diverse factors, which both contribute to the shaping of those characteristics specific to Italian Judaism and precipitate the transformation of Jewish culture in the vernacular. Let us note especially the motivating role of Ashkenazic immigration, the particular linguistic configuration of the communities of Italy, and the productive contact between Jewish society and Italian humanism. But it is necessary above all to emphasize the extraordinary personality of Elia Levita, a complex individual and multifaceted genius who was one of the most exceptional Jewish authors of the Renaissance, whose works were to become a decisive influence on Jewish literature. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, there were various successive waves of migration which profoundly transformed the structure of the Italian Jewish community which had until then been composed in large part of Italiani, rather a homogenous group of native-born Italian Jews. The confrontation in Italy of Jews from numerous European countries, as well as the Mediterranean basin, gave rise to quite a diverse culture, marked both by a


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

loyalty to the Jewish tradition and by deep ruptures heralding a new age which would make of the Italian community a unique example in the history of the western diaspora. Among the Jews who had come to settle in Italy were those who had been compelled to leave France in the wake of the expulsions from Provence, some of whom had settled in the region from the Piedmont to Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo. Likewise to be noted are the Spanish Jews, expelled after the persecutions of 1391 and especially in the expulsion of 1492, who took refuge in the cities of the North, particularly Pisa, Genoa, Livorno (Leghorn); and the Levantine Jews who settled especially in the Adriatic coastal cities of Venice, Trieste, and Ancona. The numerically most significant group was, however, the Ashkenazic Jews from Germany and, to a lesser degree, Poland. Their departure was motivated of course by the persecutions of which they had been the victims in the Germanic countries at the close of the Middle Ages, by the necessity to escape the economic and social seclusion in which the aristocratic and ecclesiastical authorities confined them, and especially by the attraction of less rigid modes of living, by new economic opportunites, in a word, by the desire to change their lives.1 The heterogeneity of the Jewish community in Italy, composed essentially of tre nazioni, is reflected in the existence of numerous cultural characteristics, such as the variety of synagogal rites, musical traditions, and the complexities of linguistic practice. Books were published in four languages, in order that they could be read by the entire Jewish community: in 1599 a Haggadah, the Passover ceremonial, was thus published in Hebrew, Yiddish, Italkian (Judaeo-Italian), and Ladino.2 A further example is found in the Seyder nikur (Venice, 1595) by Jacob ben Joseph Soresina, a guide to the practice of cashering, which was published in three languages in order to serve as a handbook for Jews of different origins.3 Italian Jews thus lived in a diglossic or even triglossic situation, which at the same time implies a subtle interplay among different registers of a language and of specific codes: the most important language, endowed with immense prestige, remained Hebrew, in which the principal works of Italian Judaism were published and which also served as the language of communication among scholars and among Jews of different national origins. In addition to Hebrew and Italian, the Italiani also made use of Judaeo-Italian, particularly for publishing religious books intended to disseminate the Law and the Jewish tradition to the 1

See, on this subject, Cecil Roth, The History of the Jews in Italy (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1946); Moses Avigdor Shulvass, ‘Dos ashkenazishe yidntum in italye’, Yivobleter 34 (1950), 157–81; idem, ‘Ashkenazic Jewry in Italy’, YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Sciences 7 (1952), 110–31; and idem, Haye ha-yehudi be-italyah bi-tkufat ha-renesans (New York: ˙ Hotsa’at Ogen al yad ha-histadrut ha-ivrit be-amerikah, 1955); English: The Jews in the World of the Renaissance, transl. Elvin I. Kose (Leiden: Brill, 1973). 2 See Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Haggadah and History (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1975; rpt. 1997). 3 See St. CB, no. 5723. 2.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


people.4 Depending on the situation and level of ability, the Sephardim spoke or wrote Ladino, Italian, or Hebrew.5 Even among Ashkenazim, whose primary language remained Yiddish, despite their distance from the Germanic world, bi- or trilingualism was common. In his Historia de’ritti Ebraica, Leone of Modena clearly analysed the subtlety and diversity of Jewish speech in Italy: ‘Those [Jews] of Italy know Italian; those of Germany know German; and those from the Levant and Barbary, Turkish and Moorish, and so on. They took over these foreign languages to the extent that many Jews who went from Germany to Poland, Hungary and Russia took the German language to those countries and passed it on as a native language to their descendants; and those from Spain who went to the Levant continued to use Ladino (Spagnuola). In Italy both languages have thus followed the course of their ancestors. The people love to preserve that language in the country whose language they also know, and to mix in some corrupt Hebrew in speech among themselves.’6 The fact that in Italy Yiddish remained the vernacular of Jews from Germany, the existence of a potential reading audience, and the development of Hebrew printing promoted the publication of Yiddish books, both for internal comsumption and for export into the vast markets of the communities of central and eastern Europe.7 However, if one can speak of a rupture in the existing tradition and of the beginnings of access to new works of more secular orientation, that is to be understood as occurring under the influence of Italian humanism and the Renaissance. It is unnecessary to repeat information about the reciprocal enrichment of the Jewish and Christian cultures during this period: the contact among Jewish and Christian scholars made it possible to roll back the frontiers of knowledge, to broaden the field of knowledge, and to set in motion a new emancipation.8 The humanists, the learned princes, and the patrons of learning made an appeal to the Jews, who were the only ones who could teach them the Hebrew language that was necessary for the re-creation of the culture of antiquity and could translate for them the classics of the sacred tradition, especially the cabbalistic writings, such as the Zohar. In this 4

See Giuseppe Sermoneta, ‘Considerazioni frammentarie sul giudeo-italiano’, Italia/Italyah 1 (1976), 1–29; Umberto Cassuto, ‘Les traductions judéo-italiennes du Rituel’, REJ 89 (1930), 260–80. 5 The Bible was translated into Ladino in Ferrara in 1553; see ‘La stampa dei marrani a Ferrara’, in Simonetta M. Bondini and Giulio Busi, Cultura ebraica in Emilia-Romagna (Rimini: Luisè Editore, 1987), 639. 6 See Leone (Judah Arye) of Modena (Leo Mutinensis), Historia dei riti Ebraica. Vita e Osservanze degli Hebrei di Questi Tempi (Paris, 1637); English transl. by Edward Chilmead (London, 1650); French trans. by Richard Simon (le sieur de Simonville), Cérémonies et coutumes qui s’observent aujourd’huy parmy les Juifs (Paris: J. Cochart, 1710), 47–78. 7 See Shmeruk, ‘Difusei yidish be-italyah’, Italia/Italyah 3 (1982), 112–75. 8 See Cecil Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1959; rpt. 1984); and Shulvass, The Jews in the World of the Renaissance.


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

context it suffices, among the many humanists and Christian cabbalists, to mention Egidio da Viterbo, expert in Arabic and Hebrew and collector of oriental books and manuscripts, or Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in whose books one observes the combined influence of Platonic, Christian, and Jewish thought.9 As for Jewish scholars, thanks to the help of the wealthy Christian scholars, they were able to benefit from both a material security favourable to the deepening of their research and an intellectual freedom that permitted them to explore the newly emerging fields of knowledge and to deepen their studies of traditional disciplines. These conditions of exchange and contact imparted to Hebrew studies a new influence and brought about a recognition of the role, until then obscured, of the Jewish heritage in the genesis of European culture. The imitation of coterritorial values and the participation in the literature of the surrounding culture should not mislead one into imagining a cultural assimilation of the Jews in Italy. Quite the contrary: while one cannot deny the openness to cultural exchange between the Jewish and non-Jewish spheres during the Italian Renaissance, it is likewise proper to emphasize the capacity of Jewish literature and thought of this period for producing works that participate in the ongoing Jewish tradition and do not call into question the foundations of Judaism. Although one observes both the genuine influence of the forms characteristic of Italian literature of the period and an opening up of Jewish society to extra-Judaic culture, the texts printed at the time, particularly the Yiddish books, bear witness to the desire to root oneself firmly in the Jewish tradition and to invent a national literature that could counterbalance the influences of the surrounding culture.10 Elia Levita well embodied the multiple contradictory polarities characteristic of Italian Jews of the Renaissance and the complexity of the cultural world which they helped to create.11 Born in a village in the vicinity of Neustadt (near Nuremberg), Levita moved as a child into the city. His father provided him with a traditional education, whence he derived his deep knowledge of religious literature and the Jewish languages, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Yiddish. The precarious situation and difficult conditions of life in the Jewish community compelled him to leave Germany for Italy, where the tolerance for Jews was greater and life less hazardous. This departure for Italy, which no doubt made it possible for him to free himself from a certain 9

See François Secret, Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod, 1963; rpt. Milan: Arché, 1985); Gershom Gerhard Scholem, ‘Considérations sur l’histoire des débuts de la Kabbale chrétienne’, in Kabbaliste chrétiens, ed. Gershom Scholem et al., Cahiers de l’hermétisme (Paris: A. Michel, 1979), 19–46. 10 See Robert Bonfil, ‘The Historian’s Perception of the Jews in the Italian Renaissance: Towards a Reappraisal’, REJ 143 (1984), 59–82; Hava Tirosh-Rothschild, ‘Jewish Culture in ˙ Renaissance Italy: A Methodological Survey’, Italia/Italyah 9 (1990), 63–96. 11 The standard biography of Levita is by Gérard E. Weil, Élie Lévita: humaniste et massorète (1469–1549) (Leiden: Brill, 1963).

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


intellectual ponderousness characteristic of the German North and to enter into contact with humanists, was the cause of a radical change in his life. It was thus beginning with his stay in Italy that his protean genius as grammarian, poet, and printer burst forth. Beginning in 1492 he entered on the life of a wanderer and rover, marked by successive sojourns in Venice, Padua, Rome (where he experienced the alternation of success and setback), a return to Isny in Germany (to work with and for Paulus Fagius), followed by a final return to Italy where he died in 1549. His was a precarious life on the margin, as a result both of the economic difficulties that confronted him, particularly in so far as his livelihood depended on the good will of the princes and patrons for whom he worked, and of the limits of his Christian hosts’ tolerance. Obviously, however, this precariousness also derived from his ambiguous position within the Jewish community: because of his attraction to the Christian world and his opposition to certain rabbinical dogmas, his thirst for knowledge which always led him to search further and deeper and otherwise made him suspect in the eyes of some rabbis who considered humanism a danger capable of undermining the foundations of Judaism. Such was the cause of the isolated and unstable position of Levita, who was simultaneously rooted in Jewish tradition and motivated to distance himself from it, due to his own great freedom of spirit that incited him to spurn received truths. Social instabilities and personal anxiety entailed Levita’s taking up many different occupations in the course of his life, which at the same time offer evidence of an unusual capacity for self-transformation and adaptability. Likewise he authored quite a diverse range of texts in quite different stylistic registers. He was by turns a manuscript scribe and copyist (enriching the Hebrew manuscript collection of Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo), a Hebrew teacher to a number of humanists, including Georges de Selve, and a simple melamed (schoolmaster) when the generosity of the high-ranking patrons was interrupted. He also worked in the printing industry: he was a corrector and supervisor for Daniel Bomberg in Venice, and he helped the printer and pastor Paulus Fagius to print Hebrew and Yiddish books in his shop in the Bavarian town of Isny. As for his own books, he mixed so many contradictory aspects that his œuvre makes a striking impression that reveals the same tormented but bold character that developed beyond the norm and never took pleasure in the simple repetition of matters of accepted knowledge. The scholars who have studied the abundant works of Levita have thus had a tendency to separate them into distinct domains, dividing up the texts according to a somewhat arbitrary system of classification in order to eliminate the contradictions. Some are devotees of the Hebrew works, emphasizing the lexicographical, grammatical, and Massoretic research and rejecting the vernacular compositions as unworthy of consideration. Others focus exclusively on his Yiddish texts and, beyond a superficial categorization of the books, do not attempt to demonstrate either a relationship among the various books or their complementary


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

nature.12 The slightly romanticized image of Elia Levita that thus emerges is that of a man of nomadic spirit in whom irreconcilable aspirations coexisted. In fact it seems possible in the course of his writings for us to perceive an underlying unity, lines of convergence, and, through many adventures and diverse crises, an overarching intellectual project which he never gave up. Throughout his work Elia Levita was clearly driven by the desire to open up fields of knowledge, to discover––beyond the traditional compartmentalizations that locked the imagination into closed spaces––relationships between what might seem the most distant fields of knowledge. He could thus both communicate with the most erudite Christian scholars of his time and at the same time revise the Jewish grammatical tradition from the inside. How can one not be struck in his work by the profound sense of unity among the Jewish people and their culture? He was one of the rare intellects of his time to wish to reconcile the scholarly and the popular traditions of the Jews, for he composed both treatises on the Hebrew language and poetic texts in the vernacular. The point of articulation among these various texts is the study of language, grammar, lexicography, and philology, which play a central role in his work: it is one of his major preoccupations, a kind of junction between Jewish linguistics and the humanism of the Renaissance. Thus in his works such as the Seyfer ha-bokhur (Sefer ha-bahur) (a Hebrew grammatical hand˙ book; Isny, 1542), the Meturgemon (the first systematic lexicon of the Aramaic translations of the Bible (Targumim); Isny, 1541), and the Tishbi (a dictionary of biblical and rabbinical Hebrew terms; Isny, 1541), he reveals himself as the heir of the great grammarian David Kimhi (twelfth–thirteenth ˙ the scholarship and centuries). His work is nonetheless strongly influenced by science of his time and by the grammarians who were developing a new approach to the sacred texts. Some of his contemporaries applied the critical methods of humanism and the newly developed philological methodologies to biblical studies in order to produce modern editions of the Old and New 12 Among the former, Salomon Buber, Toldot Eliyahu ha-Tishbi . . . Eliyahu Bahur (Leipzig: C. ˙ L. Fritzsche, 1856); Christian David Ginsburg, ed., The Massoret ha-massoret of Elias Levita (London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1867; rpt. New York: Ktav, 1968). Among those who focus on the Yiddish texts, see Meier Schüler, ‘Das Bovo-Buch’, Zeitschrift für hebræische Bibliographie 20 (1917), 83–94; Joseph Zedner, ‘Levita’s Historie vom Ritter Bove’, Hamazkir Hebræische Bibliographie 6 (1863), 22–3; Erik, Vegn altyidishn roman, 34–89; idem, Geshikhte, 179–202; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 148–70; Yankev Shatsky, Elye bokher: fir hundert yor nokh zayn toyt, 1549–1949 (Buenos Aires: Confederacion procultura judia, 1949); Jerry C. Smith, ‘Elia Levita’s Bovo-Bukh: A Yiddish Romance of the Early 16th Century’ (diss. Cornell, 1968). On Levita’s language, see James Lee Haines, ‘The Phonology of “Bovo bukh”: Contribution to the History of East Franconian Yiddish (diss. Columbia University, 1979); Erika Timm, ‘Wie Elia Levita sein Bovobuch für den Druck überarbeitete. Ein Kapitel aus der italo-jiddischen Literatur der Renaissancezeit’, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 72 ( 41) (1991), 61–81; Claudia Rosenzweig, ‘La letteratura yiddish in Italia: L’esempio del Bovo de-Antona di Elye Bocher’, Acme: Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università degli Studi di Milano 50/3 (1997), 159–89.

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Testaments. Here one thinks of Erasmus’ Novum testamentum graece (1516), an edition of the New Testament in the original Greek, or the Complutenisan Polyglot Bible of Alcala (1522), published by Cardinal Francisco Ximenés de Cisneros, which involved a detailed study of the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Hebrew Bible. These two important works bear witness to the desire to study the biblical text from a humanistic perspective and with the sole aim of restoring the text’s original authenticity. Elia Levita showed the same critical spirit, unencumbered by the prejudices of the past, when, for instance, in his Masoures ha-masoures (Massoret ha-massoret) (Venice, 1538), he takes up the problem of the ‘vocalic and consonantal structure of the divine word’.13 Basing his work on a long tradition of Massoretic research and quite a meticulous study of the sacred text, he refuted the accepted view of the time that the biblical punctuation and cantilation had been given to Moses on Mount Sinai, forgotten during the exile, and then restored by Ezra the Scribe. He demonstrated that it was in fact the work of successive generations of much later Massoretes and challenged therewith the sacred character of the system of biblical punctation. This echoed in a certain sense the philological research of the Renaissance which tended to detheologize language, to reject the idea of a transcendental grammar, and to deny the myth of the divine origin of language. Levita, who was quite well informed about the ideas of his time, asserted the unquestionably human character of language. A further point that shows the essential importance of the study of language in his work and reveals his interest in making all topics subject to scholarly investigation: his use of both Hebrew and the vernacular in his works. In this sense too he shows his participation in Yiddish-language Jewish culture, which he was helping to develop, and he also demonstrates his kinship with some other authors who were aware of the need to promote the vernacular and its recognition as a mode of literary expression. Relatively speaking, there is a similar relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish for Levita and between Latin and the vernacular for many Christian writers in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, such as Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Ariosto. In his De vulgari eloquentia, Dante already sets up an opposition between those who write in Latin, a language regulated by grammar, and the poets, minstrels, and versifiers of the vernacular. He explains thus: ‘. . . or, to put it more succinctly, one might say that the vernacular is that which we acquire without any rule, by imitating our nurses. From this, then, another secondary language originates, which the Romans called grammar.’14 One might recall the importance in Italy of works such as Giovan Francesco Fortunio, Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua (Ancona, 1516) and Pietro Bembo, Prose della volgar lingua (1525), which not only demonstrated the 13

According to Weil, ‘[L]a structure vocalique et consonantique du Texte révélé’ (Élie Lévita, 303); on the text, see, ibid., 301–43. 14 De vulgari eloquentia 1. 1, ed. Aristide Marigo, 4th edn. (Florence: Le Monnier, 1968).


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aesthetic value of the vernacular, but also presented a grammar of the language so that the vernacular was raised to a level almost as high as that of Latin.15 The linguistic scholarship of Elia Levita participates in this broad and characteristic Renaissance movement to investigate and codify the vernaculars. Wishing thus to confer respectability on contemporary Jewish language, he reconciled ‘scholarly’ works, such as the Massoretic texts, and the ‘popular’ books, such as the courtly romances and satires in Yiddish. He was quite aware that, because of the technical specialization of knowledge which had brought about a division between the educated (masters of Hebrew and Aramaic) and the masses, the use of the vernacular made it possible to bridge this gap and to disseminate the primary texts of the Jewish tradition among the people. His work in the vernacular comprises diverse types of texts, although they are all clearly connected by a single intellectual purpose. Some of the vernacular texts are directly in keeping with the tradition of Old Yiddish literature, forming at most an individual branch of that tradition: for instance, the translation of the Psalms, published in Venice by Cornelius Adelkind in 1545 (which was supposed to be followed by editions of Proverbs, Job, and Daniel, none of which ever appeared).16 Both in translation method and in the book’s purpose, this text is in a direct line of descent from the Khumesh-taytsh. The preface to the translation is a Yiddish poem composed by Elia Levita: IGYUK ½ ED IA YD IAÏRW YMWRW RYA IGYUK ½ EMLA IED IBWL WC IREGYB YD UK ½ EZ 'NWA IGA YRYÏA FÏA UBYH AD UK ½ ERYG 'NWA UWG $D OYL iT i GYLYYH ZD OWL o $ mx H WYL mm E VL eM ex H DWiD m UK ½ AMYG UWH $D OL m WEo RED ZA UYYÑ ZA IM UGZ $D IDNWB ½ YG LAÑ UYN $E IM UWH I$UYÏU IYA RBA IDNWAÑ RUNWA IQWRD WC ZE RYM IBH OWRD QWU u $ RU$NYYM IDNYW INYD RE UREÑ AZ QWDQD OED VWN U$UYÏU RW ZYA ZLA ZE YÑ ILWN nQ IGNWY IED UYM YD OYDMLM YD OWRD ILAÑ I$UÏU UK ½ ER OYL iT i 'NWA IZYYÑ RUNWA OYLT i GYZWD $D UREÑ YD IZYYRG I$UYÏU IYA IYM UYN YZ $D 15

See Pierre Swiggers, and Serge Vanvolsem, ‘Les premières grammaires vernaculaires de l’italien, de l’espagnol et du portugais’, Histoire, Épistemologie, Langage 9,1 (1987), pp. 157–181. 16 The text of the Psalms was reprinted numerous times (Zurich, 1558; Mantua, 1562; Cracow, 1598; Prague, 1661, 1688, 1708); see St. CB, no. 1268; EYT 49; David Werner Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (Philadelphia: Greenstone, 1909; rpt. London: Holland Press, 1909), 186–8; Grünbaum, Jüdischdeutsche Chrestomathie, 78–87; Staerk and Leitzmann, Die jüdisch-deutschen Bibelübersetzungen, 148–55; Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Zeks hundert yor tehilim af yidish’, in Maks Vaynraykh tsu zayn zibetsikstn geboyrn-tog // For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 5–31.

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You pious and devout women | who desire to praise the Almighty, | raise up your eyes and see | the holy Psalms which are good and just, | which King David, may he rest in peace, composed. | They are recited throughout the world, | but in good Yiddish they have until now not existed | For this reason we have undertaken to print them. | Here one will find a masterpiece, | how everything is translated according to grammatical rules, | for the sake of schoolmasters who teach youngsters | and want to translate the Psalms accurately, | this translation of the Psalms will teach them, | so that they no longer make errors in translating. | And for this reason no woman ought to do without it, | and should buy it when she can, | and should read it through every week, | according to the mizmourim indicated in the book. | She will thus gain God’s grace | and the light of Paradise when she dies.

The linguistic studies by Elia Levita, in both Hebrew and Yiddish, were some of the first reflections on the Jewish vernacular to appear. A complete change is observable in the status of the language, which is no longer limited solely to pedagogical purposes. Levita focuses on a systematic and scientific investigation of Yiddish, based on observation of the facts of the language, in order to take into account its history, to reveal its structures, and to show its coherent nature. He thus shows himself to be an innovator and a founding father of Yiddish lexicography and philology. His linguistic works abound in reflection on multiple characteristics of the Yiddish languages (found throughout his Hebrew texts). His research that focuses specifically on Yiddish has primarily to do with lexicography. He is the author of the first thematic lexicon, Shmous devorim (Isny, 1542), in German, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Latin.17 Paulus Fagius’ introduction to the book makes clear what the book’s purpose was (cited in full in Chapter 1, above). This book was of course intended primarily to aid in the learning of Hebrew. Yiddish functioned as no more than an intermediary between German and Hebrew. This text was, however, the first lexical compilation of Yiddish and, for this reason, a witness to the desire to standardize the language and its orthography, the historical significance of which is obvious.18 As was the case with numerous other vernacular lexica published during the Renaissance, the Shmous devorim was structured in the form of lists of words ordered alphabetically and thematically.19 This book is likewise interesting from the point of view 17

See Perles, Beiträge 131–44; St. CB, no. 4960. 44; EYT 44. On the cultural importance of lists, see ch. 5, ‘What’s in a List?’ in Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 75–111. 19 One finds, for example, lists of concepts, signs of the zodiac, the seven planets, diseases, 18


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of phonological development: here the differences between German and Yiddish are clearly distinguished, evidence that in the sixteenth century the Jewish vernacular, while based on a broad Germanic substrate, nonetheless already constituted a distinct language.20 One notes, thus, for example, the difference between a and o in words such as German ader and Yiddish odr (‘vein’), German har and Yiddish hor (‘hair’), German nadel and Yiddish nodl (‘needle’). It is interesting to see the development of the sound u in words such as lung, tsung, tukh, shul, shnur, zun, all represented in Yiddish by the diphthong waw + jod.21 This brief lexicon includes, on the other hand, a whole series of specifically Yiddish words, especially Hebraisms, which differ from their German equivalents; for example the word ponim (‘face’), poyer (‘peasant’), even the Germanic fidl (‘violin’) vs. German geig.22 A further treasure of lexicographical material is found in Hebrew texts by Levita, the Meturgemon (Isny, 1541), an alphabetical lexicon of the Aramaic version of the Bible; the unpublished commentary on David Kimhi’s Sefer ha-shorashim (Seyfer ha-shouroshim) (Rome, 1480; Naples, 1490);˙ and the Tishbi (Isny, 1541), a dictionary of biblical and post-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic words (EYT 42). This collection of notes and lexicographical explanations includes, at the end of each entry, glosses in Italian (be-laaz) and Yiddish (bilshoun ashkenaz), both of which are of obvious interest for historical linguistics. Here we find, for instance, the brief note on the word aman (Hebrew ‘practice/exercise’). Levita explains the word, gives synonyms such as me’ose (‘do’) and khorash (‘devise’) and then words belonging to the same semantic field such as ouveyd umon (‘craftsman’). He concludes by explaining: ‘The word umonus [“skill/trade/profession”] is maynstershaft in Yiddish [loshoun ashkenaz] and maistranza in Italian [be-laaz]’ (fol. 8r). These texts also include quite a number of philological observations, evidence of a systematic and theoretical approach to the Yiddish language. One finds, for example, in the Tishbi the following phonological explanation of the word mokho (‘erase/clean/wipe’: ‘ab meken is not from Yiddish but from Hebrew bodies, professions, expressions of time, titles and occupations, kinship terms, verbs, particles, and prepositions. The book concludes with a brief Hebrew conversation manual. Among thematic lexica of this type are to be numbered the Sofo beruro (‘Clear Language’) by Nathan Nata (Nosn Note) Hannover, published in Prague in 1660 and in Amsterdam in 1701 (this latter edition also included words in French in the Hebrew alphabet), and the Kehilas shloumou (Frankfurt am Main, 1722) by Solomon ben Moses Raphael of Novogrodek (St. CB, no. 3301). 20

See Max Weinreich, ‘Studien zur Geschichte und dialektischen Gliederung der jiddischen Sprache, erster Teil: Geschichte und gegenwärtiger Stand der jiddischen Sprachforschung’, 3 vols., unpublished diss. Marburg, 1923; published as: Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung, ed. Jerold C. Frakes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 96–129. 21 See Shloyme (Solomon) Birnbaum, ‘Di historye fun di alte u-klangen in Yidish’, Yivo-bleter 6 (1934), 25–60; German trans.: ‘Zur Geschichte der u-Laute im Jiddischen’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie (Sonderheft Jiddish) 100 (1981), 4–42. 22 This last word is interesting in general, since fidl is also acceptable as German, while geig is not acceptable as Yiddish.

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which has been distorted in the mouths of children, for schoolmasters [melamdim] who do not know how to translate the word mekhiko [“cancel/ erase“] into Yiddish simply use the Hebrew word, as mekhkan. But the students think that this is Yiddish, and they say mekan and do not pronounce the het, as is the usage among German Jews [Ashkenazim]’ (fol. 52v). ˙ Levita here alludes to the distinction between two linguistic groups within Ashkenazic Judaism: the western group, called Bney Rhinus or Loter, and the eastern group, which includes Jews living in Bohemia (Peyhem or Peym), the Danube regions (Dunay), and Austria (Estraykh). The first are designated Bney hes, because they pronounce khes as hey, and the second Bney khes, since they pronounce it as khes,23 and thence derives the confusion. Levita offers the example of shokhat (‘to slit the throat’). The German Jews, thinking that the word derives from German, pronounce shaktan in place of shakhtan. Other notes contain philological information concerning, for instance, the word soad (‘to eat a meal’) and seudo (‘meal/feast’), on which he comments: ‘From Italian pasto. German melamdim translate with post “food”. This is not from German, but rather is taken from Italian. In loshoun ashkenaz one says eyn mol’ (fol. 63rv).24 In Tishbi there are also remarks concerning the establishment of correct morphological forms. Thus the Hebrew expression am ho-orets (‘an ignorant person’) could have the Hebrew plural form amey ho-orets or even amey ho-oratsim, while the Yiddish form is amoratsim.25 The Tishbi also includes interesting observations on etymology, for instance, on the word katovous (‘proclamation’, from the root kosav). Levita explains: ‘They secretly write their words on the doors of the houses of the wealthy or in busy streets, so that no one knows who wrote them. This is also a custom in our day in Rome. Such texts are called katovus. But many people make a mistake and think that the word is written with a teth’ (and thus connect it with the Hebrew word tov ‘good’) (fol. 48v). One could also note the example of the word mashket. Levita remarks: ‘The cursive script, that is, not the square script, is so designated. Some time ago someone told me that this was an Arabic word that means “gaunt” and “lean”. I later learned that it was not at all Arabic, for I asked several Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic Jews. They all use that name for this [script], but no one can tell me the origin of the name. We German Jews call this script 23 See Max Weinreich, ‘Bney hes un beney khes in ashkenaz: di problem––un vos zi lozt undz hern’, Yivo-bleter 41 (1957–8), 101–23 (= Shmuel Niger-bukh, ed. Shlomo Bickel and Leibush Lehrer (New York: YIVO, 1957–8); Dovid Katz, ‘East and West, khes and shin and the Origin of Yiddish’, in Israel Bartal, Ezra Mendelsohn, and Chava Turniansky, eds., Studies in Jewish Culture in Honour of Chone Shmeruk (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Centre, 1993), 9–37. 24 It is then a matter of a word borrowed into Yiddish from Italian and deformed in the pronunciation of Jewish schoolmasters of German origin. 25 Or in loshoun ashkenaz: ungelernt (fol. 67v). On the Yiddish and Hebrew expressions and pronunciations for ‘master of the house/householder’ and ‘Torah scroll’, cf. Max Weinreich, Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung, 61.


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meshet [mashit] without knowing the name’s origin. In books I have seen this script called “round or cursive script” ’ (fol. 55v). Finally, let us note some observations that have to do with a comparative linguistic perspective, such as those concerning the word kerovets: ‘The German Jews call the piyutim [“liturgical hymns”] which are sung on the sabbath and holidays krovats. No explanation has been found other than as the initials of the verse Kol rino vishuo be-oholey tsadikim [“echo of the cry of joy and triumph in the tents of the righteous” Ps. 118: 15]. But this reason is not a reason, and I cannot let it be perpetuated. I will explain to you how this error has arisen. It is known that we German Jews descend from Jews who came from France. For when we were driven from France in 1395, we were scattered through Germany. Many words of their language have remained in our speech. Many of us believe that those words come from Hebrew, as I noted on the word sargenes. The piyutim are called kerovets because they come immediately [< Hebr. korouv “near”] after the prayers . . . And since the French Jews do not distinguish between tsade and taw without a dagesh, we ought to understand kerovets [“liturgical sequence/proximity/link”] when they say kerouvous’ (fol. 83rv). We might also note Levita’s demonstration of the influence of the Jewish vernacular on Hebrew in the root mozag [‘mix/pour out/dilute wine’]. He writes: Our rabbis use this word for wine mixed with water [yain mazug]. In Yiddish gimisht and in Italian temperato . . . Thus they say: ‘a second glass is poured out for him’, even if the wine is not mixed with water . . . The German Jews make an interesting mistake here because in place of douroun ‘the offer [e.g. of a drink]’, they say mezigo [‘mixture’], for Yiddish confuses them because the two languages are similar, for they think of shenkn ‘make a present of ’ or ayn shenkn ‘pour a drink’ since they think that in Hebrew the two ideas are rendered by the same word. (fols. 51v–52r)

Such linguistic notes, only a small sampling of which are here presented, constitute an important contribution to the history of the study of the Yiddish language. Levita not only took into account the particularities of Yiddish in its relation to German and Hebrew, but he also based his analysis on objective and precise observation and introduced for the first time a rigorous linguistic description of the vernacular. If he is to be considered a precursor or innovator, it is because he made use of the principles developed by humanist grammarians in order to carry out the first systematic investigation of the Jewish vernacular. The most important aspect of Levita’s Yiddish works still remains to be addressed: the poetic compositions. Here, too, he was not content simply to be an epigone or adapter of works from European literature. He embarked along an original path in his composition of a courtly romance, a genre that gave rise to several of the most accomplished and sophisticated works of Old Yiddish literature. He developed the traditional forms of the genre in new directions in Yiddish. Even though it is difficult to determine precisely what

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his legacy has been, his genius is unique, for he raised vernacular Jewish poetry into the ranks of the great European literatures. Two pasquinades or humorous, satirical poems by Levita are known: the Shir al sreyfo ‘Poem on the Great Fire’, and the Hamavdil-lid.26 These poems participate in the tradition of poems of disparagement and raillery (zilzul) which were performed during the holiday of Purim, the Jewish Carnival. Levita took this holiday, which was marked by mockery and laughter, as the pretext for mocking the behaviour of the Venetian Jews and particularly one of his enemies, the melamed Hillel Cohen, who had accused the author of having participated in the pillage of the shops on the Rialto during the fire in Venice. Even more brilliantly, the poet demonstrated his talents in the courtly romance, with the Bovo d’Antona (Bovo-bukh) (Isny, 1541), published by Paulus Fagius.27 A second Yiddish romanzo cavalleresco was published several decades later, the Pariz un Viene (Verona, 1594), which has been ascribed to Levita by some scholars; but that ascription remains uncertain: although it has much in common with the Bovo-bukh and belongs to the same genre and tradition, there is no conclusive evidence in the Verona text concerning its authorship. In the Bovo-bukh, Levita brought about two fundamental ruptures with the tradition: he based the work on an Italian romance of chivalry and love, making an obvious break with the German sphere of influence, which had been the birthplace of Yiddish epic poetry. He thus finally freed Yiddish epic from the traditional metrical form of German epic poetry and invented a new verse form that would influence all future poetry in Yiddish. In order to understand the significance of this development, let us briefly recall the 26

There are two versions of the Shir al sreyfo: (1) Oxford, Bodleian, Can. Or. 12, fols. 258r–261v; Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, no. 1217; (2) Cambridge, Trinity College Library, . 12. 45 (olim MS addl. 136), fols. 2r–3v; Loewe, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in Trinity College Library, 136. This song was written during the war of the League of Cambrai against Venice (1513). See Shmeruk, ‘Ha-shir al ha-sreifah bevenetisyah l’Eliyahu Bahur’, Kovets al yad  6 (1966), 343–68; Max Erik, ‘Bletlekh tsu der ˙ geshikhte fun der elterer yidisher literatur un kultur . . . II. A paskvil fun elye bokher’, Tsaytshrift 1 (1926), 177–8; Erik, Geshikhte, 180–1. On the Hamavdil-lid, see Nokhem Shtif, ‘Eliye halevis lid hamavdil, Ms. Codex Bodleiana No. 1217, fol. 203a–206b’; Tsaytshrift 1 (1926), 150–8; and idem ‘Naye materyaln tsu Elye Halevi’s “Hamavdil-lid” ’ Shriftn 1 (Kiev, 1928), 148–79. 27 On the Bovo-bukh, see St. CB, no. 4960. 1–5; St. Serapeum, no. 22. Erik, Geshikhte, 185–95, and idem, Vegn altyidishn roman un novele, 33–90; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 149–71; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 82–91, 406–90; Shmeruk, Prokim, 141–56; Jean Baumgarten, ‘Un poème épique en yidich ancien: le Bove bukh (Isny 1541) d’Élie Bahur Lévita’, Revue de la Bibliothèque nationale ˙ 25 (1987), 14–31. A facsimile edition of the first edition (Isny, 1541) was published by J. A. Joffe, ed., Elye bokher: poetishe shafungen in yidish, i: Reproduktsye fun der ershter oysgabe Bovo de-Antona, Isny 1541 (New York: J. A. Joffe Publication Committee, 1949); Claudia Rosenzweig, ‘La letteratura yiddish in Italia: L’esempio del Bovo de-Antona di Elye Bocher’, Acme: Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università degli Studi di Milano 50/3 (1997), 159–89; EYT 33.


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

existence of a long tradition of epic poetry composed in the Middle Ages which spread through all of Europe and continued until the sixteenth century. In Italy, minstrels (canstatorie, cantibanchi) translated works from the chivalric cycles, such as the Chanson de Roland, into Italian, in order to set this tradition apart from clerical and learned culture.28 They recited or sung these adventures for an urban audience eager for stories and tales of colourful exploits. Such songs, presented by public performers, were then transformed over the course of time into a written tradition that eventually developed the high level of artistic sophistication found in texts such as Boiardo’s Orlando inammorato, Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, and Tasso’s Gerusalemma liberata. Levita is firmly rooted both in the tradition of translating epic poems into Yiddish––although he profoundly transforms that tradition––and in the rich Italian chivalric material which forms the basis of the Bovo-bukh. If we trace this text’s lineage back to its origin, we find an Anglo-Norman epic, the Bueve de Hantone, which was written down in the thirteenth century and thereafter gave rise to a multitude of adaptations in numerous European languages, including English, Norse, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, and French. Among the successive metamorphoses of this epic, one should note the Italian versions in both verse and prose, such as the I Reali di Francia ‘The Royals of France’ (1491) by the Florentine Andrea da Barberino (Andrea de’Mangiabotti) which includes a section entitled Buovo d’Antona, the source of the Yiddish Bovo-bukh. The similarity of the episodes, as well as the place and personal names, bear witness to the close relation of the Tuscan and Jewish versions.29 One might thus imagine––as was the case for many other Yiddish translations of epic texts in the chapbook tradition––that this text would probably be no more than a banal translation of the Italian text into Yiddish. In fact Levita, as an actual poet and creator of a new poetic style, was not satsified with simple translation, but instead reinvented the courtly romance in order to make it alive for and attractive to the audience in the various Jewish quarters of Italy––and beyond. That is the essential characteristic of this original adaptation which demonstrates the poet’s complete mastery of poetic form and extraordinary creative talent. He makes use of a number of methods employed by other adapters of epics into Yiddish. Most often he abbreviates episodes and suppresses both allusions to monotheistic religions other than Judaism and descriptions of feudal society. In other cases, he Judaizes epiSee, for example, the Morgante of the Florentine Luigi Pulci, whose final episode recounts the disaster at Roncevalles and Roland’s death. 29 See Albert Stimming, Der anglonormannische Boeve de Haumtone (Halle: Niemeyer, 1899; rpt. Geneva: Slatkine, 1974); and idem, Der festländische Bueve de Hantone; Fassung III nach allen Handschriften, 4 vols. (Dresden: Gesellschaft für romanische Literatur, 1914–20); Hermann Gottlied Wilhelm Heinrich Paetz, Über das gegenseitige Verhältnis der venetianischen, der frankoitalienischen und der französischen gereimten Fassung des Bueve de Hantone (Halle: Niemeyer, 1913); Pio Rajna, ed., I Reali di Francia, 3 vols. (Bologna: Romagnoli, 1872–1900); Erik, Vegn altyidishn roman un novele, 35–64. 28

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


sodes in order to make them more credible for Jewish readers.30 A unique work among Jewish vernacular compositions, the Bovo-bukh has enjoyed an undeniable popularity in Jewish culture extending even into the twentieth century. The text is extant in a fragmentary manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Hébr. 570) and a number of printed editions: the editio princeps–– Isny, 1541; the central European editions––Prague, 1660; Amsterdam, 1661; Frankfurt am Main, 1691; Wilhermsdorf, 1724; Prague, 1767; Frankfurt an der Oder, 1796;31 the Eastern European editions and adaptations––Romania 1881; ten editions in Vilnius 1824–1909;32 South America––Buenos Aires, 1970.33 In the introduction, Levita informs the reader of his reasons for writing the book. This excerpt casts an interesting light on his Yiddish works: · RBYYR$ RED YWL HYLA VYA · RBYYÑ IMWRW RLA RNYD · IUK ½ WC UYM 'NWA IRYA UYM · IUK ½ WDYB WZLA VYM $WL VYA 'NWA · IBLG WC LAÑ VÏA UYU$ 'NWA · IBH LBWA RWB ½ IAÏRW YK ½ YLUYA RYM $D · QWRD AYZ RWB ½ VÏA UYN VYA OWRAÑ · QWU$ IYYA RK ½ WB $UYÏU RNYYM · IAYYM RD INYD IGWM VYZ AYZ $D · IAYYL INYD OYB ½ WU OYMY 'NWA T ½ WTB$ 'NWA · VYA LYÑ IGZ UYYHRAÑ YD IWN · VYLYB 'NWA UK ½ ER IYYZ VÏA VYM UK ½ WD ZE · UP ½ YR$YG IGYLYYH RED IYA VYA LYYÑ AD · UP ½ YU$YG IWH RK ½ WB IYÏN RDWA UK ½E · IMWQ IK ½ M IWH ULEÑ YD IYA QWRD RED UYM 'NWA · IMWNYG RWB VÏA RYM VYA IWH AZ


Levita also makes numerous references to Judaism in the Bovo-bukh. The text abounds in Hebraisms: e.g. OYB½$WYH OYK½WRB WC ‘to the blessed, the seated [guests]’ (st. 300. 4); IT½X IUH 'NWA IGNWZYB LAWW HLK 'NWA ‘[when they] had sung well for the groom and bride’ (344. 7); YYB ZYA ZE OLWE ARWB OED ‘it is in the Creator’s hands’ (386. 7); OYNWCX ‘Christians/unbelievers’; OYNYNM ‘groups of ten Jewish males necessary for public worship’ (638). One also finds Hebraisms spoken by Muslim characters: Margareta, the daughter of the sultan, comments: UYN $D IMEQ IYYRD OYLWBLYB ‘so that no great confusion would come about’ (637. 6). There are also several remarks concerning Jewish practices, such as the mention of the circumcision of Druzeyne’s sons: ‘She said, “They have not yet been circumcised.”’ | The king replied, ‘Not to worry, | Tomorrow I will arrange a fine circumcision [bris milo]’ (498. 6–8). 31 See St. CB no. 4960. 1. Max Weinreich, ‘Di ershte oysgabe fun Bove-bukh un ire zetser’, Yivo-bleter 2 (1931), 280–4; Abraham Meir Habermann, ‘Di ershte oysgabe fun Bove-bukh’, Yivo-bleter 3 (1932), 287. 32 See Rita Greve, Studien über den Roman Buovo d’Antona in Rußland (Berlin: Harrassowitz, 1956). 33 See the modern Yiddish translation by Moyshe Knapheis, Elye Bokher: Bove-bukh (Buenos Aires: Kultur-kongres, 1962).



I, Elye Levi, the writer, | Servant of all pious women | With honour and propriety, | Have come to realize––And you can believe me––| That a number of women hold it against me, | That I have not yet published for them | A single one of my Yiddish works, | So that they might take some pleasure from them | And read from them on the sabbath and holidays. | Now, I would like to tell you the truth, | It only seemed right and proper to me, | Since I have written eight or nine books | In the Holy Language, | And sent them forth into the world as printed books, | So I have now also undertaken [to print my Yiddish books], | Since I am approaching the end of my days, | And some day soon I’ll turn up my toes; | Then all my books and poems | Would be forgotten and laid aside. | Thus, so that not one of them gets away from me, | I want to publish them all, one after the other. | Even if there were twice as many of them, | For me the goal would be no less worthy. | And I wish to begin at this blessed time | With this book that is called Bovo, | And it is actually the case, | That it was now thirty-four years | Since I translated it from an Italian book. (ll. 1–29)

What is remarkable in these first lines of the text, besides the poet’s self-justification and his touching desire to see through to the end the publication of his Yiddish works before his death and the casual irony of his proposing a chivalric romance to pious woman to amuse themselves on the sabbath, is the alacrity and buoyancy of the poetic rhythm in the original Yiddish. In the poem proper he makes a clear break with the prosody of German epic poetry by taking the traditional forms of Italian courtly romance as his model and thus invents an original verse form in Yiddish poetry, borrowed from the ottava rima, whose structure consists of a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC, an alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes, and lines having four heavy accents each.34 Proving his technical virtuosity, he brings together in a delicate harmony the accentuation suitable for both Yiddish and Italian, thus creating an iambic meter hitherto unknown in 34

The poem consists of 650 stanzas of eight lines, plus an epilogue, in which it is noted that the two nephews of Levita participated in the printing of the book; followed by a Yiddish glossary of the Italian terms used in the poem.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


Yiddish.35 This energetic and agile rhythm is perfectly adapted to the plot twists, rapid action and scenic shifts, multiple situations, and casual humour in which the poet delights in this poem. The Bovo-bukh, like a great number of other epic poems in Yiddish, was recited or sung. As Levita explains in his introduction: · IYG UREÑ FÏRHAD RED IWGYN RED RBA · IYU$ RWB ½ WC IBEG UYN VYÏA VYA IAQ IED · HP ½ LW$ RDWA HGYZWM UNWQ RNYYA IED · IP ½ LWHYG IBH LAÑ OYA VYA ULAÑ AZ · QNZYG I$LEÑ ONYYA UYM $E GNYZ VYA RBA : QNAD RE BH AZ IRSYB IYYA IK ½ M FÏRD RE IAQ

But I cannot explain to you | the melody that fits it [sc. the Bovo-bukh]. | I could do it | For anyone who knows music or solfeggio. | But I sing it with an Italian melody. | If anyone can make a better one, he will have my thanks. (ll. 37–42)

Let us note two Italian words concerning the melody (muziga and solfa) that are employed in this passage. While the Bovo-bukh was composed in a Germanized Yiddish without many Hebraisms and with a single Slavism, it has a wealth of Italianisms, a sign of the influence of the coterritorial majority language on the speech of the Italian Jews. At the end of the editio princeps, there is an alphabetical glossary of Italo-Yiddish words, introduced thus: iN · RURAÑ I$LEÑ YD IBYYR$ VYA LYÑ IW · RURWA IK ½ NEM IYA IYU$ AD YD · IDYY$YB I$UYÏU IYA YZ LYÑ 'NWA


Now I would like to write the Italian words | That are found in a number of passages, | And want to define them in Yiddish, | Kindly and joyfully. (unnumbered)

The existence of this little glossary makes clear the influence of the Bovo-bukh, which was distributed beyond the linguistic boundaries of Italy, in central and eastern Europe, where there was a need to define the Italian words for the readers in those regions. This appendix also demonstrates that Levita never lost sight of the lexicographical aspect of his work and that, even in a fictional work, the study of languages remained for him a constant concern. In the text are found many formulae addressed to the audience designed to retain their attention or reinvigorate the plot, numerous classic transitional comments characteristic of minstrel performance to introduce changes of scene, and finally direct interventions by the poet who, as it were, accosts the 35

See Benjamin Hrushovski (Harshav), ‘The Creation of Accentual Iambs in European Poetry and Their First Employment in a Yiddish Romance in Italy, 1508–1509’, in For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 108–46.


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

audience. Levita, a consummate master of the technical aspects of the courtly romance recited by minstrels, loves to play with these typically epic turns of phrase in order to enhance the tale’s vivid immediacy. Moreover, unlike in almost all other Yiddish epics, in which the author disappears behind his tale, in the Bovo-bukh, Levita frequently intervenes in the course of the narrative: most often quite freely, ironically and from a mocking distance, he takes some part in the action, influences the unfolding of the plot, or gives his own personal point of view. An example of how he narrates one of the hero’s adventurous expeditions will illustrate the point: · GEU$ VWN GEÑ VWN U$WAÑ 'NWA UYYR RE · ORWAÑ UNYL RK ½ NEM UNGYGYB OYA · GEHYG DLYÑ VNEM VRWD UYYR 'NWA · ORWP ½ IDLYÑ UYM RYU VNEM DNAW RE · GEÑ OED FÏA OYA UNGYGYB ZYR R$WRG IYYA · ORWU$ IYYA UYM RE DNWU$YB AD · IGWNYG VYYRU$ OYA RE BAG GWL$ RD IYA RE YA

(st. 507)


He rode on, not knowing either direction or path. | He encountered many a dragon | And rode through many a wild grove. | He found many an animal with fantastic form. | A huge giant met him on the road; | He attacked and conquered the giant. | Before he finally killed him, he gave him many a blow. | I would rather not write about it, for I think it all lies.

The primary focus of the poem is on the manner in which Bovo avenges his father, who had been assassinated by Bovo’s wicked mother, Brandonia, and her evil accomplice, Dodon of Mainz. A romance of education and apprenticeship, the Bovo-bukh narrates by means of a complex interlacing of plots and tales within tales the struggle of Bovo––this distant relation of Hamlet––to regain his dignity and honour after initial humiliation and subsequent wandering, to avenge the honour of his father, and finally to reconquer his usurped kingdom. The book begins with a hymn to God (directly in the tradition of Old Yiddish literature), such as one finds in many other books (e.g. the Shmuel-bukh): · IBWL GYBYA IM LWZ IED UWG · IDNWQ IM LWZ RDNWAÑ YNYYZ 'NWA · IBWH RD 'NWA URPK ½ AYG ZYA RE IEÑ · IDNWM IUYÏL RMWRW IYA · IBWA 'NWA IUNWA GYULEÑYG ZYA RE · IDNWRG WC UYN ZYA BWL IYYZ · IDNELWB ½ IAQ $E RED $NEM IYYQ : IDNE VWN OWRD VWN UWH $E IEÑ


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco



(sts. 1–2)



God be praised forever | And let his wonders be proclaimed. | For he is honoured and exalted | In the mouths of the pious. | He is powerful both here below and on high. | His praise is without end. | No human can praise him adequately, | For it has neither beginning nor end. May His Holy Name strengthen me, | So that I may not go astray | In completing the present work | Of translating an Italian book into Yiddish, | And so that I pay close attention | And not make any errors in anything, | So that people do not laugh at me. | Now, enough, it’s time to begin!


(st. 3)


It is told how in Lombardy | In days of old there was | A duke of great lineage; | His peer was not to be found far and wide. | Duke Guidon was the gentle man’s name, | A strong warrior in all battles. | He wore the crown with great honour | In a city called Antona.

The Duke searches––as had King David before him––for a young woman to warm the days of his old age.36 He married the beautiful Brandonia, daughter of the King of Burgundy. Levita was able to evoke the dramatic situation of the beautiful princess with humour and concision in a single quatrain: · HYYYNWDNARB IW$ AYD ISYYHYG RAÑ AYZ · IBEL VYLU$WQ IYYA AYZ UH OYA YYB · UK ½ AYG RYA RWAÑ UREGYB AYZ $AÑ

(st. 6. 5–8) 36


Levita borrowed from the biblical episode in his description of the old King Guidon; cf. 1 Kings 1: 1–2: ‘Now King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young maiden be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait upon the king, and be his nurse; let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may be warm.”’


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

She was named the beautiful Brandonia. | She had a splendid life with him; | Whatever she desired, she received. | She had good days and horrible nights.

In fact Brandonia detested her greybeard of a husband and decided to do away with him with the aid of Duke Dodon, who then killed Guidon and seized the city of Antona. Brandonia also decided to murder her son Bovo. He nonetheless managed to escape the clutches of his evil mother, who wanted to poison him. At this point, in the true tradition of chivalric romance, the hero’s wanderings and many trials begin. Some merchants buy him and sell him as a slave to the king of Armonia, at whose court he becomes a stableboy. Bovo falls in love with the king’s daughter, the beautiful Druzeyne, whom the author describes thus: ‘Her eyes shone in her visage like two round carbuncles’ (st. 99. 3). Here the author introduces a romantic episode about Druzeyne’s passion for Bovo and their first kiss, which took place under a table during a banquet. This very sensual passage, closely based on the original Italian text, was a rarity in Old Yiddish literature, which was generally quite modest. A second encounter between these two main characters is constructed thus: · UQY$ OYA VWN AD HNAYYZWRD DLAB YÑ · IRWQ RD $ÏA IGED RED OAQ AD · UQYLP IA AD IYA YZ VYLPYL RG YÑ · IRAW 'NWA IUNYH IA IYA VZ YZ · UQYÑQ RD JNG REÑ YZ VYYLG UK ½ WD YZ · IRWA IYYZ IYA OYA YZ URP$YÏL VWN RD · RLEH IREU$ WD ULU$YG $BYL WD

(st. 107)


As soon as Druzeyne sent for him, | The exalted knight came | Quite tenderly she looked at him; | She inspected him both front and back. | Immediately she seemed quite refreshed. | Thereafter she whispered into his ear, | ‘You splendid form, you shining star, | Attend and serve me at table.’

Influenced by the eroticism and bawdy obscenity of numerous courtly romances of the Italian Renaissance, Levita introduced amorous episodes full of easy humour and references to the body’s ‘lower stratum’.37 This tone was quite a novelty in Old Yiddish literature, which, under the influence of the Italian milieu, freed itself from a certain puritanical morality characteristic of the Jewish literature that had originated in the German cultural sphere. Levita loved to play with this erotic element to give his tale a lighter, more sophisticated and freer tone unencumbered by taboo, as demonstrated by the following passage, where he recounts the carefree life of the two main characters in the forest after their flight from court: 37 Cf. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. by Hélène Iswolsky (Boston: MIT Press, 1968; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 368 ff.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco



(st. 350)


And they ate what they had at the spring | And were again quite refreshed. | Only after that did their joy really begin. | Bovo did what he was supposed to do. | Druzeyne screamed like a thief in the stall. | Oh, he did not need to poke her in battle,38 | For she did not by any means retreat from him. | What they got out of this, you should imagine for yourself.

Earlier in the story, Macabron, son of a powerful lord, asks for the hand of Druzeyne. Armonia organizes a tournament to honour the suitor. Bovo participates in the tournament and beats Macabron. Then he hears the terrible news that the Sultan of Babylon has surrounded the city with ten thousand soldiers. The Sultan wants to force Armonia to wed Druzeyne to the Sultan’s son, Lucifer, a cruel and demonic knight. Armonia resists at first but is then captured. Druzeyne has come to the realization that Bovo is not the stableboy that he pretends to be, but rather an unfortunate prince, and gives him a magic sword, Pomele, and an enchanted horse, Rondele, so that he can go fight the Sultan. Bovo kills Lucifer, conquers the Sultan’s army, and frees Armonia. But as the result of a dastardly betrayal, the Sultan learns that it was Bovo who killed his son Lucifer. By means of a trick, he lures Bovo to his court, where he is condemned to be hanged. Margarete, the daughter of the Sultan, falls in love with the handsome knight. She intervenes with her father and saves Bovo from the gallows on the single condition that he convert to Islam. Levita, who provides the story with an unmistakably Jewish tonality, makes Bovo’s refusal to convert quite evident: · IADLW$ IED RWB ½ OAQ IWN RE AD 'NWA · RDYN RD AYNQ IYYZ FÏA RE LYB ½ AZ · IA ILYYÑ YUWG IYYA IYA VAZ IADLW$ RED · RDYÑ IMWQ WU$YB VRP$ 'NWA · IAM RBRE WD $QWLW RYM GZ IWN · RDYB IDYYH ONYYA WC IREÑ WU$LYÑ · IBEL IYYD IQNE$ LWM $D RYD VYA LYÑ AD : IBEG RW RYD VYA LYÑ IWUYG U$WH RYM WD $Ñ 'NWA

· $WM RK ½ LWZ IYA RE URÑUNE AD 38 The verb pikn means ‘to poke’ or ‘to spear’. Levita used a quasi-military and erotic metaphor to describe the two lovers; see Smith, ‘Elia Levita’s Bovo-Bukh’, 590.




(sts. 245–7)



And when he came before the Sultan, | He fell down on his knees. | The Sultan looked at him for a while | and said: ‘You have returned. | Well, tell me straightaway, you honourable man, | Whether you want to become a good heathen. | If so, I will grant you your life this time | And forgive you what you have done to me.’ He answered him thus: | ‘May you never imagine | that I will ever give up my faith, | Even if you should give me all of your lands. | I believe in a God who is honourable and great. | I do not wish to deviate from His commandments. | I wish to proclaim His name. | For His sake I would give myself up to be hanged and burned. He is my creator, praised be He. | He has never in my life abandoned me, | And He has always come to my aid up until now. | I will not lose confidence in His holy name. | For that reason you should give up your desire. | You need not say any more to me; | You should not advise me to abandon him. | I do not wish to exchange a living [God] for a dead one.’

In the face of the hero’s obstinate rejection of Islam, the Sultan orders his slaves to kill Bovo, who nonetheless manages to escape and depart by boat. In the meantime, Armonia compels his daughter, still childless, to marry Macabron. Druzeyne accepts on the condition that she be allowed to wait a year in order to be certain that Bovo will not return. On the day of the marriage, Bovo’s ship docks and he enters the city, where he learns of the impending marriage of Druzeyne and Macabron. He disguises himself as a beggar, makes himself known to his beloved and suggests to her that they leave together. He gives her a potion so that she can put Macabron to sleep. The two lovers escape on Rondele, the enchanted horse. Then begins their wandering life in the forest, where, like Tristan and Isolde, they hide far from danger and social constraints. Macabron sends a strange creature to follow them: the monster Pelucan, half-man, half-beast, who challenges Bovo. The poem abounds in combat scenes in which Levita demonstrates his skill in depicting

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


the brutality of single combat and the dynamic movement of battle scenes, as here, for example, in the description of the combat between Bovo and Pelucan: · UYH IYM LYYP ½ P IYYQ IWN RE AD 'NWA · IDYY$ RED $ÏA UREÑ$ IYYZ RE VWC AD · UYÑ YD IYA RDNNA UYM YZ IP ½ WL AD · IDYYRW UYM RDNNA FÏA IGWL$ 'NWA · UYR IBEL IYYZ IRDNA OED IWB ½ RNYYA YA · IDYYB IYA IWB ½ IAR $YYÑ$ UWN RED · ORWU$ O$WRG UYM UYYRU$ IQWLEP

(st. 371)



And now that he had no more arrows, | He drew his sword from its sheath. | They ran at each other from afar | And slashed at each other with delight, | Before one could save his life from the other, | The sweat of desperate need flowed from them both. | Pelucan fought on with great onslaught, | And Bovo manoeuvred like a great dragon.

Thanks to the intervention of Druzeyne, Pelucan comes to an understanding with the two lovers and becomes their protector in the forest. Here the heroine gives birth to twins. One day Bovo decides to go to the coast to find a boat in order to take his entire family back to Lombardy. During his absence, two lions attack, kill, and devour Pelucan. Druzeyne remains alone with their sons in the forest waiting for Bovo, but when he does not return, she makes her way to the coast and embarks on a ship belonging to Armonia. After diverse wanderings and struggles to avenge his father, Bovo ends up returning to Antona disguised as a doctor. He kills Dodon and has his evil mother, Brandonia, confined to a convent for the rest of her life. At this point Bovo receives a letter from Margarete, the daughter of the Sultan, informing him that a prince from the country of the Moors is forcing marriage upon her. She begs for Bovo’s help, who leaves to go to her aid. In return, she promises to convert to Bovo’s religion and marry him. Druzeyne learns of their engagement and, disguised as a beggar, she goes to Babylon with her two sons, where she is recognized by Bovo. The entire family returns to Antona, where they live happily in their again powerful and renowned kingdom. The poem ends with two stanzas which offer information concerning the author and his conception of the book: · RAW INEN VYÏA VYA LYÑ VWD · IBYR$YG 'NWA UK ½ AMYG UWH $D REÑ · RAÑC VYZ RE UNEN RWXB HYLA · IBYRU RWB ½ RBWRD RE UWH RAY JNG IYYA · RAY GYBLEZ $D UK ½ AMYG $E UWH 'NWA · IBYZ 'NWA GYCK ½ EZ 'NWA URDNWH YYÑC ULYC IM $D · RYYA IYA IA $E BWH 'NWA ISYN IYA ZÏA $E UWH RE



(sts. 649–50)

: IAÏRU IM am A IWCRm YH i vY IK aWv

Indeed I want to tell you | The name of the one who wrote the book. | He is called Elye Bokhur. | He spent an entire year on it, | And did it in the same year | that is counted two hundred and sixty-seven [= 1507]. | He finished it in Nisan and began it in Ayar. | May God protect us from all evil. And deliver us from our suffering | And grant us grace | That we may all be worthy | Of experiencing the coming of the Messiah, | Who will lead us into Jerusalem, | Or into some other nearby village | And rebuild the Temple for us. | Let this be his will. Truly. Amen.

The Bovo-bukh thus gives the general impression of a great freedom in narration––as much due to the rhythmic possibilities offered by the ottava rima which is appropriate for the narrative’s change of pace and to the liveliness of the action, as to the roaming of the hero. The reversals and ruptures that punctuate the plot, the tangle of erotic and martial episodes, the multiple changes of register, tend to give the structure of such a wide-ranging poem a lively pace. But it is particularly clear that Levita, who was quite taken by this chivalric tale despite its distance from the Jewish tradition, with its tournaments, its feudal battles and fortified castles, took up this matter so that he could bring his mastery of the vernacular to bear on it and prove his sense of humour and mischievousness, his talent in storytelling methods that capture and hold the attention of readers. However that may be, it seems certain that this encounter between the great Jewish scholar and poet Elia Levita and the chivalric tales of the Italian Renaissance produced one of the most daring and original texts of Old Yiddish literature. The second courtly romance in Yiddish that originated in Italy was the Pariz un Viene (Verona, 1594).39 Unlike the Bovo-bukh, which was a great 39 On this romance, see Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 82–102; Erik, Geshikhte, 195–202; and idem, ‘Inventar’, coll. 545–71; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 172–91; Yankev Shatsky, ‘Pariz un Viene’, Filologishe shriftn 1 (1926), 191–6; Shmeruk, Prokim, 143–4; and idem, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 33. Facsimile edition of the edition of Verona, 1594: Valerio Marchetti, Jean Baumgarten, and Antonella Salomoni, eds., Elia Bahur Levita, Paris un Viene, Francesco Dalle Donne, Verona 1594 (Bologna: Università degli studi di Bologna, Dipartimento di discipline storiche; Arnaldo Forni Editore, 1988); Chone Shmeruk, ed., Pariz un’ Viene (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1996) (critical edition); Erika Timm, Paris un Wiene: Ein jiddischer Stanzenroman

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


literary success, Pariz un Viene had at best a short-lived popularity: while it was certainly appreciated during the period of the Renaissance, it was never reprinted thereafter and fell into oblivion. The most important early bibliographers of Old Yiddish literature, Wolf, Bass, and Bartolloci, did not know of its existence.40 It was not until the nineteenth century, in a bibliographical notice by Abbot Giuseppe Venturi, that the book is mentioned, considered then as no more than a bibliographical curiosity.41 Moreover, until recently, the text was not known except in a fragmentary copy. According to Yankev Shatsky, only Joseph Zedner (the librarian of the Hebrew department of the British Museum in London) had seen a complete copy of the text. He reputedly gave some information about the text to Moritz Steinschneider,42 who in his turn passed it on to Ben-Yacob, who in his Otsar ha-sefarim explained that the author was in all probability Elia Levita, spelled as in the introduction to the Verona edition: Elye Beher.43 All research until very recently was based on the examination of three fragments: a single folio in the library of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (from the collection of Aaron Freimann); a fragmentary exemplar in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, which lacks the first twenty pages (that is, the title page, the introduction, and the first four cantos);44 and a fragmentary copy in the Braidense Library, Milan.45 In 1986 the discovery by Anna Maria Babbi of a complete copy of the Pariz un Viene in the Biblioteca del Seminario Vescovile in Verona constituted a breakthrough in scholarship on Old Yiddish literature.46 The existence of a des 16. Jahrhunderts von (oder aus dem Umkreis von) Elia Levita (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996) (Germanizing Roman-alphabet transcription); EYT 74; Anna Maria Babbi, ‘In margine alla fortuna del Paris e Vienna’, Quaderni di Lingue e Letterature 11 (1986), 393–7; Chava Turniansky, ‘Pariz un Viena––me-sifrut yidish be-italyah shel meah ha-16’, Khuliyot 4 (1997), 29–37; Armin Schulz, Die Zeichen des Körpers und der Liebe: ‘Paris und Vienna’ in der jiddischen Fassung des Elia Levita (Hamburg: Kovac, 2000). 40

Wolf, BH; Bass, Seyfer sifsey yesheynim; Giulio Bartolocci, Kiryat sefer: Bibliotheca magna Rabbinica, 5 vols. (Rome: Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fidei, 1675–94). 41 See Giuseppe Venturi, ed., Tehilim: Il salterio ebraico (Verona: Tipografi Mainardi, 1816), p. vi, n. 27. Father Venturi cited the final page of Pariz un Viene (72v), followed by a modernized transliteration (ortografia rimodernata). 42 There is of course no mention of this text––which is not in the Oxford collection––in the catalogue of the Bodleian Library by Steinschneider. See the supplement to the Catalogue, p. 498. 43 Yizhok Isaac Ben-Yacob, Otsar ha-sefarim (Vilnius: Romm, 1877–80), p. 445, no. 10. This is also the opinion of Moses Marx in his ‘Verona: Francesco della Donne’, in Annalen des hebraeischen Buchdruckes in Italien (1501–1600) (s.l., s.d.). 44 See Max Weinreich, Bilder, 172–91; Leo Landau, Arthurian Legends, p. xxix, n. 4; Loewe, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in Trinity College Library, p. 144, no. 158. 45 Signature: Ebr. 1080. This copy includes pages 18–19, 21–4, 33–40, 50–6, 58–9, 62–3. 46 Signature: Fonds Venturi, no. 192; see Anna Maria Babbi, ‘Appunti sulla tradizione italiana del romanzo cavalleresco: Paris e Vienna’, Quaderni di Lingue e Letterture 10 (1985), 188–208; eadem, ‘In margine alla fortuna del Paris un Viene’, 393–7; ‘Per la tradizione francese del Paris e


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

complete copy has injected new life into the research on this long-forgotten masterpiece. The first enigma concerning the poem has to do with its authorship. The title page does not specifically identify the author. There is only a laconic statement, similar to that found in many other Yiddish texts: ‘The book is called Pariz un Viene, taken from the Christian language and made into Yiddish; it was also printed at other times, but never in such a form and never with such beautiful and clear letters and with all the illustrations, as you will see. Let it be in God’s name. Amen. Selah.’ Further text runs vertically along each side of the woodcut that adorns the title page; on the left: ‘Printed here in the city of Verona by the hand of your servant Abraham ben Mattitya Bat-Sheva’, and on the right: ‘In the year that one counts 5354 [1494], in the month of Shevat, poroshos Bou el Parou.’47 According to this title page, there had been more than one earlier printing. This could refer to editions in other languages or to a supposed earlier Yiddish edition from Sabbioneta, of which no copy has been preserved.48 In the introduction, there is also an important and enigmatic remark: DNA LAÑ RYM ZYA IAM IZYD OWA RHEÑ$ RDA RUAP ½ IYYM RE REÑ ZA DNL OZYD ZÏA VWC RE AD IWA RHERU YK ½ NEM OYA OWA VYA $YL WD DN$ FÏA UYN OYA UWU IMAN IYYZ RHEB HYLA YBR IULA IED IAM VYA IBREU$ UYN UWU 'NWA UYYC LA UBEL IMN IYYZ

(st. 3)


I suffer great sorrow because of this man, | As if he were my father or father-in-law. | And when he departed from this land,49 | I wept many a tear for him. | His name is no disgrace for him: | I mean the aged teacher, Elye Beher. | His name lives on and will never die. | These are the books that he completed. Vienne’, Quaderni di Lingue e Letterature 13 (1988), 67–392; eadem, ‘Ancora sul Paris e Vienna: Le traduzioni italiane’, Quaderni di Lingue e Letterature 13 (1988), 5–16; eadem, ed., Paris et Vienne: romanzo cavalleresco (Venice: Marsilio, 1991); eadem, ed., Paris et Vienne: romanzo cavalleresco del xv secolo (Verona: Francoangelli, 1992). 47 See C. Brunelli, ‘Frontespizi e illustrazioni’, in L. Carpané and M. Menato, Annali della tipographia veronese del Cinquecento (Baden-Baden: Valentin Koerner, 1989). See the illustrated edition of the forty-three woodcuts published by Melchior Sessa, entitled Inamorato de li nobeli amanti Paris e Viena (Venice, 1528). 48 According to the censor’s list from Mantua (1595), which mentions a ‘Pariz un Viene ashkenazi, printed in Sabbioneta’. Shmeruk suggests that this edition could have appeared in 1553–4 when Cornelius Adelkind, who was close to Elia Levita, worked in the Jewish printing house in Sabbioneta. See Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books, 288–92; Friedberg, Toledot ha-defus ha-ivri be-medinot italyah, 76–80; Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish’, p. 787, no. 22; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 33. 49 This remark may allude to his sojourn in Isny (Germany) with Paulus Fagius, or it may be a metaphor in the form of litotes, signifying ‘when he died’.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


Based on this passage, three hypotheses can be formulated concerning the author of Pariz un Viene: it may be a courtly romance written by a student of Elia Levita’s, in the style and manner of the Bovo-bukh. The eulogy of the old teacher ‘Elye Beher’ is one of the most important arguments in support of this thesis.50 Secondly, the introduction may be viewed as some sort of attempted hoax perpetrated by Levita himself, who poses as a disciple rendering homage to his dead master. The author would, in this case, be Levita, although he never identifies himself as the author of the text. This lack of overt self-identification would distinguish this text from his other works, which all include at least one explicit mention of his name as author. Finally, the text could have been written by Levita and even printed during his lifetime, then reprinted after his death anonymously by one of his students, who added to the original text his own brief personal introduction in the style of Levita. Only a thorough stylistic, linguistic, and thematic study of the work might shed clear light on these issues.51 The obvious kinship of the two epic texts––the Pariz un Viene and the Bovo-bukh––nonetheless seems to admit the possibility that they might have had a single author or that, at least, the anonymous author of the Pariz un Viene not only was profoundly influenced by the poetics and narrative techniques of the Bovo-bukh, but also had assimilated the language and the literary conception, to the extent that the similarities in the two texts far outweigh the differences. The preface indicates that the Yiddish text is an adaptation of a Christian version of the poem. One should note that a great number of versions of the Christian text had been published in Italy during the Renaissance, witnessing to its popularity with the Italian audience:52 VAM AD VYA $D VWB ZAD GAZ VYA IU$YRQ RED VWRP$ IYA RAP ½ IM UNYP ½ $D HNEQ ZE IREÑ 'NWA UYYLYG ZE IBAH LYP ½ 'NWA HNEYÑ 'NWA ZYRP VA ZE $YYH VYA 'NWA U$YYH ZE


(sts. 10. 5–11. 2)



I say that the book that I am here making | Is found in the Christian language; | Many have read it and know it; | It is called, and I also call it so: Pariz un Viene. The one who wrote it in Latin [= Roman alphabet] | Was no fan of verse. 50

Just as one attributes a painting to the ‘School of Raphael’ or the ‘School of Titian’, for example. 51 Shmeruk’s and Timm’s editions (noted above) study the question of authorship in detail (Shmeruk, Pariz un Viene, 32–8; Timm, Paris un Wiene, pp. cxxxvi–cxlv; and also Timm’s essay in Shmeruk’s edition, pp. 39–41). See also Timm, ‘Wie Elia Levita sein Bovobuch für den Druck überarbeitete’, 63–4. 52 See Anna Maria Babbi, ed., Paris e Vienna: romanzo cavalleresco (Venice: Marsilio, 1991).


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

In tracing the origin of this poem, we find at the end of the Middle Ages a Provençal prose text. In that tale, the author distinguishes himself from the tradition of earlier courtly romance, which is thoroughly imbued with the marvellous and supernatural (e.g. Lancelot and Tristan). The Italian version of Paris e Vienna shows development toward more realistic motifs and portrayal of characters, who are certainly in possession of all the virtues of the heroes of feudal society but who also display more credible behaviour. In 1432, the Provençal version was translated into Old French by Pierre de La Cépède and thereafter from that version into a variety of European languages: numerous editions were printed and distributed in English, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Catalan, Flemish, Swedish, German, Greek, Russian, and Armenian, clear proof of the great success of this text in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries throughout the Occident.53 It is one of those itinerant tales that criss-crossed all of Europe, adapted into a number of variant forms according to the linguistic context and transformed by the imaginative powers of reciters and copyists. It is within this European literary tradition and more particularly from the editions published in Italy that the author of the Yiddish text drew his inspiration.54 While the definitive study of the relations between the Christian versions and the Yiddish translation has yet to be undertaken, the similarity of the episodes, place names, and protagonists leaves no doubt about the dependence of the Yiddish version on the Italian text. Everything leads one to believe that it would be no more than a dull adaptation of the work for a Jewish audience. But the author, who was possessed of both a poetic sense and great creativity, not only adheres closely to the general structure of the plot, but also composes with great artistry a vivid poem that would attract the attention of the Jewish audience across the face of Europe. It is in fact an original recreation of the tale, endowed with its own musicality in which, depending on the episode, a charming and delicate simplicity alternates with a melancholy wreathed in emotions and tenderness in the evocation of erotic passion, and with a great liveliness in the description of the tournaments. Of course the ottava rima is particularly suited to the story’s changes of pace and the twists in the plot, while providing a joyful and sophisticated tonality to the entirety of the narrative. But above all, the author knows how to play in a number of registers and to give the poem a great flexibility in tone. The poem of approximately six thousand lines is divided into ten cantos of unequal length, corresponding, as the conclusions of certain of these cantos 53

On these versions, see Babbi, ibid. See A. de Terrebasse, Paris et Vienne (Lyon, 1885); Robert Kaltenbacher, ‘Der altfranzösische Roman Paris et Vienne’, Romanische Forschungen 15 (1904), 321–688α; MacEdward Leach, ed., Paris and Vienne. Translated from the French and Printed by William Caxton, EETS 234 (London: Early English Text Society/Oxford University Press, 1957); Babbi, Paris e Vienna. The Italian version of Paris e Vienna exists in seven manuscripts and a hundred printed editions from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. See Babbi, Paris e Vienna, 57–121, 267–79. 54

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


lead one to suppose, to discrete recitation units. The text follows the structure of the Italian source, whose principal episodes the author has managed by means of a remarkable art of concision to condense into much briefer form. A reading of the text reveals this concise artistry and the method by which the author, in a few stanzas, can condense episodes which, in the original versions, extend over many pages filled with details and digressions. He himself acknowledges that he has summarized the text which often seemed to him too long: VWRP$ I$LEÑ IYA VWB GYZWD $D · IQE ILA IYA GNAL RAG UBYYR$ $D VWN IBYYR$ IYM UYN OYA LYÑ VYA · IQEU$ VWN VYA $WL URAÑ YGYRYBÏA LYW VWH WC ILK ½ ÏB IYYM RYM DRWAÑ U$YWZ · IQELQ UYN WCRD VYM DRWAÑ UYYC AYD 'NWA I$LEÑ IYA VA RWB ½ UYYLYG UWH ZE REÑ OWRD

(Canto , st. 428)



This book in the Italian language | Is quite long in all respects; | I don’t want to make it longer still; | I omit many superfluous words, | Otherwise my little book would become too much, | And I would not have enough time. | Thus whoever has also read it already in Italian | Should not think that I wish to misrepresent it.

Those early Christian versions were sung or recited by minstrels, as is witnessed by the numerous transitional formulae between the songs and the reciter’s interventions into the poem. The Yiddish version of Pariz un Viene might also have been read or recited before an audience assembled during a holiday or collective celebration. At the end of each canto, the author makes use of the rhetorical conventions of the vernacular courtly romance by addressing the audience to complain that he was tired or to request a rest before proceeding with his recitation. Thus in the fourth canto: · IGEZYG VÏA VYA IYM UYN IAQ VYA IRYW IED IWB ½ IRÏH RUYYÑ RYA ULAÑ 'NWA

(Canto , st. 248. 6–8)



I can’t go on; I bid you farewell. | And if you want to hear more about these four, | Then be patient: I have to go wet my whistle.

Later, in canto , there is a characteristic example of the storyteller’s practice of interrupting the public performance: QNAÑ$ GYZWD RED IYA VYYLG UNAM VYM · IGAZ INWU IP ½ WL$ IWB ½ AYZ $D QNAZYG IZYD RBÏA RYM $D · IGA YNYYM RÏB ½ UMWQ LDNYÑ$ IYYA



(st. 601)



I am directly reminded of that passage | Which has to do with sleep, | That from this poem | A dizziness comes before my eyes. | I have held out for a long time; | You have no cause to complain about me. | Let me stretch out as do the story’s characters. | Thereafter I will tell more, if only I can.

The romance tells of the origin and episodes of the love between the noble knight Pariz, son of Earl Yakom (Giacomo), and Viene, the only daughter of Dolfin and Diane. The plot is based on the class-defined impossibility of a marriage between these two lovers, which leads to the complications of the romance plot. Their passion is opposed by social constraints and innumerable hazards and combats that constitute numerous sub-plots within the plot. Viene refuses to marry the suitor forced on her by her father, which leads to her long imprisonment. Finally she flees with Pariz, who thereafter goes into a wandering exile. The poem has a happy ending, however: Pariz rescues Dolfin, the father of Viene, who has been defeated in battle and imprisoned by the Sultan of Babylon. As a token of gratitude, the King consents to the marriage of the finally reunited lovers.55 The retention of the narrative structure of the source text might at first mislead one into believing that the Yiddish version is merely a translation of the Italian text minimally adapted for a Jewish audience. In fact, Pariz un Viene is an original work whose scope the author has radically altered: it is no longer simply a courtly romance, but a Jewish text, informed by a profound knowledge of Jewish customs and beliefs. Throughout this text one observes how much the author depends on the Italian tradition of the romanzo cavalleresco, in order better to transform it and imprint upon it a specific Jewish stamp.56 The obvious adoption of the forms and themes conceals, however, a work which is rooted in Renaissance Jewish culture, of which the author functions as a spokesman. One can thus draw up parallels and differences between the tradition of the courtly romance in Italian and Yiddish, a comparison which shows simultaneously the relations and the undeniable cultural borrowings, and the internal creativity of vernacular Jewish


For plot analysis, see Jean Baumgarten, ‘Introduction’, in Marchetti et al., Elia Bahur Levita, Paris un Viene, 13–16; and Babbi, Paris et Vienne: romanzo cavalleresco del xv secolo. 56 The text’s success in integrating the form of the Italian courtly romance brought about a misunderstanding of the tradition of chivalric literature in Yiddish, such that Max Erik viewed Paris un Viene as the prototype of the Volksbuch and argued everywhere that it had surrendered itself to the cultural forms of the surrounding culture. Thus he also minimized the text’s artistic originality, the modernity of the language, and its solid basis in the Jewish tradition.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


literature in Italy which seems a pure expression of the Jewish intellectual life of the Renaissance.57 It is well known, for instance, that many Italian poets of the sixteenth century, no doubt because of a desire to break with the overly metaphysical and allegorical tradition of medieval poetry, were fond of claiming that their works were for the sake of amusement and entertainment. Ariosto made use of this sly convention when he defined his Orlando furioso as *‘a work which is about nice and pleasant things’. In the same vein, Pariz un Viene is characterized by a tone of entertainment, the comic and laughter. In the preface, the author associates the text with the tradition of leytsim and naronim, those entertainers who made people laugh during holidays such as Purim and at other celebrations that punctuated Jewish life: LYP$ OYRWP IK ½ AM JYA UREÑ REÑ RDYL HLK REÑ VWRP$ REÑ IBYYR$ 'NWA IMYYR RK ½ ÏB YCNG UREÑ REÑ

(st. 5. 5–8)



Who will now put on a Purim play, | Recite proverbs and sing bride-songs; | Who will set in rhyme and write whole books, | So that you will pass your time in laughter.

But the author of Pariz un Viene was well aware of the important role assigned to poetry by Renaissance culture, the veritable cornerstone of that which Ariosto called *‘the study of the human in its totality’. Over and above aesthetic pleasure, poetry is a privileged vehicle of human wisdom, ethical values, and new aesthetic conceptions. The author of Pariz un Viene seemed imbued with this high conception of poetry: the romance clearly reveals some of the author’s most personal concerns and constitutes a kind of intellectual autobiography in which he constructs a view of the world full of complexity and refinement. A study of the structure of the narrative material, the adaptation of the text into Yiddish, and the rhythmic and verbal inventiveness demonstrates to what extent the Yiddish Pariz un Viene oscillates between two often antagonistic poles. The originality of the Yiddish romance is caught in a dynamic tension that is of course one of the salient characteristics of so many Jewish adaptations of Christian material. The direct influence of the forms of the Italian courtly romance is obvious. It is impossible not to notice, among other things, the many parallels with Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. Each canto of Pariz un Viene thus begins with a moralizing or satirical exordium, which cannot 57 The romanzo cavalleresco, born of the fusion between the heroic epic and courtly poetry, enjoyed great popularity in Jewish society. The responsa warn of the harmfulness of the texts of this Italian courtly literature. In 1553, Rabbi Emmanuel of Benevento expressed his indignance that the Jews wasted their time with ‘books of history and politics’ and were infatuated by ‘ridiculous chronicles of the nature of kings and kingdoms’. This is a direct reference to the chivalric cycles such as the Reali di Francia.


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

but remind one of Ariosto’s Satires or his prologue to Orlando furioso. The true significance of these preambles, generally deemed ill-suited to the remainder of the work, has never been recognized: they nonetheless take on a primary function in the general structure of the text, for by means of these satirical stanzas, the author communicates a personal conception, conveys a code of ethical values, and even calls the audience to witness some bitter truths about his time and his contemporaries. These preludes form a sort of mirror of the poet’s world, who, by means of laughter and invective, attempts to exorcise certain evils from that world. Various obsessions dominate: above all, the duplicity of human relations. The second canto thus begins with a diatribe against the insensitivity and the egotism of parents and family in moments of adversity. The author says: DNWH AYD ZA RGRE AYZ VYZ VYA ‘I view them as worse than dogs’ (Canto , st. 1. 5). In the seventh canto, he attacks the lack of hospitality of the ‘brothers of Venice’ who oppose the Jews of Padua, Mantua, and Verona, famous for their consideration for others. One can certainly find texts in Italian literature which castigate cities for their vices, the most famous example being Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which a number of cities are placed together in a single category of vice or virtue. We need recall that Elia Levita spent a great part of his life in Venice, where, as seen in his satirical poems, he suffered the hostility of certain residents of the ghetto. Taking up certain clichés of Renaissance literature, the author also stigmatizes the faults of women. In the third canto, for instance, he inveighs against the cold indifference and cruelty of women to those who love them. He claims: IYYU$ ZA ULAQ 'NWA UREH WZA IYYZ LWZ JREH IÏARW ZD IDNEW IUREH IWB ½ ‘That women’s hearts are as hard and cold as the stone of | hard walls’ (Canto , st. 1. 3–4). Elsewhere he harshly criticizes money, which corrupts human relations and is the principal source of all human faults. In the fifth canto he attacks those who take pride in their virtues. In the ninth canto, he reminds the audience to what extent wealth obstructs the recognition of one’s true friends:58 DNYÏRW YUK½ER IYYZ VYYR 'NWA GYLEZ ZYA RNYYA IEÑ INEQ UYN RE IAQ ‘When a person is happy and wealthy, he cannot recognize his true friends’ (Canto , st. 513. 1–2). Later the poet adds: 58

The Bovo bukh includes this stanza concerning marriage:









: ‘Our sages have said on this subject | that it is necessary to look for a good character; | for what good is the lineage of the father and mother | if he (the bridegroom) is not himself a good person’ (st. 208. 5–8). Elsewhere one finds this allusion to the wheel of fortune, which is not without relation to the three stanzas of Pariz un Viene: OWRAD


















· IK ½ YL$YG BA REH ‘Consider then dear sirs, | how a son of a duke came to such a pass. | For no one should ever | rely on material goods nor on money | for he does not know to what end he may come | when misfortune may strike him, for the world is like a ladder: | one ascends while the other slides down’ (st. 94).

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco



(Canto , st. 515)


No false friends will look at him any more | Once he has lost his wealth; | You won’t find any of them going to see him; | All friendship is taken from him. | But the true friend remains with him; | Money does not blind the pious. | If the friendship is one of the heart, | Then it cannot dim or go dark.

The sixth canto begins with a sharp critique of the excessive importance attributed to money and social position, particularly in marriage arrangements: UWG 'NWA ULEG $D IYYZ ZWM UK ½ WLW RWB ½ · IBALG IYYZ IARD UWH WD REÑ VA 'NWA UWR UYN UK ½ AN VAN GAU OWRD $NEM RED · IBAR UYM UP ½ WA 'NWA UK ½ ER UYM UP ½ WA 'NWA UWLB 'NWA $YYLW IM UP ½ AQ RÏB ½ UP ½ WA 'NWA · IBAH LYÑ JA$ IHWH IYYA IM $D URWN LYBEÑ$ REYÏB ½ ZA IYH $URÏB ½ LB ½ YÏU RED : LYBEN IED URÏB ½ DNYÑ R$WRG IYYA ZA 'NWA



(Canto , st. 303–5)



Cursed be money and property, | And whoever puts his faith in them. | A man cannot rest day or night because of them. | Often legally, often by thievery, | And often by


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

the sale of flesh and blood, | Just to gain a great treasure. | The devil draws them as does a match a fire | And as a great wind drives the fog. If someone wishes to give his daughter a husband | Or give his sons wives, | No one asks if he is a happy man, | Or whether he is a scholar or writer. | But rather money is the only one thing of interest. | And if he were nothing but a donkey driver, | A dwarf, a fool, a moron, a nothing, | If he has money, he’ll be snapped up. A boy, a girl, go on and work it out. | But be aware of one thing: | His first question, his first desire is––| ‘Does she have a lot of money’––‘Is he loaded with ducats.’ | One asks no more about intelligence or wit, | Or piety or good character. | Money conceals every kind of bad trait, | Even if he were an illegitimate son conceived in impurity.

Contrary to initial appearances, such invective––with which the author vents his own rancour, condemns human disharmony, inveighs against human weakness of character and lack of reason––is in fact directly linked to the plot of the chivalric romance. After such an outpouring of systematically catalogued vices, the author plunges us again into the story, both a kind of topsy-turvy world and an idealized human realm in which he develops his conception of wisdom, and harmony, and extols the excellence of the heroes. This is another means of paying tribute to poetry and romance fictions, not simply an opportunity to construct a colourful plot, but a locus which reveals his most profound intellectual aspirations to and imaginings of a world that is regenerated by freedom and love. Thus in the third canto, after the diatribe against women, the author, as an antithesis, extols the virtues of Viene: IYYZ HNEYÑ JEU$ LWZ U$NEBYG · IULEÑ RDNA RED IYA 'NWA RED IYA IYYLA U$EÑYG ZYA YZ ULAH VYA · IULEZ YZ IYYZ WZ IYM RNYYZ 'NWA IYYU$ ZÏA UYN 'NWA $YYLW ZÑ JREH RYA

(Canto , st. 107. 1–6)



Blessed be Viene always, | In this world and the next. | I hold her to be unique; | And if there are more of her kind, they are few. | Her heart was of flesh and not of stone; | No ice would have been able to cool it.

The constant tension between the real and the imaginary provides the story with an obvious dynamic and constitutes one of the narrative’s basic motivations. Erotic passion and the expression of the emotions that derive from it constitute one of the basic themes of the Pariz un Viene, which was a radical departure in Old Yiddish literature that was otherwise characterized by a great reserve in the expression of emotions and by scrupulous modesty with respect to everything having to do with desire, the description of the body, and physical beauty. For the author of the Pariz un Viene, inspired by the eroticism of the courtly romance, love is the dominant force that organizes

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


and disorganizes the world, and disturbs the life of the hero to the point of madness. The direct influence of the Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance is everywhere evident here. Its vocabulary is utilized by the author, who adapted the stock metaphors and clichés into Yiddish. One of the obviously original features of this text is the introduction into Jewish literature of the erotic conventions of the Italian courtly romance, thus breaking with a literary tradition that had up to that time been dominated primarily by religious books. With respect to this aspect of the Pariz un Viene, we need once again note the astonishing kinship of this text with Ariosto. As in the Orlando furioso, the poem’s plot is entirely defined by the quest for the beloved, a course that takes the form of a path amply provided with snares and hazards, along which passion leads the protagonists to confront their own limits at the borders of acceptable social convention. By turns Pariz and Viene cross from a rational and noble love, defined by expectations of and hope for the future, to an irrational passion that leads to despair and madness. The author borrows the theme and the rhetoric from Italian Renaissance romances which he then recreates in Yiddish, thus developing an erotic vocabulary hitherto unknown in Yiddish, for the subject at hand is that of ‘burning of love’, of the ‘flame’, ‘fire’, and ‘the heart ablaze’ with desire. Here, for example, is how the devastating effects of love on Viene are described: · HNERB REYÏB ½ IYA JREH $D RAÑ RYA $D IDNÏCNA IWU WZ $RYA UAH GYL$YG SÏZ $D

(Canto , st. 81. 6–8)


It was as if her heart burned as in a fire; | That sweet combat/rhythm had enflamed her so; | Her great love was without bounds.


(Canto , st. 218. 3–4)


She ignited his love indeed | That it burned both inside and out.

Throughout the poem the issue is one of suffering and pain. Passion is described as an infection that gnaws away at the lover, destroys one’s ability to live in society, and numbs one’s powers of reason. The author explains, for example ‘how love of a women is a torment’ (Canto , st. 196. 2). He also excels at depicting the unhealthy effects of passion.59 Thus in Canto , when 59

Here too one notes numerous parallels with the Bovo-bukh, as for example, in the passage in which Druzeyne meets Bovo: · VAZ IA IYA YZ IGÏA IBYL UYM RG · IRYÑQ RD IYA RAÑ YD HNYYZWRD IW$ YD WC BA REH IREG REÑ YZ YZ







: (st. 102. 4–103)




· I$WM


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

Viene discovers the clothing and trophies which she had offered to Pariz after his victory in the tourney, the author comments: 'NWA VYYLB DRWAÑ AYZ · IQER$RD DYYRW UYM AYZ RAÑ WZA / SYYA IYYA ZA RULEQ ‘she became pale and colder than ice, | so shocked was she by joy’ (Canto , st. 210. 5–6). For Pariz there was also a violent shock, but one that led to melancholy and madness. The lover’s dereliction is consummately described in Canto III. The parents of Pariz, concerned at seeing him so sad and idle, think that he is ill. His father is troubled by seeing him so zealous in his visits to his confidant, the bishop: OYYA WC IREÑ WU$LYÑ / IP½ALQ IYYZ 'NWA LDWRYG IYYZ RYD LAZ ZAÑ IPAP ½ P IYYA WC RDWA VNWM : ‘What are his outcries and his clamouring to you? Do you wish to become a monk or a priest?’ (Canto , st. 115. 7–8). His father exhorts him to find pleasure in life: UEBYG IYYM REÑ OWRD VYD UYB VYA · RUWG WZ BYYL IYYM JREH $UÏRU IYYM UEB RED RE 'NWA VYU$ 'NWA ORY$ REUWQ 'NWA VAL 'NWA GNYRP$ 'NWA JNU UE IULA OYYD BYL WC ZE WU RUWM IUBYRUYB RNYYD BYL WC ZE WU IGNYD IUWZ IWB ½ URAÑ RED LYW UDYR RE

(Canto , st. 119)


I beg of you, grant my plea, | Oh dear heart of mine, oh fine body, my very own: | Defend and attack and honour the bed, | Dance and jump and laugh and jest. | Do it for the sake of your old father; | Do it for the sake of your troubled mother. | He spoke many a word about such things, | Which could have made a stone crack.

Exile and travel, which constitute the other theme of the poem, are no more than the metaphor of the confusion and instability of the hero who is forced to flee the court of King Dolfin and wander for years on end without respite, tormented by the memory of Viene. The dominant position accorded beauty and love in the Renaissance courtly romance markedly contributed to the transformation of the conventional image of women. The author of Pariz un Viene, clearly haunted by the great female characters of the Italian courtly romance, grants Viene a particular radiance equal to that of the emblematic heroines of the romanzo cavalleresco. Here too the author forges a bold innovation. Viene is the first

Beautiful Druzeyne gazed at him; | With her dear eyes she looked at him; | She began to court him; | Her heart burned for the young man; | She would have liked to jump down to him. Bovo rode on along his way; | Her smile and gesturing helped not at all; | She gave one more sigh for him, a large one; | She was on the verge of fainting; | She yearned for him so much | That she could neither eat nor sleep; | That same night she went to bed without dinner; | She tossed and turned all night long.

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


great female character of Old Yiddish literature. Of course she is the paragon of feminine virtue, that is: nobility, youth, beauty, and courtliness. But above all the author strives to extol in her the humanity and the fullness of sensual refinement, a free and impetuous nature in which it is easy to recognize several of the author’s own characteristics, or, at least, his own representation of a model of the ideal individual. Throughout the poem, Viene demonstrates great individual independence: she refuses to marry a high-born suitor imposed on her by her family. Pariz is only a young knight, but for Viene value is not a matter of aristocratic titles but of one’s stock of virtues. When Isabelle, her faithful companion, cautions her against an association with Pariz, who is neither wealthy nor high-born, Viene fulminates unambiguously in her reply: REÑ$ RYD VYA 'NWA IWN RYD GAZ VYA · IBE RYM ZYA RED BYL IED BAH VYA IDNE IYYM IYA ZYB VA IBYL IYA LYÑ 'NWA

(Canto , st. 221. 5–8)



I tell you now and swear to you | That I love one who is of my own status, | And will love him indeed until the end of my days, | And your base words will not change my mind.

Later it is added:


: ‘One can lose money and possessions and land | but a good man can never perish’ (Canto , st. 222. 7–8). This taste for independence culminates in the flight of the two lovers, who, in transgressing against the matrimonial code, make themselves outcasts of society. In all conflictual situations, Viene makes use of stratagems that demonstrate her cunning intelligence. The most famous scene of the narrative is that in which, after her attempted flight with Pariz, she rejects a suitor. She hides pieces of poultry, brought to her for a meal, under her armpits. Then she remains thus for several days before receiving the suitor and feigning a serious illness: IRYREP RMÏN IAQ $D $UWG


(Canto , st. 477. 5–8)


Furthermore I do not wish on you the disease | Which I have on my body itself. | Were you to see me, you would be shocked; | And if you came close to me, you would smell it.

The stench nauseates the suitor, who beats a hasty retreat, and thus the rumour spreads through the entire kingdom that the princess does not have long to live. Thus the independence of spirit, obstinacy, and an innocent


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

sensuality that pervade the entire poem make of Viene a romantic character who breaks with the traditional female characters of Yiddish literature and presages the heroines of the modern novel. Nonetheless, the author is also capable of showing the other side of the code of courtly love and of disassembling the courtly fiction from the inside. Then the narrative collapses, just as it does in Rabelais, for example, into the grotesque realism characteristic of the comic culture of the Renaissance. One of the most striking episodes is that in which Eduardo, the faithful companion of Pariz, tries to calm the hero and at the same time ironizes his devouring passion for Viene. Beyond sensual beauty and hedonism, Eduardo already perceives the ravages which time will bring to their faces and bodies. In the depths of life itself he perceives the presence of death and condemns the fleeting fragility of beauty. Concerning a woman whose appeal he praises, he remarks: 'NWA ICWM FÏA VYZ AYZ YA / AÏRW $NGRWM WC UK½YZ IED AYZ REÑ LCNWR ZA

























: ILEH RED ZÏA LB ½ YÏU ‘Whoever sees her early in the morning, | before she has clothed and adorned herself: | dry meat in yellow sauce . . . The face full of wrinkles | they stink, complain, and they grunt and screech | and have the form of devils from Hell’ (Canto , st. 179. 1–3 and 180. 6–8). Elsewhere the author introduces a comic distance from the courtly motifs and the erotic theme characteristic of the epic tradition, at which he scoffs. Without undermining the multiple twists in the plot or indeed changing its course, he nevertheless enjoys intervening with some irreverence and playfulness in the development of the action, thus demonstrating that he is not taken in by the fantastic adventures on which the plot sweeps us along and that he remains the master of the game, even while exploiting the conventions of the courtly romance. One clearly notes this process of deconstructing the myths of the genre in the episode of the lovers’ flight. They are taken in by a priest who puts them up for the night: UEP$ RAÑ ZE IP ½ WL$ IYG ULWZ IAM · IBAH RGELYG $D ZYRP ULAÑ WZ UEB ONYYA IYA HLEBZYA HNEYÑ

(Canto , st. 336. 1–4)


It was time to go to bed; it was late. | Pariz wanted to have the sleeping arrangements thus: | Viene and Isabela in one bed, | While he was with the priest in another.

The author thus gives the reader a complicitous wink in the spirit of a Boccaccio or Marguerite of Navarro. That Pariz sleeps in the same bed with the priest seems to the author both unrealistic and unlikely: VWB $D VYA





UK ½ YRP$ $D

‘The book says how he did it | anyone who believes it is a bastard [fool] | I myself would not believe it



Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

[or: “expect it of myself ” or: “take on such an idea”]’ (Canto , st. 336. 5–7). The Romance-language versions of Pariz un Viene––as all western European courtly romances of the Middle Ages––abound in references to the rituals and practices of the Christian religion. While he does not eliminate all allusions to feudal society or reduce the roles of men of the Church, such as the bishop, who is a primary character in the poem, the author of the Yiddish version does tend to Judaize the story and suppress passages that are alien to the Jewish tradition. Thus in describing a tournament, the author intervenes to comment: IYYA 'NWA IYYA YA LAÑ VÏA ULAÑ VYA · INEN IMAN IYYZ AYYB IREH RED IYYQ RED RYA $D $YYÑ VYA RBA · INEQ UREÑ VAN IHEZYG UAH AYN IYYLA IGAZ VÏA VYA LYÑ $D URWN

(Canto , st. 90. 1–6)


I could also begin, one by one, | Identifying the knights by name. | But I know that not a single one of them | Have you ever seen nor will you ever know. | This only I will tell you––| How they immediately rushed to the fray.

The tournament scenes are considerably abridged, as are the descriptions of the heraldic standards and armour, which are all details without relevance for the audience of Italy’s Jewish quarters. Moreover, the vocabulary abounds in Hebraisms and in expressions drawn from the Jewish tradition. When, for example, the Sultan’s soldiers fall asleep after Pariz has made them drunk, so that he can free Dolfin from prison, the poet remarks: BAU IRAÑ AYD OAL IRAÑ YD · IRÏR ILRÏH IYYA AYN IRAÑ AYD IDRE RNEYY FÏA URWD IP ½ WL$ AYZ $WL VYA

(Canto , st. 626. 5–8)



They were lame; they were deaf; | They did not move a hair. | I’ll let them sleep there on the ground | Until, by God’s will, they become bar mitsvo.

In another passage, after the Duke of Burgundy, one of Viene’s unfortunate suitors, has been rejected by the heroine, he seems quite fatalistic: IA ZAÑ RED














‘That which has to do with the marriage of men and women | comes from heaven; there the Author is’ (Canto , st. 466. 7–8). The Duke recalls thus a Jewish belief that at an individual’s birth God decides who will be that person’s mate. There are also numerous allusions in the text to biblical scenes which have been transposed into the world of knights and medieval princesses. When, for instance, Pariz is reunited with his father, the author makes allusion to the reunion of Joseph and Jacob:




(Canto , st. 701)


The father wept abundantly | And then said: Oh, my son Pariz, | I never thought to see your face again, | And now God has even let me see your wife. | Praise be to God, who has brought you here | That I might see you on this day. | Now I can die content, | Since I have now lived to see your face.

It is, however, especially in the social and religious background that the poem’s dechristianization is most obvious. While on the surface the text seems a simple, entertaining narrative, it would not do to be satsified with that level of analysis, when there are multiple further levels of meaning that lend the work a deeper complexity. Let us recall that the poets of the Renaissance, Dante in particular (in his celebrated letter to Can Grande), propose four possible levels of interpretation in their poems: the literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical approaches. Should one not also look beyond the simple romance narrative to the symbolic meaning of Pariz un Viene? Is it not possible to discover a kind of ethical treatise in which the author develops an individual conception of human happiness and adumbrates a code of ‘bourgeois’ civility adapted for Jewish society? The poem thus bears witness to the development and the secularization of Jewish modes of behaviour and to changes in Jewish private life as a result of contact with Italian society. Without doubt the author does no more than echo the transformations already noticeable in Jewish society, but he seems in particular to present under the mask of fiction a handbook of polite behaviour intended for his Jewish contemporaries. Let us also note another possible interpretation of the text: Pariz un Viene as religious allegory. The book has been inaccurately designated a ‘secular’ work, and an example of a comic strain within Jewish literature. On the contrary, however, it is quite striking how closely the poem’s framework resembles certain messianic narratives that are found, for example, in the midrashic and aggadic tradition. The entire text can be interpreted as an allegory of the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. Viene thus becomes an incarnation of the shekhino ‘the divine presence’; her father, the king, is a divine figure, while Pariz represents the wandering Israelites in search of the shekhino. The poem could recount the various stages of the restoration of lost unity, symbolized by the impeded union of two lovers who are reunited at the poem’s conclusion, and thus also of the process of tikun, the mending of the shattered vessels that in the conception of Lurianic cabbala symbolizes the ultimate redemption of the universe, here presented in a

Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


fictional mode. The relationship between, on the one hand, the spirit of the Song of Songs, which, while never explicitly cited, pervades the entire poem, and on the other hand, the erotic passion characteristic of the chivalric tale, seems to reinforce the impression that beneath the tissue of the courtly romance one finds religious allegory. One notes to a certain extent both the gradual secularization of some significant fundamental principles of Judaism and the beginnings of an important change in Jewish literature by means of which the fictional narrative gradually takes over from the religious text. The direct reference to the Messiah which closes the poem, far from being merely a conventional conclusion such as one finds in numerous other works of Old Yiddish literature, confers on the narrative both a palpable religious resonance and also that tonality of ironic distance that pervades the entire poem: IYYM GWNP ½ WH YD 'NWA LWBLYB RED · IUYYR WC IMWQ LWZ RNYYA ZD ZYA IRWA YGNAL UYM QWB IAWRG ONYYA FÏA : IRWH VYLCÏ$ IYYA RG IZWLB IA LWZ 'NWA


(Canto , st. 716. 5–717)



My bilbul and my hope | Is that one will come riding | On a grey ram with long ears | And he will blow on a terrifying horn. And he will bring us into the city | That God has chosen long ago, | So that all our bodies and souls | Will be laid to rest there. | There we will speak as much as we desire | And tell of God’s help, | And not of Pariz, Viene and Isabela. | Let this be so, in God’s name. Amen selah.

After the conclusion of the epic, there is appended a short text in rhymed prose that incorporates this courtly romance––which can only mistakenly be defined as ‘secular’––into a clearly messianic perspective. The chivalric plot becomes no more than an external vestment that conceals a religious parable of the history of the Jewish people, its wanderings and future redemption: Printed in the house of messir Francesco dalle Donne by the hand of your servant [for/of] all good friends, both male and female. Believe me without my writing it out explicitly, for I have done it so that you should not be idle, and I have had it printed in this size, neither too small nor too large, although it will be difficult for some. But they will understand it quickly, once they get into it. You have now understood me well on the subject at hand. Thus I wish to come to a conclusion. Those who have bought it


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

need not be distressed, for you will certainly be able to say in truth that you have not seen its like in all your life, through the hand of your servant, as I began by saying. And so now let us ask God that he let the anointed one come forward, the Messiah ben David, may His name be exalted. And He should lead us into the Holy Land. There we will have peace. To that let us all say amen. Amen selah.

In addition to being a literary work of great modernity, there is one domain in which the author demonstrates his creative genius throughout the narrative: the complete transformation of the source text by means of his larger conception of adaption. Compared to the Italian versions, what we have here is altogether a new poem. Although the author does follow the development of the plot episode-for-episode, he all the while abridges and deletes text in order to make the tale livelier. The author excels at rapidly juxtaposing narrative sequences conjoined one to the other and passing from one character or action to the next. He is able by subtle transitions to reinitiate narrative movement, hold the audience in suspense, and demonstrate his talent at organizing the complexities of the plot. Thus in order to avoid the tedious description of a tournament, he declares: $D IM AYÑ IGAZ VYA ULWZ IYA VYA LYÑ






‘If I were to say how blood was spilled, | I would make the women shudder; | for this reason I will not soil myself further with this topic’ (Canto , st. 140. 5–7). At times the narrative can give the impression of being a collection of unrelated scenes, in the manner of juxtaposed scenes in the theatre. In fact, however, successive plot incidents are interdependent, grow one from the other, and form integral segments of a well-designed architectural whole, in which there is an essential balance of the various parts, and Ariadne’s clew is never abandoned for the sake of digression. This is the source of the general harmony that emerges from the Pariz un Viene. Compared with the Italian versions, the ubiquitous control of rhythm and tone, as well as the sense of movement that enlivens the entire poem, is striking. There are well-balanced connections made between stanzas, episodes, and in general throughout the text. The basic narrative unit is the eight-line stanza on the Italian model, a sort of poetic monad here perfected, a harmonious microcosm in which the author demonstrates a great deal of originality through daring rhymes and lexical richness. He expresses a broad range of emotions by means of subtle variation in rhythmic echoes achieved through teasing out the musical possibilities of the ottava rima. Each canto ends (as is also the case with Ariosto) with several lines in which the poet intervenes to ask for an intermission. As noted above, Canto  concludes: ‘I can’t go on; I bid you farewell. | And if you want to hear more about these four, | Then be patient: I have to go wet my whistle’ (Canto , st. 248. 7–8). The radical innovation of Pariz un Viene must be emphasized, particularly in contrast to the Yiddish epic poems drawn from German sources. The narrator assumes a direct involvement in the narrative, appearing through the


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco


length of the text, discreetly emphasizing his role as stage director and chief designer who pulls all the strings and leads the reader where he wishes. Sometimes he interrupts the course of the narrative and accosts the audience or even abruptly interrupts an episode, because he is taking a chance of boring or provoking the reader. One of the most striking examples is the exordium to Canto . The author addresses the female readers because of his fear of losing their favour and in order to excuse himself, since the narrative compels him to say unkind things about young women: DLWDYG UBAH 'NWA LYU$ URYÏN UGYYÑ$ · IUYLYG VA RBYYÑ YD IBAH IUYYC RÏB ½ IEÑ DLWH RYÏA RYLRW UYN RUNWRD VYA $D · IUYB ICREH UYM VÏA VYA LYÑ $D DLW$ AYD UBEG WDRDWA IYYLA · IUYZ IYYM UYN ZYA IGAZ WC ZÏB IEÑ ILYCRD UEU ZÏB $ÑCE IÏ$ VYA REÑ

(Canto , st. 169)


But be quiet and have some patience, | For in times past, too, women suffered. | That I not lose your good will because of this, | I beseech you with all my heart. | You should blame Eduardo alone, | For it is not my custom to speak ill. | Were I to say something bad, | I would, in truth, only be saying what Eduardo said.

With respect to the source text, the author well knows how to maintain an ironic distance and incorporate humour and nonchalance as if he regarded this feudal hotch potch from a perspective of fundamental doubt and scepticism. Thus his manner is that of freeing the reader from a spell, of demystifying the feudal invention and its extravagances, but still of reminding one throughout of his complete sovereignty over the narrative, which he executes with the greatest freedom: he and he alone is the master of the game.60 This meeting of the great Jewish poet and scholar, Elia Levita, and the courtly narratives of the Renaissance thus led to the origin of two of the most independent and aesthetically pleasing texts of Old Yiddish literature. These texts brought about a radical break with the existing traditions and led to innovations in the literary forms that exercised great influence on the developing tradition of vernacular Jewish literature. These courtly romances showed both the potential for creating previously unknown literary forms and a modern language which was to influence Jewish literature of the future. They likewise bore witness to the possibility of creating a text based on an Italian literary model that nonetheless remained rooted in the Jewish tradition and was written primarily for readers in the Jewish quarter. The Pariz un Viene may be considered the first modern work of Yiddish literature. It bears 60 See the similar conclusion, arrived at by different means, by Armin Schulz, Die Zeichen des Körpers und der Liebe.


Elia Levita and the Romanzo Cavalleresco

witness to the transformation of taste that resulted from the contact with Italian culture, and thus to the formation of a new sensibility: what emerges here is thus already the problematics of modern Jewish culture, torn between respect for the tradition and the construction of new areas of knowledge, between the public and private spheres. The Bovo-bukh and the Pariz un Viene force us to reconsider the place of Yiddish literature in the ensemble of European literatures of the sixteenth century. The vernacular œuvre of Elia Levita, more than being a mirror of the conflicts which characterized Jewish consciousness during the Renaissance, condenses the essential questions posed by thinkers of the time, especially on the role of the vernacular in the intellectual life of the period. It is not an exaggeration to consider these two texts among the books which, on the example of the great creators of Renaissance literature such as Ariosto and Rabelais, produced modern European culture.

 Books of Morality and Conduct Among the numerous types of Yiddish texts intended to inculcate moral values, to train individual conduct, and spread the study of Judaism, morality books (musor sforim) and books of conduct (minhogim sforim) assume a place of great importance. The distribution of such books, beginning in the sixteenth century, did not constitute a new phenomenon in European Jewish literature, for such books must be considered in the context of the tradition of Jewish ethical literature (sifrus ha-musor), of which it forms a branch and with which it shares numerous common characteristics.1 On the other hand, vernacular books of piety bear witness to social evolution and religious developments whose significance one should not overlook. Instruction intended to regulate daily life and ethical teachings drawn from the sacred tradition, which had up to this time remained solely the monopoly of an educated elite, now came into circulation among the common people in Jewish communities and became an essential element in the new modes of communication which came to be established in Jewish communities beginning in the Renaissance. Religious instruction and the intensification of study took a central role in the system of training the Jewish masses and combating ignorance, the further development of a religious underclass, and heterodoxy. In this case, the vernacular played a significant role as a privileged instrument of disseminating the regulated practice of Judaism and reinscribing the traditional knowledge that had hitherto been transmitted almost exclusively in Hebrew. It is likewise necessary to view these books of morality and conduct in the context of the efforts to restore and transmit the foundations of the Jewish tradition, which in this troubled era seemed all the more weakened and subject to erosion. The publication of these books of morality participates in a vast strategy of edification and religious moral education established by the guardians of the tradition with the twin goals that each Jew might acquire a more active and responsible faith and that the threat of ‘dejudaization’ might be halted. This pedagogical project shows through in many of the books of morality, as, for instance, in this representative excerpt 1 See Joseph Dan, Sifrut ha-musar veha-drush (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975). On bilingual morality books, see Chava Turniansky, ed., Alexander ben Isaac Pfaffenhofen, Sefer masah u-merivah le-r’ aleksander be-r’ yitskhok papen hofen (1627) (Jerusalem: Magnes/Hebrew University/Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1985).


Books of Morality and Conduct

from the Seyfer brantshpigl by Moses Henochs Altshuler Yerushalmi (Basel, 1602):2 This book was written in Yiddish for women and for men who are like women and cannot study much. The sabbath and the holidays come, and they can read it and understand what they read. For our holy books are written in Hebrew; sometimes they include pilpul from the Gemoro, which many people cannot understand. Although there are many excellent sifrey midous in Yiddish, one does not find in them the rewards of the world to come or the punishments of Hell. Instead the great masters of the cabbala studied and wrote about such things, but among people like me not everyone can understand them. I am therefore writing this book for women and men who like me cannot read and perfectly understand the holy books in Hebrew and the sermons preached every sabbath. I felt pity [for the ignorant] and write in Yiddish so that they might also know what a human being is, why he was created, and why Israel is a people superior to other peoples. (ch. 3, fo. 12v)

The Yiddish musor sforim hinge on several recurring themes. First of all, the individual ethic which has to do with acquiring virtues, respect for the mitsvous, and the fight against evil in all its forms. A more theological dimension is added to the halakhic dimension which is based on right practice, instruction in divine commandments, and Jewish law: it is a matter of explaining why strictly following the law is necessary by showing how a respect for divine laws influences the general moral economy of society and the world. This characteristic links the musor sforim to the philosophical tradition and mysticism proper, particularly to medieval Judaism. These books have as their goal to propose normative models of conduct and behaviour, such that each Jew might order his life around the observance of the mitsvous and focus on religious practice, an indispensable condition of the regeneration of the world and the coming of the Messiah. From this universal perspective, ethics within the family play a central role. The acquisition of ordered behaviour, respect for domestic virtues, such as those between husband and wife or between parents and children, likewise participate in both the social and the divine order. Such considerations thus lead to the confirmation of a public morality that is concerned in a broad sense with the relations between Jews and non-Jews and shapes the contours of a unified and contented Jewish society. From the very beginning of the Yiddish printing tradition, morality books were being published, which demonstrates the cultural importance of the ethical tradition in the vernacular. Among the oldest Yiddish books are thus the Azhoras noshim by David (ha-) Cohen, published in 1535 in Cracow by Samuel and Eliakim Helicz, and the Der musor un hanhogo/Orkhous khayim by Asher b. Jehiel (Rosh), also published in Cracow by Eliakim Helicz in 2

Reprinted Prague, 1610; s.l., 1626; Frankfurt am Main, 1676, 1706; see St. Serapeum, no. 33. There is also an incomplete edition, Cracow, 1596; see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 35; EYT 76.

Books of Morality and Conduct


1535–6.3 The Seyfer midous (Isny, 1542), of which there is also a Hebrew version, the Orkhous tsadikim (1581),4 is also relevant in this context. Within this tradition one also finds numerous Hebrew texts adapted into and transmitted in Yiddish, which show the desire on the part of scholars and rabbis conscious of the gap which separated them from common Jews to transmit Jewish beliefs and practices to the Jewish masses.5 Several titles were repeatedly reprinted, some up to the eighteenth century; among the most famous were the Brantshpigl, quoted above, the Seyfer lev tov of Isaac ben Eliakim of Posen (Prague, 1620),6 and the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh by Elhanan Hen˙ del ben Benjamin Wolf Kirchhan, the first part of which was published in Frankfurt am Main in 1707, and the second in Fürth in 1727 (see below). Most of the musor sforim proceeded from the same principle, repeated practically ad nauseum: the decline in religious observance, ignorance of the law and custom, as well as ignorance concerning the rituals associated with the holidays that punctuate the Jewish year. The Jewish culture depicted in these books gives the impression of a chaotic world, overcome by doubt and diminished by having forgotten the customs that should structure daily life. They often give the impression of a Judaism impoverished by dint of renunciation and of a Jewish people practically defiled collectively by the 3 On David (ha-) Cohen, see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 2; Friedberg, Toledot hadefus ha-ivri be polonyah, 2. On the title page, the author says that he compiled this work based on the books (or manuscripts) of R. Judah Mintz and R. Samuel of Worms. On Orkhous khayim, see St. CB, no. 4455. 1; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 3; Salmen Schocken, ‘Zu den Abbildungen’, in Almanach des Schocken Verlags auf das Jahr 5695 (Berlin: Schocken, 1934–5), 129–35; Edward Fram, ed. My Dear Daughter: Rabbi Benjamin Slonik and the Popularization of Jewish Law for Women (forthcoming). 4 St. CB, no. 3412; EYT 43. 5 To be mentioned are, for example: the Seyfer menouras ha-moour (Constantinople, 1514) which was translated into Yiddish by Moses b. Simeon Frankfurter (Amsterdam 1722; St. CB, no. 5294. 11); the Sefer shevet musar (Seyfer sheyvet musor) by Elijah ben Solomon Abraham haCohen (originally published Constantinople, 1712; translation published Wilhermsdorf, 1726; St. CB, no. 5957. 6); the Seyfer lekakh tov by Abraham Yagel b. Hananiah dei Gallichi (Venice, 1587), translated into Yiddish by Jacob b. Jeremiah as Touras lekakh tov (Amsterdam, 1675). See Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, vol. ii, no. 332; the Seyfer ha-yoshor (Venice, 1544) by Jacob b. Jeremiah Mathithiah Halevi, translated into Yiddish as Tom ve-yoshor (Frankfurt, 1674; St. CB, no. 5554. 2). See Chava Turniansky, ‘Ha-targumim ha-rishonim shel Sefer hayashar le-yidish’, Tarbiz 54 (1985), 567–620; the Sefer ha-yirah (Fano, 1505; Salonica, 1529) by Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi (thirteenth century), translated into Yiddish by Michael Adam as Seyfer ha-yiro (Zurich: Christopher Froschauer, 1549; publ. together with the Igeres ha-teshuvo and the Igeres Ramban. Frankfurt 1719; St. CB, no. 6556. 1). There also exist versified translations of moral sentences taken from the Talmud, such as the Mare musor der tsukhtshpigl, a versified collection of proverbs and moral maxims from the Talmud (Hanover/Prague (?), c.1610, 1678; Lublin, 1640; Frankfurt, 1680; Offenbach, 1716) by Seligman Ulma Günzburger (St. CB, no. 7172. 1–8). 6 Reprinted: Cracow, 1641; Amsterdam, 1651, 1670, 1706, 1723; Wilhermsdorf, 1679, 1714; Frankfurt am Main, 1686, 1715; Dyhernfurt, 1700; Sulzbach, 1703; Frankfurt an der Oder, 1708; Prague, 1709; St. Serapeum, no. 99; EYT 97.


Books of Morality and Conduct

weight of each individual’s sin. There was another ubiquitous threat: the proliferation of heterodoxical behaviours and superstitions which tended both to obliterate the meaning of the divine message and to relate to the same overall danger––the gradual dilution of Jewish identity. Thus in the Brantshpigl one finds the following critical comment: Nowadays there are many evil practices to which people have become accustomed. They are arrogant, haughty, and disloyal. Men and women also eat meals together even at banquets, whether they know each other or not. They shout and gossip together without the least shame. When one shouts at the women, they make nothing of it. Especially the young women wear fine outfits with gold, silver, and pearls, as was the custom in times past. They look men directly in the eyes and dance with them. (ch. 1, fol. 7v)7 And because I have seen how people practise improper customs more than we would like and thus weaken their spirits, it saddens me, and thus I have written this book. In so far as they hold to its principles, it will bring about a complete cure for them, and they will become strong so that they can go to their father in Heaven and receive the great reward eternally in the world to come. (ch. 2, fol. 10v)8

One of the most important texts in this regard is the Seyfer simkhas hanefesh, a rhymed poem and veritable annotated catalogue of the vices and deviant behaviours observed in certain Jewish communities of central Europe.9 The author, who was an itinerant preacher and thus a witness of the people’s suffering, gives a detailed account of the spiritual destitution of the masses and of the urgent necessity to reestablish a code of morality and to teach anew the fundamentals of the Jewish tradition. He is incensed to see the basic principles of the religion ignored or broken. As for the mitsvous, the backbone of Jewish ethics, they are quite simply abandoned. The ignorance of the law brought about the profanation of the holidays, and in particular of 7 The Seyfer lev tov (Prague, 1620) remarks in the same manner: ‘Dear readers, here I will explain to you what moved me to write this holy book in Yiddish: it is because I have observed many customs which I do not like. . . . Nowadays, in our generations and in our lands and in our communities, one finds very few people who want to know the correct practices, and each one does as it seems best to him’ (preface, fol. 1v). 8 The authors often employ medical metaphors, comparing the sinful soul to a diseased body and the book to a medication. Thus in this same book (ch. 2, fol. 11v), the author explains: ‘Those who follow what they find in my book and do not become ill, they are called the OYQYDC OYRWMG, which is in Yiddish UKERYG ECNAG [“perfectly just”]. Those who are ill and take medication and are cured are called HBW$T YLEB, which is in Yiddish IREQ RDYWW YD IREH [“penitents”].’ In the midrashic commentary on Pirkei Avot by Anshel Levi, one finds the remarks: ‘The chapters are medicine for the soul, for they consist of nothing but good moral virtues. No desire to sin comes to anyone who reads them. That is the best medicine in the world’ (J. Maitlis, Midrash le-pirkei avot (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1978), 5). 9 This is the second part of the book by Elhanan Hendel ben Benjamin Wolf Kirchhan ˙ (Fürth, 1727). See St. CB, no. 4929. 9. The first part of the book, first published in Frankfurt am Main, 1707, was reprinted in Wilhermsdorf (between 1718 and 1726); Sulzbach, 1717; Fürth, 1726; Prague 1720–30; see St. Serapeum, no. 294; St. CB, no. 4929. 3.

Books of Morality and Conduct


the sabbath. Likewise pilloried are community authorities, such as the melamdim (teachers) and khazonim (cantors), who are characterized as ignorant or greedy, or dayonim (judges) and rabbis, who tended to form an oligarchy in which each held multiple posts and powers.10 Here follow several significant excerpts from the chapter in which this author, clearly adopting a mode of exaggeration designed better to induce repentance, enumerates the vices observed in the Jewish community: I have experienced in yishuvim that old women are unable to keep the commandment of nido properly. When they examine themselves and find a spot of blood, they pay it no attention and say nothing about it. Other women have the mikvous constructed according to their own ideas. No one can be fully immersed in them, for the mikvo is small. When the barrel is full, there is scarcely any water in it. In many yishuvim women and unmarried girls go everywhere without chaperones. They are not concerned with sin, whether minor or major. They declare those things which are prohibited to be permitted. At Peysakh when one must purify the meat, they pronounce the blessing over non-kosher meat. There are also women who drink a great deal of non-kosher wine at weddings and circumcisions. As much as would be required to fill the ritual bath. And they joke and laugh with youths and men; as they act, so do their daughters. In the yishuvim on holy Rosh ha-shono one can see khazonim, ignoramuses, and youths who know nothing of kavono and cannot understand a single word. On Purim they read the blessing to the faithful in a Megilo written on paper. Some construct their own horn mouthpieces which they place on the shoufor. They blow through the mouthpiece just as do trumpeters and those who play forest horns, like the ones used for hunting hares. Most of the time the inhabitants of the yishuvim fulfil the duties of ritual slaughterers, despite the fact that they are completely illiterate. It is rare to meet someone who has a kosher slaughtering knife. They do not remove the spots from the lungs, and they cut them into pieces so as to derive maximum profit from the meat. . . . I met an ignorant person who told a friend that a certain prohibited food was kosher. They both ate it without thinking anything more about it. Thereafter they discovered the error and had to re-kasher the utensils. The same thing happens with khomets and many other things. . . . In the yishuvim there are people who behave like the devil. On the night of the seyder, they eat a lamb or a roasted goat. And in addition they claim that it is necessary to offer a sacrifice for Peysakh. There are likewise many foolish people who say: ‘I wish to bless the suko.’ They eat in their house and only pray ha-moutsi in the suko. They believe that they have done their duty. . . . One can’t begin to report all the ways people behave at weddings. In any case one rarely hears holy words. . . . When a lamdon delivers the sermon, whether it be on an important subject or not, it is like the work of the devil. No holy word may be spoken, for those in attendance will immediately fall asleep or at least become drowsy. Often the people make jokes and noise. The women and young girls let their voices be heard like prostitutes, and do not suffer themselves to be reprimanded, so that it is necessary to stop in the middle of the sermon. When the sermon is over, the impudent 10 One finds a critical depiction of the members of the community council (kohol) and, by contrast, an idealized representation of the authorities of the kehilo in the bilingual moral treatise Sam khayim by Abraham Aptheker Ashkenazi (Prague, 1590); see St. CB, no. 4183 and St. Serapeum, no. 229.


Books of Morality and Conduct

songs begin anew. The crowd rejoices, makes noise, and sings, stamps their feet and claps their hands and jumps on the tables. On the wedding night they make the same racket. In addition, they stay over on the sabbath and Sunday. This is hard for the master of the house who invited the guests to the marriage feast, for the cooks and the servants, for there is not a moment of rest. There is no end to the new calamities that appear. Generally the wedding takes place on the sabbath and, because of this, thousands of sins are committed. . . . In short, weddings in the yishuvim are not ceremonies where one carries out mitsvous, but rather nothing but mockery. In the yishuvim it is thought a burden to house a visitor who is ill: placed on a wagon or a cart, he has to wander from one village to the next. When the sick person is in serious condition, they send him forth, so that often he is found dead on the wagon, and sometimes the cart-driver puts the body out of the wagon and takes his money, so that he is found lying dead in a field. . . . With respect to calls to read the Torah, there is squabbling in the yishuvim. Everyone thinks: ‘I deserve the greatest honour.’ Without taking into account the discord caused by jealousy and other pointless behaviour. When Peysakh comes, each one makes his own eyruv.11 Even in the summer, many of them make a fire in their stoves to warm their food. In the synagogue on the sabbath many chat about non-religious topics or business dealings. They go to the synagogue late and first carry on their foolish chatter, and thus miss the moment of krias-shma and Tfilo.12 The sabbath is begun late and ended early. Khoul ha-moued (half-holidays) are profaned and no one keeps them with honour. People take care of their business and carry on all their transactions, even if they are a source of perdition.13

In numerous prefaces, the authors justify their decision to translate the quintessence of the ethical precepts of the Jewish tradition into Yiddish. First of all, it is a matter of providing access for the ‘ignorant’ to these texts which had up to this point remained inaccessible to them since they lacked a sufficient knowledge of Hebrew. Thus in the Brantshpigl, the author explains how his book can be useful to ordinary Jews: There are many people who cannot always come to listen to the sermons or hear the chastisements and instructions. They do not know how to conduct themselves on all occasions, as pious people should. And even if they come to the synagogue, it is of little use, for they do not understand everything that is preached, for [preachers] use verses of the sidro and add to that from the midroshim and the agodous, the majority of which are in Hebrew. Not everyone can understand. All the more is this the case when they explain the Targum or the Kabolo. Furthermore, they may speak of the mitsvous that women are not obligated to keep. They can only speak of two or three commandments, for they cannot present all of them at once. In this book, on the other hand, one finds all the mitsvous which women are obligated to practise, how they are to behave, how to bear children and educate them and the entire household. (fol. 3rv) 11

Enclosure within which the prohibition of travel during the sabbath is void. Shmoune-esre (eighteen benedictions). 13 The passages are excerpted from a song entitled ‘A song that ought to be sung every day’, from the final chapter of part two of Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (fol. 17r). 12

Books of Morality and Conduct


It is interesting to see that the author not only takes the side of the ignorant but even counts himself in this category of Jews.14 Faced with a kind of abdication of responsibility by scholars, who had lost sight of the obligation to transmit such material, the authors, some of whom were themselves both literate and conscious of the limits and deficiencies of the educational system, identified with their readers and summoned their own knowledge in order better to educate ordinary Jews and combat ignorance by means of the vernacular. These texts thus cast light on certain religious tendencies concealed among the Jewish community’s learned and middle classes that wished for a religious practice closer to their own concerns. The author of the Brantshpigl could thus declare: There are many important people whose little finger is thicker than my body. By that I wish to say that they are much more learned than I and that they know how to teach people. They are more intelligent and more qualified than I, who slumber even when awake. Their speech is pleasing to people; they are well able to speak and find exempla and ethics drawn from the agodous, the midroshim, the Gemoro, and holy books, so that it all enters the ears of the people, and they pay attention and follow their advice. On the other hand, my words are scorned, as King Solomon expressed it: ‘The poor man’s wisdom is despised’ [Ecclesiastes 9: 16]. But I see no one who comes forward and writes a guide and instruction for people like me.15 There are of course various excellent books such as the Sifrey midous u-maalous, the Oureakh khayim, and Minhogim that are translated into Yiddish, so that such people can read them and understand them well. (ch. 2, fol. 9r)16 14 This same identification with the ignorant is found in other books of morals, such as, for example, the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Frankfurt, 1707). In the preface, the author remarks: ‘Do not imagine that I invented anything new, but everything that I say is found in our dear Torah. . . . Also do not imagine that I would wish to punish anyone or that I am the one writing rules and morals that come from my thoughts. I am much too simple for that. I am nothing but an ordinary man (eyn shlekhter man). The task of writing is for me a job (melokho) in which there is very little wisdom. On the other hand, there are all the practices and laws which are found in our holy Torah. Who could be so bad as to not want to respect the Torah?’ 15 Most often it is more a matter of literary convention than strict fact for authors to identify themselves among the ignorant. The writing of books of ethics such as the Brantshpigl required a good knowledge of Hebrew, the holy texts, and the tradition of musor on which they draw constantly. The author had to demonstrate the competence and mastery characteristic of the talmidey khakhomim. 16 In another passage, the author again uses a medical metaphor, in order to criticize haughty and aloof scholars who have neglected their educational duties: ‘I see that many many people are ill in their souls and that there are many intelligent people who know many things and could counsel the people and help them to become healthy. But they do not do it, but they let them do what they want and what they like to do. Or perhaps the people do not want to be healed. They also refuse to reveal their illness, and the doctor does not recognize the disease and thus cannot provide a remedy. It is the same with the holy books which contain many remedies; but they are in Hebrew, so that the women, and men such as I, cannot understand them. That is why I want to write this book with the remedies in Yiddish, quite clearly so that the book can be read and easily understood. And one cannot forget it. And if someone should not be able to read it, he should have it read aloud [IAYYL RYWB½ VYZ IM U$AL AD IAQ IAYYL UYN $NYYA IEWW 'NWA]’ (ch. 2, fol. 11rv).


Books of Morality and Conduct

One notes likewise a desire to restore a lost dignity to the ignorant, who were often stigmatized as inferior or crude creatures. The authors of numerous musor sforim had as their clear goal to lead the illiterati out from the indignity in which they had in spite of themselves been confined by the system of education and the mode of study characteristic of Jewish society. The faith of the ignorant was no less strong, and they too would attain the blessings of the world to come by means of studying the holy books in Yiddish and leading their lives according to the laws of Judaism. The musor sforim thus establish a new approach to the holy texts which attempted to reduce as far as possible the distance that separated the ordinary Jew from the sacred tradition. Here the vernacular remained the essential means of this new religious communication, not only because to a large extent it showed itself to be as capable of transmitting the precepts of Judaism as was Hebrew, but also because it made the divine word available to everyone without exception. Thus one finds in the Brantshpigl the important comment: *A scholar has written that everyone can attain to the truth, even if he is inferior [in education]. He adds this parable: when an inferior being has a beautiful pearl in his hand, the pearl and the poor man can only have more value as a result. . . . There is no shame in requiring that one keep the mitsvous and show derekh erets [‘civility’17] even to someone who is uneducated.

It then appears natural that, leaving aside all speculation that is too philosophical, this group of books restores the faith on a practical level, for their making the teachings of the Law accessible to the masses of the faithful strengthens religious practice in a concrete manner. Hearing the Torah in one’s mother tongue became the first condition of observing the commandments.18 Two parallel means of access to the sacred tradition seemed to exist: to the speculative approach of the educated, confined to the circle of the lettered elite who were experienced in dialectic and talmudic casuistic, there was added a more didactic and less sophistical access that focused on praxis and the personal responsibility of the subject himself. The musor sforim simultaneously insist on the importance of daily, strict observance, but also on the prophylactic role of holy reading: reading a book of moral teachings became a quasi-religious act which, like prayer and study, prevented transgression and cleansed one of moral blemishes. In the Brantshpigl, the author justifies the title of his work, ‘the burning mirror’, thus: When a man’s body is dirty, he washes it everywhere he can see. But he cannot see his face. Thus he takes a mirror in order to see where he is dirty and wash it off. It is the 17

Literally ‘the way of the land’; on this concept see below, in this chapter. Some musor sforim deal individually with the 613 commandments which each pious Jew is obligated to keep; among them the Taryag mitsvous and Pekudey ha-shem by Zadok ben Asher Wahl (Amsterdam, 1690; see St. CB, no. 7405. 1; Fuks and Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography, vol. ii, no. 508), the Seyfer meytsiyas Azaryo by Menahem Azaria Kohen ben Arye Judah Loeb ˙ (Amsterdam, 1727; see St. CB, no. 6352. 2), and the Meiras eynayim (Fürth, 1730). 18

Books of Morality and Conduct


same when the soul is soiled by sin and error, so that it is prevented from regaining the place whence it has been taken.19 Then it is necessary to wash it by means of repentance [tshuvo] and good deeds [maasim touvim]. Then the soul will become light so that it can go up to its Father in heaven. But if the man cannot wash himself if he has been soiled, because he is not well educated, as is sometimes the case with people, especially women, then one should take a mirror so that he can see himself in it, to see if his soul is soiled. . . . I have called this book the Burning Mirror so that people will buy it in order to look at themselves in it and wash their souls if they are soiled. And if the soul is made pure by good deeds, then it will arrive in the other world purified and he will joyfully take a position of honour alongside other just souls, male and female, and receive the reward that has been held for them there since the creation of the world. The soul will be nourished in great joy by the light and clarity of the holy shekhino in the infinite world which will exist eternally. (preface, fol. 2v)20

This text also shows that books of morality are intended primarily for women as reading material for ouneg shabos, as indicated in another passage: ‘Thus I have decided and held to be useful to write down in a book punishments and instructions, so that a woman can read it or have it read aloud, and thus she might know everything that she ought to do’ (ch. 1, fol. 5v).21 19 This alludes to the belief in the guf and in the idea that each soul has a predestined place in gan eydn (‘paradise’). 20 The title, ‘Burning Mirror’, is taken from the tradition of ‘mirrors’, ethical works written in the German lands during the Middle Ages. On the term Spiegel, see the Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms (Stuttgart: Hirzel, 1857; rpt. Munich: Dentsche Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999), vol. ix, col. 2236, which refers to the Fürstenspiegel, Ritterspiegel, Zuchtspiegel, and Brandtspiegel. See Sassona Dachlika, ‘ “Brantspigel”: Ethik im alten Aschkenas’, Jüdischer Almanach 1995 (1994), 60–8; Sigrid Riedel, ed., Moses Henochs Altschul-Jeruschalmi ‘Brantspigel’: Transkribiert und ediert nach der Erstausgabe, Krakau, 1596 (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1993). In Old Yiddish literature, there are other such ‘mirrors’ found as well, such as the Tsukhtshpigl or Mare musor by Seligman Ulma Günzburger, noted above; the Kleyn brantshpigl or Seyfer mishley khakhomim (Venice, 1566), a verse anthology of stories and talmudic maxims adapted into Yiddish by Judah ben Israel Regensburg from the collection of Judah b. Solomon (Al-) Harizi (eleventh-twelfth centuries), Sefer nikra tahkemoni (Seyfer nikro takhkemouni) (Con˙ ˙ stantinople, 1579). See Erik, Geshikhte, 316–17 (St. CB, no. 5700. 6–9); Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 16. Let us also note the tradition of the vantshpigl, the pages hung on walls in Jewish houses on which were printed calendars or maxims or ethical advice, e.g. the Mare lehiskashet bou by Elhanan (Yentels) b. Issachar Katz (Dyhernfurt, 1693). In the Seyfer shney ˙ lukhous ha-bris ((1575; editio princeps Amsterdam, 1649; here cited from 1698 edn., fol 242r) by Isaiah b. Abraham ha-Levi Horowitz, abridged by Jehiel (Michael) Epstein b. Abraham, Seyfer kitsur shnei lukhous ha-bris (Fürth, 1693); Yiddish transl. of abridgement, Eyts khayim (Frankfurt, 1720)), there is the following reference: ‘The mitsvous on which the Torah comments “remember” are mitsvous for each day. For that reason, one should write them down on a page so that they will be in front of a person to remind him constantly, day-by-day.’ On this topic, see St. CB, no. 4931. 3; and Jacob Rader Marcus, ‘Etishe vantshpiglen’, Yivo-bleter 21 (1943), 201–14. 21 The text reads: IAYYL RYWB½ $K½YZ U$WL RDWA, which means to have it read aloud before others, especially for those who cannot read themselves. In the introduction, the author comments: ‘In the treatise Shabos, it is stated that one should not look in the mirror on the sabbath. . . . But one may look in the Burning Mirror on the sabbath to adorn oneself before the Holy One, blessed be He, who has sanctified the sabbath so that one can rest and so that one can study the Torah’ (fol. 3r).


Books of Morality and Conduct

Taking into account the deficiencies that appear in the spiritual direction and in the daily practice of the Jewish masses, the essence of the musor sforim concerns the repertoire of errors and sins and the acquisition of ethical virtues drawn from the fundamental texts of the Jewish tradition. One of the most representative works of the purely ethical vein that aims at teaching conduct and at methodical instruction in moral virtue is the Seyfer midous (published by Paulus Fagius in Isny, 1542).22 This work is an abridged version of an anonymous Hebrew text, the Orkhous tsadikim, written during the fifteenth century in Germany and published in Prague in 1580–1.23 This edition has misled some into believing that the Yiddish version was the original and that it was later translated into Hebrew.24 There are, however, Hebrew manuscripts that antedate the earliest Yiddish printing which refute that interpretation: the original version was in fact written in Hebrew and then translated into Yiddish.25 On the other hand, in chapter 26, which is devoted to repentance, one finds a remark that indicates that the book is based on an earlier text: ‘the little that is found here does not come from Seyfer midous. It was taken from another book and copied in this passage. . . . Thereafter, the text is again drawn from Seyfer midous.’26 Its composition was attributed to Yom Tov Lipmann Muelhausen, the philosopher, moralist, polemicist, cabbalist, and Chief Rabbi of Bohemia.27 This hypothesis seems nonetheless unfounded.28 Other scholars have understood the anonymity of this text in the context of the work of the Jewish pietists of the medieval Rhineland (hasidei ashkenaz) and to their Sefer hassidim (seyfer khasidim) whose influ˙ ˙ ence on the Orkhous tsadikim is clearly pervasive, as attested both by the numerous references to that work and by the similar orientation of the two texts: they both insist on the practical repercussions of keeping the mitsvous. According to the German-Jewish pietists of the Middle Ages, the author of a 22

St. CB, nos. 3412–22; Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens, 223–6; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 170; Erik, Geshikhte, 279. A second edition of the work was published in Cracow, 1582. See Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 13. The book was also printed in Italy, as the Mantuan censor list suggests; see Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish’, nos. 172 and 314; EYT 43. 23 See St, CB, nos. 3412–22; English trans.: Seymour J. Cohen, The Ways of the Righteous = Orhot Zaddikim (New York and Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1974; rpt. New York: Ktav, 1982). The Orkhous tsadikim, quite a popular work, was reprinted twenty-five times in four centuries. 24 This was, notably, the opinion of Steinschneider, St. CB, nos. 521–2. He later changed his opinion; see St. Serapeum 30, no. 135; Zedner, Catalogue of the Hebrew Books in . . . the British Museum, 623; Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis usifruso, 86–8; Ben-Yacob, Otsar ha-sefarim, 51; Perles, Beiträge, 175–7; Güdemann, Geshichte des Erziehungswesens, vol. iii, ch. 6. 25 On this topic, see Israel Zinberg, ‘Oys der alt-yidisher literatur’, Filologishe shriftn 3 (1929), 173–84 (on a manuscript in St. Petersburg); Erik, Geshikhte, 273–4 (on a manuscript in Hamburg). 26 See Seyfer midous, ch. 26, fols. 91–92r; see also ch. 25, fol. 77r (on gossip). 27 See Yehudah Kaufmann, R’ Yom Tov Lipman Mihlhoyzn: ba’al ha-nizahon ha-hoker ˙ ˙ ˙ veha-mekubal (diss. Dropsie, 1919; (New York: ‘Trio’, 1927). 28 See Yitskhok Shiper, Kultur-geshikhte fun di yidn in poyln beyzn mitlalter (Warsaw: Kultur lige, 1926), 75–7; Erik, Geshikhte, 279–80.

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book ought to remain anonymous, not only in order to avoid all vanity, but also so that his descendants not be able to gain advantage and glory from the composition by one of their ancestors.29 The Seyfer midous is divided into chapters designated as ‘ladders’ or ‘measures’ (midous) or ‘gates’ (sheorim). Each is devoted to the examination of a vice or cardinal virtue. The structure of the text, based on the opposition of the antithetical pairs of virtues and faults, draws on a long tradition of books of morality, both Jewish and Christian. The affinity of these texts with The Spiritual Ladder should be noted; the latter is a work that describes in metaphorical fashion the relative station or degree of each creature, the ascension of the soul to God and the progress of religious life;30 or The Ladder of Virtues, which depicts the degrees of the faith and of virtues up to the point of accession to the divine realm. But it is certainly with Jewish ethical literature that the Seyfer midous shares the most common features. In its structure the work is based on numerous classical musor texts with which it has obvious similarities, in particular with the Sefer emunot ve-deot (Seyfer emunous ve-deous) of Saadia (b. Joseph) Gaon (ninth–tenth centuries).31 In Book X of this philosophical treatise, the author reflects on the manner in which man should conduct his daily life in order to be in accord with divine principles. God conceived of the world as a harmony of contrary principles. One must find an equilibrium among the various antagonistic desires which inhabit the world so that no one of them ever becomes dominant. Wisdom, with the support of reason, thus consists of the attainment of an inner harmony. It can be taken away by one of the passions that, conversely, leads along the path of immorality. Saadia Gaon explains that human beings were created with thirteen impulses or propensities, none of which may be allowed to dominate, without the human falling into evil.32 It is necessary, however, to try and preserve a harmony based on moderation and balance among the thirteen human attributes, a precondition of inner peace. Each of the parts of the book tends to demonstrate the negative effects of a focus on a single one of the attributes, which leads to evil, to the submission to desire, and to sorrow. The Seyfer midous resembles another ethical text, as well: the Sefer tikun 29

See Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid, Sefer Hasidim; Gourévitch, Le Guide des hassidim, 307. ˙ ˙ See the article by E. Bertrand and A. Rayez, ‘Échelle spirituelle’, Dictionnaire de spiritualité, iv (Paris: Beauchesne, 1960), coll. 62–86. 31 See Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions / Saadia Gaon, transl. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948); Moïse Ventura, La Philosophie de Saadia Gaon (Paris: J. Vrin, 1934); Colette Sirat, La Philosophie juive au Moyen Âge (Paris: CNRS, 1983), 48– 50. 32 These impulses are, notably, isolation from the world, as opposed to a moral life in the company of other people; gluttony as opposed to temperance; sexual debauchery as opposed to decency; passionate attachment to a human being as opposed to divine love; the love of money as opposed to charity; the possession of goods as opposed to good deeds; power, authority, and vengeance as opposed to modesty and humility; idleness as opposed to work. 30


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midot ha-nefesh (Seyfer tikun midous ha-nefesh) ‘restoration of the virtues of the soul’, by Solomon b. Judah ibn Gabirol (eleventh century; published in Constantinople, 1500).33 For the philosopher, human attitudes derive from the harmony of the physical principles inherent in each individual. The twenty qualities which one finds in each human depend on the harmonious combination of the four elements or constituent components which form the basis of the body and of physical life according to the doctrine of the Graeco-Roman physicians of antiquity. Ibn Gabirol based his work on the antithetical opposition between diverse pairs of good and bad qualities, which in humans result from their physical constitution and the domination of one or another humour. Any given person’s moral condition is the consequence of a balanced harmony among the various physical qualities. On the other hand, the faults and vices follow from a disorganizing predominance of one of the physical qualities, to the extent that it disturbs the balance of the entire human design. Quite a similar structure of argument is found both in the ethical work of Jehiel b. Jekuthiel of Rome, Sefer maalot ha-midot ˙ (Seyfer maalous ha-midous) (Cremona, 1556), which was also based on the idea of the spiritual ascent of the soul that traverses the vices and the virtues until it reaches a state of moral perfection,34 and in Bahya ibn Pakuda’s, ˙ was also based Kita¯b al-hida¯ja ‘ila¯ fara¯’id al-qulu¯b (eleventh century), which ˙ on the ten gates, each of which represents one of the virtues.35 Arranged according to an order identical to that of many other musor sforim, the Seyfer midous is made up of the following chapters in which the respective cardinal virtues and vices are examined in turn: (1) pride, (2) humility and kindness, (3) shame and contempt, (4) insolence, (5) love, (6) hate, (7) mercy and compassion, (8) cruelty and violence, (9) joy, (10) sadness and 33 See R. Solomon ibn Gabirol, ‘Sefer tikun midot ha-nefesh’, in Sefer Mekor hayyim (Tel ˙ Aviv: Mosad Harav Kook, 1960–1); Salomon Munk, Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe (Paris: A. Franck, 1859; rpt. Paris: J. Vrin, 1927; rpt. 1955; New York: Arno, 1980). Like the Seyfer midous, the work by Ibn Gabirol deals with the following antithetical pairs, among other things: pride and humility, arrogance and lack of affectation, love and hate, mercy and cruelty, joy and sadness, serenity and remorse, anger and good judgement. 34 See the modern edition: Jehiel ben Jekuthiel of Rome, Maalot ha-midot (Jerusalem: Lewin˙ Epstein, 1955). Like the Seyfer midous, this work was divided into antithetical moral notions: fear and love of God vs. sacrilege; respect vs. disrespect of parents; observance vs. transgression of divine commandments; charity and good deeds vs. egoism; lack of affectedness vs. pride; modesty vs. arrogance; mercy vs. cruelty; reason vs. rage; the propensity for doing good vs. evil; peacefulness vs. squabbling; gossiping vs. respect; etc. 35 Hebrew translation by Judah ibn Tibbon, Sefer hovot ha-levavot (Seyfer khouvous ha˙ levovous) (1161; publ. Naples, 1489). This classic of the ethical tradition was translated into Yiddish (Sulzbach, 1698; see Fürst, Bibliotheca judaica, iii (Leipzig, 1863), 490; by Isaac b. Moses Schwerin, Amsterdam, 1716; Amsterdam, 1768 (on these two editions, published by Salomon Proops, see Wolf, BH iii, nos. 375 and 1241c; Fürst, Bibliotheca judaica, i (1849), 78); English: Mose Hyamson, transl., Duties of the Heart of Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda. Translated from the Arabic into Hebrew by Jehuda ibn Tibbon, 5 vols. (New York: Bloch, 1925–47; rpt. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Boys Town Jerusalem, 1965).

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sorrow, (11) calmness and serenity, (12) rage and fits of temper, (13) reason and will, (14) jealousy and envy, (15) enthusiasm, (16) idleness, (17) nobility and high-mindedness, (18) greed and cowardice, (19) memory, (20) forgetfulness, (21) silence, (22) lying, (23) truth, (24) hypocrisy, (25) slander, (26) repentance, (27) Torah. According to the controlling idea of this work, the soul is directly affected by human action. Although the effects of holding to moral principles might not necessarily be visible to humans, they are so to God who keeps an accounting of merits and faults. Moreover, retribution will come in the next world. Punishment and reward are then distinguished, which can explain the suffering of some good people on earth and the illusory happiness and prosperity of sinners, as a kind of testing before the ‘eternal reward’. Just conduct by people in this world, regulated by moderation, wisdom, and the control of the instincts, is thus no more than a preparation for eternal life in Paradise. Thence the importance of knowing the difference between good and evil deeds is clear, so that one can enter on the ‘straight path’ and not err into the darkness of sin; thence also the unceasing opposition between, on the one hand, the wise man, a moral model who leads his life according to the teachings of the Torah and in whom the yetser ha-tov ‘the impulse to do good’ dominates, and, on the other hand, the sinner who allows himself to be carried away by his destructive passions such as rage, cruelty, and sadness. A passage from the second chapter of the Seyfer midous that focuses on humility clearly illustrates the manner in which the text is composed, by turns ethical advice, principles directed toward asceticism and reflections on daily life, the whole based on citations and references drawn from holy sources: The second gate is called ‘the quality of humility’. This is a very great quality, for whoever has humility protects his body from all evils, and his deeds are pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He. For a small mitsvo performed by a humble person is a thousand times superior to a great mitsvo performed by a prideful person. As our sages have said, many people do very little and even so receive great reward, if only they do it for the glory of God. On the other hand, the deeds of a person who is full of pride displeases the Holy One, blessed be He, and are without value, as the verse says: ‘God detests the heart full of pride.’ Even if he calls to God in his distress, He does not help him, and the Holy One, blessed be He, does not want his mitsvous. But what is humility, after all? It is the submission and humbling of the body, and thus is the one who makes himself small and humble and is always shamed in his own eyes and is virtuous, and has a heart that is humble and full of mercy and has a soft heart and a humbled spirit. The basis of humility consists of being submissive to the Holy One, blessed be He. (fol. 13v)

The moral lesson leads to advice on practical life based on models of behaviour applicable to all circumstances of life and which characterize the virtuous and humble person: It is not surprising that a person would be humble before rich people or those who are useful to him. But the truly humble person is one who is humble before those who


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are beneath him and have need of him, such as the members of his household, his male or female servant, who depend on him for their food, just as if they were destitute. And, by the same token, before people for whom he has no need; and he is humble before orphans and widows and takes pains to help them. And before someone who accuses him of his wrongdoings, and he listens and suffers it humbly and keeps silent––that is true humility. Or a person who displays humility before a scholar [talmid khokhom], in thinking that these are the servants of God, and thus I will be humble before them and honour them. Then they will perhaps teach me and draw me into the service of God. It is true humility when a person is humble before his own students, and he should nicely and gently explain to them what they do not understand. He ought to repeat things as many times as is necessary for them to understand. However, he ought never to say, woe is me, they are going to drive me crazy. They are as hard-hearted as a stone. (fol. 14r)

The ethical texts made ample use of tales, exempla, parables, and allegories drawn from post-biblical literature such as the Talmud, the midroshim, and the medieval commentaries. Edifying narrative made it possible to adduce a moral precept at the same time that it provided a full array of models of action and virtuous conduct inspired by the sages of the holy tradition. Thus following the definition of the humble scholar, a talmudic story is cited in order to reinforce the significance of the ethical lesson: We find in the Gemoro a scholar who was called Rabbi Perida who explained the literal sense [pshat] of a verse to a student four hundred times. It is also necessary to be humble and learn from everyone, including those who are inferior and vile. . . . Thus, dear children, shake yourselves awake and tear yourselves away from all pride. (fols. 14r, 17r)

Numerous chapters are based on taxonomies of virtues and vices that are defined according to their particularities and classed by order of their intensity. Thus a grammar of sentiments and human behaviour emerges, covering the spectrum from perfect goodness to evil itself. Each type of behaviour is no more than a realization of these categories which encompass the totality of human comportment. Thus in chapter 5, which treats love, the author first of all draws up an inventory of the negative aspects of the topic: The fifth gate is the quality of love, which is divided into multiple parts whose number is greater than that of other qualities. When someone loves the Holy One, blessed be He, and all his love is turned to Him, there is no better love or virtue, as it is said in the verse: ‘You ought to love God, your God, blessed be He.’ There is no greater thing than a person who serves God because of love. On the other hand, there is no worse quality and no worse thing than love that is focused on evil. For there are seven kinds of love, each distinct from the others. The first type of love occurs when someone loves his children too much and allows them their mischief, such that he does not raise them properly and does not punish them. Great misfortune comes from this. The second kind of love occurs when someone loves money. He does not himself treat other people justly. He cheats however he can in his loans and gifts. He does not offer charity and is envious. The third type of love occurs when someone loves women. This is a

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purely evil love, for if one has a bad wife, she forces him to turn away from the Torah and the mitsvous and to do as she does, because he loves her so, and thus he does not oppose her. Furthermore, when someone loves women so much, he then also looks at other women [besides his wife], and speaks foolishness with them, so that in the end, evil things come about. The fourth kind of love occurs when someone loves his circle of acquaintances. . . . But this love can make him blind and cause much misfortune with them because of his exaggerated esteem for those near to him. . . . The fifth kind of love is that someone loves life. For this reason he refuses to die for the sanctification of the divine Name [kidush ha-shem]. . . . The sixth kind of love is that someone loves honour, so that he is held in high esteem and receives great honour. But someone who seeks honour in this way does not perform all his works for the glory of God. Thus, when he performs a mitsvo, whether study or other good deeds or charity, he is looking only for praise, glory and honour. . . . The seventh kind of love is the love of earthly pleasures such as food, drink, fine clothing, playing games, engaging in debauchery, and other amusements. This is the worst kind of love of them all. (fols. 21r–22r)

After having drawn up the list of the disadvantages of the seven forms of love, the author shows their positive aspects. The work draws to a close via two gates as the destination of this inner journey: first, the gate of repentance, the remedy for all temptation and human error, in which the author codifies the various types of repentance and enumerates the acts of penance (each one of which corresponds to a specific transgression), intended to purify the soul. The Seyfer midous concludes with the gate of the Torah which insists on the absolute necessity of study, one of the most essential mitsvous for attaining moral perfection. The book is then compared to an instrument like an artisan’s tool (klei umonus), which one should keep close at all times and read every day, in order to prepare the reader for good deeds, to combat evil and strengthen his faith.36 In the books of morals, the religious dimension is extended to include social and even political considerations: a codification of the rules of life in society and the acquisition of civil virtues are formulated in ethical terms. The goal is to halt violence, to keep a check on disorder and to police social relations within the community. Thus the musor sforim participate, albeit to a modest degree, in controlling Jewish society by means of social conditioning that grew out of patterns of conduct and custom. The purpose here was, by means of popular books in Yiddish, to bring about an adjustment within a Jewish populace that had been too much left to itself, which would result in the institution of a more stable social order and in an attempt to make 36 The author thus makes use of the metaphor of the book/tool: ‘Every person should have the Seyfer midous with him, read it and study it every day, and should study it with his children also. This holy book should be thought of as a craftsman’s tool, for a craftsman––whatever his speciality––who does not keep his tools with him, cannot properly carry out his craft and demonstrate his skill. Therefore, dear children, consider this Seyfer midous as a tool in your hands with which you can construct your virtues’ (preface, fol. 6rv).


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relations with the surrounding culture more peaceful. The danger of community disintegration could only be combated by giving each Jew a clear sense of belonging to a coherent whole and in imposing obedience to a communal law. Among these ethical guides intended to inculcate normative social conduct and to combat deviance and vices, the most widespread remained the Seyfer brantshpigl (Basel, 1602) and the Seyfer lev tov (Prague, 1620). In contrast to the purely ethical books, these two works distinguished themselves by offering religious and edifying instruction, all with the purpose of instituting models of civilized social conduct.37 Of course the wealth of references to classical texts of the sacred tradition, which made it possible to address issues having to do with norms of behaviour, reminds one––if that were necessary––that above all these texts had a religious aim: every instance of disorderliness in conduct is perceived as a direct offence against God. To sin is, in a certain sense, to repudiate God. However, these texts bear witness to a change in private life, for they bring together for the first time in the vernacular what Philippe Ariès has appropriately called ‘a customary code of behaviour’.38 Thus these musor sforim belong to the tradition of books of civility which were widespread throughout Europe during the Renaissance period and whose purpose was ‘to subdue spontaneity and disorderliness, to assure an adequate and comprehensible expression of the hierarchy of the social classes and to root out the violence that rent society’.39 The accent is placed on the norms of conduct that prevailed in community life, the rules of courtesy, and of etiquette, and the models of behaviour applicable in the primary situations of daily life. Included as well were the necessary injunctions concerning the sholoum bayis ‘domestic tranquility’, as well as a 37

The title page of the Seyfer lev tov (Prague, 1620) explicitly states: ‘All of you, men and women, and all who were made by the Creator and who want to build this world and the world to come, come, all of you, to admire this splendid book. I swear that it will increase no one’s regrets. Whoever reads through it will find there all of yidishkayt in its breadth and depth, quite comprehensible and well explained, divided into twenty chapters.’ The book also addresses moral issues (on charity, propriety, and decency), as well as social problems associated with the education of children, study, behaviour in religious life, the household, and the life of a Jewish couple. The text proposes a code of good social conduct within the community and in relations with the coterritorial Christian society. 38 ‘Un code coutumier de comportements’; in Philippe Ariès, ed., La civilité puérile / Érasme (Paris: Éditions Ramsay, 1977), pp. vii–xix. 39 ‘De soumettre les spontanéités et les désordres, d’assurer une traduction adéquate et lisible de la hiérarchie des états et de déraciner les violences qui déchiraient l’espace social’ (ibid.). The term ‘civility’ took its sense in the period 1525–50, in particular from Erasmus. It designated the manner of proper behaviour in society, based on social virtue. ‘Civility’ is defined, principally, by urbanity, courtesy, bodily posture, language and decorum, habits of clothing, and refinement of manners. See Roger Chartier, ‘Distinction et divulgation: la civilité et ses livres’, Lectures et lecteurs dans la France d’Ancien Régime (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1987), 45; one might also refer to the classic study by Norbert Elias, Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation. Soziogenetische und psychogenetische Untersuchungen, 2 vols. (Basel: Haus zum Falken, 1939; rpt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997).

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peaceful coexistence with neighbours and the Jewish and non-Jewish authorities. The society that emerges from the musor sforim presents an image of an array of forces in which people are constantly compelled toward aggression, violence, and sometimes extreme outbursts. The social order which can be oppressive in the community, the promiscuity and poverty that dominate the streets and the Jewish quarter, cannot but drive some inhabitants to unstable or deviant behaviour and to outbursts of aggression. The authors of the books of morality seem aware that all of Jewish society can be put in danger by too great a submission to ‘nature’, an unleashing of the emotions or the domination of the yetser ho-ro ‘the impulse to do evil’. There are so many dangers that threaten to undermine the authority of the Law. The acquisition of disciplinary norms are thus viewed as necessary for controlling behaviours that serve as the basis of competition and conflict. Many of these texts revolve around a key concept: respect for derekh erets. This term designates simultaneously the mode of life in society, including habits, etiquette, propriety, and the conventions and rules which regulate social and professional occupations; a final sense euphemistically denotes marital relations.40 It is clear that one of the sources of these texts is the text Derekh erets, which deals with social rules and provides models of action similar to those presented in the musor sforim. But it is not simply a matter of a vernacularization of the ethical texts of the sacred tradition. The Yiddish texts have as their goal to deal directly with the problems with which Jewish communities were confronted in modern Europe. Their broad distribution during a period of time that, all things considered, was quite brief, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, demonstrates that they aimed to improve the morals of the people in a period when Jewish society was clearly quite fragile. One of the particularities of the Yiddish moral texts is that some were published primarily for a female audience.41 The earliest example of this 40

A passage of Pirkei Avot makes clear this sense of the term: VRD OE HRWT DWMLT HPY ‘It is good to study the Torah along with practising an occupation, for taking pains with them both puts sin out of mind’ (Avot 2. 2). Study cannot be sufficient by itself, but must be accompanied by a professional and socially harmonious life. The underlying idea is, according to the talmudic adage, that ‘anyone in whom people find pleasure, God also finds pleasure’ (Avot 3. 10). Social behaviour based on moderation and measure has a direct effect on cosmic harmony and the world of the divine. There is a constant interaction between the human and divine spheres. On this notion, see ‘Derekh erets’, Enzyklopedia ˙ talmudit, vii (Jerusalem: Talmudic Encyclopedia Publishing, 1956), col. 672; Wilhelm Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditionsliteratur, 2 vols. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1889–1905), i. 25; ii. 40–1; Shmuel Safrai, ‘Muvano shel ha-munah derekh-erez’, Tarbiz 60 ˙ ˙ (1991), 147–62. 41 Despite the fact that, according to the prefaces, the books were addressed to women as well as uneducated men, some of the books deal more specifically with the practices and customs that Jewish women are to keep. This is the case with the Shtern-shuts (Amsterdam, 1695), which, with the goal of inculcating norms of virtuous conduct, criticizes in particular the pride and frivolity of some women. Let us also note the Meyshiv kheymo (Frankfurt am Main, 1715) by Isaac



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tradition is the Seyder noshim or Seyder mitsvous ha-noshim which existed in multiple versions in both manuscript and printed form.42 The text recapitulates the commandments which each Jewish woman must keep and in particular the three principal precepts, namely, khalo, nido, and hadlokas ha-neyr.43 Compared to the Hebrew tradition, in which these diverse rules are found in a multitude of sacred texts, particularly in the Talmud and the medieval commentaries, the originality of these Yiddish books lies in presenting in a condensed form the essence of observance that each Jewish woman must follow. A rabbinical decision of Jacob b. Moses Halevi Segal Moellin (Maharil) dating from the fifteenth century mentions––in order to condemn it––the idea of compiling and making public a collection of laws and practices for Jewish women written in the vernacular: I am compelled to say, my dear and esteemed R. Hayim that I was quite astonished ˙ that you could have the idea of composing a book in Yiddish (loshoun ashkenaz) as you have considered doing. We already regret those which have preceded it, for every ordinary Jew who can read the commentary of Rashi on the Torah or a makhzour . . . ought to be able to look into the works of the great rabbis such as Shaarey Dura44 . . . and comprehend the practical legal rules of these works. . . . Now you would like to add to these writings and reveal new things to us and to disseminate among the Zoreph b. Berl, a bilingual text whose Yiddish part is entitled Minhogey eyshes khayil, ‘The Customs of the Woman of Valour’. 42 See Agnes Romer-Segal, ‘Yiddish Works on Women’s Commandments in the Sixteenth Century’, in Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore, Research Projects of the Institute for Jewish Studies, Monograph Series 7 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1986), 37–59. On the language of the Seyder noshim, see Goldwasser, ‘Azhoras noshim’, Salmen Schocken, ‘Zu den Abbildungen’, in Almanach des Schocken Verlags auf das Jahr 5695 (Berlin: Schocken, 1934–5), 129–33. There are five extant manuscripts of the Mitsvous ha-noshim: Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, add. 547 (1504); Oxford, Bodleian Library, Can. Or. 12 (1553), Neubauer 1217; Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Jud.-germ 2 (1575), which includes two differing versions; Oxford, Bodleian, Opp. 307 (late 16th century), Neubauer 812; see Romer-Segal, ibid., 53–4. Romer-Segal also reviews eleven editions of the Mitsvous ha-noshim (pp. 54–5): (1) Cracow, 1535, published by David (ha-)Cohen at the printers Samuel and Eliakim Helicz. This is one of the oldest known printed Yiddish books; see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 2. (2) Cracow, 1541; according to the Mantuan censor list of 1595; see Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 6. (3) Cracow, 1577, printed by Benjamin Aaron Slonik; see St. CB, no. 4543. 3; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 10. (4–5) Cracow, 1585 (repr. of the edition of 1577) and 1595; St. CB, no. 4543. 4; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 18. (6–7) Venice, 1552 (based on the Cambridge manuscript) and 1588; St. CB, no. 3949; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 8. (8) Basel, 1602 (repr. of the edition 1577); St. CB, no. 4543. 5; J. Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke, no. 177. (9) Hanau, 1627 (repr. of the edition 1602); St. CB, no. 4543. 6. (10) Prague, 1629; St. CB, no. 4543. 6; second edition 1705. (11) Dessau, 1699 (based on the 1577 edition); St, CB, no. 4543. 7. 43 These three precepts are designated Khano (the mother of Samuel), an acrostic composed of the first letters of the Hebrew words khalo (the taking of dough), nido (ritual purity), and hadlokas ha-neyr (the lighting of candles). On this subject, see M Shab 2. 6. 44 A halakhic text by Isaac ben Meir Düren (thirteenth century) which treats dietary laws and rules of feminine ritual purity. The first printed edition of the text was Cracow, 1534.

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ignorant and women fickle things with a view to instructing them, on the basis of your book in Yiddish, about things having to do with nido.45

The text indicates the rabbinical opposition to all popularization of the halokho as a source of possible deviance and heretical practices, for the authorities objected to the possibility that ordinary Jews would make halakhic decisions based on this type of text in the vernacular. Only a rabbi had the authority to provide responsa, based on Hebrew sources, to halakhic questions that ordinary Jews could pose to him. Nevertheless, it became progressively more obvious that there was a need for this kind of popular work, which became one of the most effective means of teaching and transmitting the commandments and the fundamentals of the Jewish tradition. Despite a certain reluctance to render the fundamentals of Jewish law into the vernacular, the authors, who were educated and experts in the Law but likewise conscious of the spiritual deficiencies of the Jewish populace, therefore set about writing texts intended for Jewish women that were to become quite widespread throughout the Jewish communities of Europe. The introduction to the Basel 1602 edition clearly indicates the tone of this text in which moralizing injunction alternates with practical advice on what constitutes perfect conduct, and kindly advice, full of respect and compassion, addressed to Jewish wives and mothers: Let us praise God, for he is worthy of praise. He rules in this world and in the heavenly world, and he sustains all his creatures. We have conceived of a nice little book for women for the adornment of their bodies and the ornament of their souls. These are not songs or stories, but rather here one speaks only about the belief in God, so that each woman may know what to do and what to avoid; what she must do, and what must be tempered. It is not possible to publish enough books which teach the punishments, for no one knows when his time on earth will be up. Thus this little book will show you the right path. Therefore, dear, pious women, do not be lazy. You ought absolutely to read this book and maintain your honour. It is based on the tradition. Don’t pinch any of your pennies in this case, for you will learn the basis and the reward for performing the mitsvous, in particular khalo, nido, hadloko, and how one should practise charity. It has not been one person alone who has conceived or imagined this little book in his head, but it has been compiled on the basis of all sorts of holy books with the authorization of rabbis, so that we make no mistakes, and that, God preserve us from it, we offer no faulty advice. It can happen, for example, that one might know a young married woman who was ignorant of the rules concerning khalo or of her menstrual cycle, even though her life depends on it, for she could sin and bring harm to her children. For the regulations concerning nido are very 45 See Romer-Segal, ‘Yiddish Works on Women’s Commandments’, 39. The text is taken from She’elot u-teshuvot Maharil ha-hadashot, ed. Yitskhok Satz (Jerusalem: Machon Yerusha˙ layim, 1977), 92–3. On the basis of the Mantua censor’s list of 1595, which, as noted above, lists an edition of the Seyder mitsvous ha-noshim, it is clear that this book is to be reckoned among the most widespread of Yiddish books. See Romer-Segal, ‘Sifrut yidish u-kehal koreha ba-meah ha-taz’, 785–6.


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complicated. Just as one might spoil a garment by means of a small tear, just so one can corrupt one’s body because of small detail, so that the soul suffers great punishments. A man can also profit from this book. Since some women cannot read, they often make mistakes. In such cases, the husband ought to guide them, so that they do everything as it should be done, and not lose both worlds on account of their sins, and that they not follow the yetser ho-ro [‘the impulse to do evil’] altogether. . . . Now, not every woman necessarily knows what a mitsvo is and how to resist sin. Therefore, buy this little book right away. You need no better return on your reading than the great reward that God will give to you. Later you will find in this book what is the basis for keeping the mitsvo of lighting candles and other commandments, as well. Therefore, dear woman, do not make it hard on yourselves, and begin to read this book.46 Then you will have a very great reward from it, and that is the most important thing; as long as a woman lives and is healthy, she ought to run through this book every month. Then God will grant her joy in this world and in the world to come, in the Garden of Eden. And this will all be a comfort for you. For she will know the mitsvous and will not need to ask a rabbi. For sometimes a woman does not know how to do something correctly, and there is no rabbi near her, or she is ashamed to ask him. Then she may do something that is not permitted. And if one does ask a rabbi, then it might be slightly transgressive, or one might render oneself impure, even dangerously. It is God’s will that she need not suffer this. Thus, if this woman were an expert in the contents of this book, everything would be clear, just like the light from the sun. All her unhappiness would thus turn to happiness. . . . Therefore, follow my advice, and grant your favour to this little book. Do not hesitate for a second to pay a few pennies for it; then you will have good luck and eternal life. Amen, let his will be done.

According to this passage, which is characteristic of the musor sforim, one can assess the multiple precautions taken by the authors to ground this literature in the Hebrew tradition and to preclude the argument that these books are no more than vulgar substitutes for sacred texts. Moreover, it is recommended, in case there is doubt concerning the understanding or application of a law, to appeal to the established authorities, that is, the rabbi, or, failing that, the husband. There is no aspect of the daily life of a Jewish woman that is not treated in the Mitsvous ha-noshim, a veritable encyclopedia of conduct and practice, composed in a simple and clear form, and, in the later editions, based on numerous stories, exempla, and tales drawn from the aggadic and midrashic traditions. In a great number of the books of morality, such as the Seyfer brantshpigl, a majority of the chapters are devoted to the duties of the woman, the wife, and the mother, the veritable backbone of the Jewish household.47 While it might seem an exaggeration to speak of a feminization 46

In paragraph 104 there is a passage that provides interesting information on the manner of reading this kind of book. The author addresses his readers: ‘Therefore pay attention and read this book at least once a month and never say, “I’ve already read it enough”. Believe me, it is better for you and for your body and for your soul than to read all the other books in Yiddish that have been in the world.’ 47 In the Seyfer brantshpigl, for example, one finds: ‘The core of a child’s education is the wife’s responsibility’ (139v); the author later underscores: ‘because they bear their children and lead

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of religious life, especially since gender roles remained virtually unchanged, there was nonetheless a change in the image of the Jewish woman, considered the focal point of the household and whose qualities and sense of responsibility were much praised. The smooth running of the household was almost entirely her responsibility and was dependent on her competence at a number of practical tasks which are enumerated in great detail by the books of morality. It is clear that in those times of crisis and upheaval, the role of the woman was enhanced as the central means of the transmission of Jewish values and as a rampart against the forces of disintegration.48 In many of the musor sforim the emphasis is also placed on familial harmony within the private sphere and on the many rules which regulate conduct toward a peaceful life, especially having to do with the relationship of spouses and the education of children.49 The book constantly opposes the ‘bad wife’ who leads the household to ruin and the ‘good wife’ who is the pivot of the ideal family and protects the entire household and leads it on the straight path toward the ‘world to come’. These paragraphs present a series of normative pieces of advice which demonstrate the manner in which the Jewish woman should organize her day in the domestic space, behave within her family circle, and keep the commandments. A great deal of attention is devoted to the mitsvous on which the harmony of community life depends, such as aiding the sick, the poor, and the orphaned, comforting families in mourning, and housing travellers and students of the yeshivah. In particular the book offers an ideal portrait of the Jewish woman in her house, with her them into the house of study and the synagogue and wait for their husbands to return home from the house of study or from work, they will be well rewarded’ (ch. 45, fol. 177r). This idea recurs in many of the books of morality, such as, for example, in ch. 5 of the Meynekes Rivko by Rebecca b. Meir Tiktiner (Prague, 1609), in which there is a long passage on the ‘teaching mother’: ‘Instruction which is given by the mother to her children is more successful than that which is provided by anyone else, as is said in the verse, “Listen, my son, to the morality of your father and do not besmirch the Torah of your mother.” The sages of the Gemoro commented: “Why the Torah of your mother and the morality of your father? Because the father is caught up in his occupation and is only occasionally at home. If he sees that the behaviour of his son is not faultless, he reprimands him and lectures him about it. On the other hand, the mother is always at home; she is charged with watching the children, and she can do many good deeds: studying with them, checking each word and each thing, as is written in our Torah: ‘You will inculcate them in our children; you will practise them in your home’, which means that you will sit next to your children and speak with them of the Torah and not of frivolous things. . . . One thus also teaches the child the holy language. The mother will likewise accustom the little one to honour his father.” ’ 48

See Max Erik, ‘Bletlekh tsu der geshikhte fun der elterer yidisher literatur un kultur. I. Der “Brantshpigl”––di entsiklopedye fun der yidisher froy in XVII yorhundert; II. A paskvil fun elye bokher’, Tsaytshrift 1 (1926), 173–8; Sassona Dachlika, ‘ “Brantspigel”: Ethik im alten Aschkenas’, Jüdischer Almanach 1995 (1994), 60–8. 49 In the Seyfer brantshpigl, for example, there are chapters with suggestive titles: ch. 10 ‘shows what the good wife is obligated to do for her husband’; ch. 18 ‘shows how a woman ought to behave with her household’.


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husband, her children, and household staff, where all activities from the time of rising in the morning to retiring at night are codified and listed, so that they all conform to divine law and so that one leads a peaceful life, a kind of foretaste of the oulom ha-bo ‘the world to come’. Chapter 46 of the Seyfer brantshpigl, entitled ‘How to raise the children properly’, which treats a major commandment of Judaism, presents a representative example of the text and of the didactic purpose of the books of morality. It begins, as do all the chapters of the book, with general considerations on the necessity of education. In the course of addressing the theme of the human duty to procreate, advice is presented about morality, diet, and medical topics for pregnant women, women in labour, and young mothers: All human beings have been placed on earth so that they multiply [increase and multiply] and so that they educate their children properly, as I will describe. Whoever knows how to do it better, the better it is for him and his soul. In the first place, when a woman is pregnant, she should be warned not to desire impure food or all the things that obstruct the heart of the child, such as heavy food. She must also take care while she is nursing, for the child sucks from her what the mother has eaten. Our sages are very strict in requiring that children have good milk in a sufficient quantity that their hearts not be obstructed and that they have a good nature. Then they can more easily acquire virtue and wisdom to study the Torah and do good deeds. One ought not to let children lack anything, so that they may grow and acquire the strength to serve the Holy One, blessed be He. The sages thought it most important that a woman bring a child into the world, nourish it, take care of all its needs and not lack for anything. Such a woman walks the right path and keeps the commandments of our Torah, as it is written: ‘and if you walk in his ways’ [Deut. 28: 9], which means: and you ought to walk in his way. The Holy One, blessed be He, offers all people what they need with a full hand and lets no one lack for anything. In the same way, a woman gives her children all that they need with a full hand and does not let them lack for anything. Thus in taking this path she attains eternal life. If she bears her child in virtue, as I will explain it, she obtains a reward without limit and without end. (fols. 169v–170r)

But the essence of the paragraph, which itself constitutes a brief treatise on pedagogy and religious instruction, focuses on education proper. It mixes practical advice, examples drawn from the lives of biblical characters and talmudic masters, and stories that illustrate normative rules of life. Despite what seems at first a fragmented view, these instructions demonstrate the unity and internal coherence of the Jewish family and educational norms whose goal is to find a harmonious balance between the respect for divine commandments and the search for good fortune and individual accomplishment. The chapter begins by giving recommendations concerning the education of the young child, especially with respect to teaching a sense of decency and physical modesty: One ought to eat moderately, not too much, and while sitting, and one should not chew like an animal: all for the sake of reflecting on one’s belief in God. When a woman is hungry, she ought to sit at a table and eat, and not eat with her fingers, nor

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standing before the cupboard or chest and taking out the food and then eating it. Otherwise the children will learn to act likewise and nibble and eat with their fingers. One ought not carry a child around naked nor let it lie naked in front of others. One should diaper the child or put a blanket over it, so that it does not fall victim to the evil eye, or so that it catches no harmful air, and also because of flies and worms. So that the child does not get bitten, it is better even to put an old shirt on it than to let it go naked. Otherwise they will think from an early age that there is no harm in going naked, and when they are older they will not be ashamed of exposing their bodies. . . . And one should take off and put on the child’s shirt in bed, so that he does not become accustomed to going naked and so that he learns to feel shame before God, blessed be He, and before other people. And each time that he wants to go naked, as children do, one must say, ‘For shame, cover yourself.’ One must accustom the child not to attend to the call of nature in the presence of others; the same applies to urinating. Each time, one must say to the child: ‘That is shameful!’ One must threaten the child with a stick so that he will be afraid when one, from time to time, gives him a smack so that he will know what the stick means. And when the child soils himself, it should not be shown to people, and likewise when he has dirtied his diaper, for it can disgust people and one might be led to say an angry word to the child. (fols. 170v–171v)

But in education, the central pillar remained religious instruction, which was to begin at a very young age so as to habituate the child to master the gestures and the practices and gradually to make them into internalized norms: later they will regulate all conduct and punctuate the life of each Jew. It is also as much a matter of defining the religious codes that focus on prayer, study, and keeping the mitsvous as it is of explaining the best method for effectively teaching these norms. This is, for instance, how the author suggests teaching the rudiments of the Jewish tradition and the rules of courtesy: And when they can speak so that they can be understood, one should say a few verses and blessings in their presence, then later a few more, so that the belief in God is impressed upon their hearts from childhood on. Before the children go to bed, one must fold their clothes and show that to them. One must get them accustomed to saying ‘Good night’, and in the morning, ‘Good morning’. On the sabbath ‘Good Sabbath’. On holidays, ‘Good holiday’. If people are sitting at the table and eating, the child ought to wish them welcome. . . . It is a good thing to teach children the names of the members and the objects of the household in Hebrew so that they become accustomed to the holy language. When one shakes someone’s hand, that they extend the right hand in order to show a friendly and cordial attitude. On the sabbath and holidays even before they can walk, they should be brought to their father and mother for the blessing [bentshn]. And if they can walk by themselves, they should themselves go to their parents with bowed body and lowered head in order to receive the blessing. That way they will respect the parents and fear them. They should also go to receive the blessing from an uncle, aunt, or the rabbi, for we are also obligated to respect them. They should also respect [other] older men and women and should wish to receive their blessing also. . . . And when the child has grown and has recited verses for him, then one should begin to teach him the alphabet. One offers him words of encouragement and buys him some nuts so that he will study. Then one offers him a


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nice belt, shoes, and a bit of money, but not too much, so that he does not grow accustomed to sweets or games. For the propensity to do evil [yetser ho-ro] torments the one who likes to play and incites him to all sorts of evil, until it leads him into Hell. One recites for him the brief blessing: ‘Blessed be you, God of mercy.’ One places tsitsis on his clothes, and when he is able to keep his hands clean, one places tfilin on his head, explaining to him how this commandment is to be carried out with respect, and how he is to kiss them, so that he will love this mitsvo and keep it with honour. He is not yet strictly required to practise the mitsvous, but he should become accustomed to reciting the blessing. . . . Elisha ben Abuyah wrote that whoever teaches his child to study the Torah from childhood on, then the Torah will run in his veins, purify his blood, and warm his body. The Torah issues forth from his mouth without conflict. One finds for him a teacher who is virtuous and fears God and does only good deeds, so that the child never sees near him any example of evil. One pays him willingly and treats him well so that the master wants to teach the child, that he will teach him with seriousness and show him what goodness is. People should not imagine that if they pay the teacher well they will impoverish themselves or not be able to afford it, for the Holy One, blessed be He, will return it to them without measure and without number. For whatever man needs, God will provide it in moderation. (fols. 173v–175r)

Beyond the rules for general conduct, the musor sforim abound in descriptions of Jewish practices which accompany the important moments of life. The obvious aim of these books is to reteach and remind whoever has forgotten the sense and purpose of Jewish usage and the manner of observing those practices. In doing so, these books played an important role in the various strategies brought to bear in order to strengthen the faith of the Jewish masses and to fight against their forgetting those practices and their ignorance of the texts. These books thus established a collection of Ashkenazic customs whose inventory constitutes a precious body of evidence for the religious life. The Seyfer brantshpigl reports, for example, what is said the first time that a child visits the teacher, a rite of passage that is of particular importance in the Jewish tradition: In the book Shevilei emunah [Shviley emuno], it is explained that the first time that one takes the child to the teacher, one bakes sugar and honey cakes so that his heart is full of strength for studying Torah. And when one offers him the cakes, one ought to say to him these virtuous words full of the fear of God: ‘May God give to you just as this cake is sweet; let the Torah be so sweet in your heart and as sugar is on the tongue in your mouth and as honey on your lips. My dear son, learn first that I will give you that which your heart desires the most, and everyone will love you.’ Such words are said to the child until he begins to understand some things and is accustomed to study. Thereafter, he no longer needs to hear them and will study by himself and will do well. If one trains them well in childhood, they will retain their good habits throughout their lives. But if one does not so train them in their youth, then they cannot be trained when they are older. And furthermore, one should strictly avoid uttering empty or immoral words, and one should not take children or let them go to people who act or speak immorally or talk of pointless things. On the contrary, your comportment should in all ways be full of civility and good judgement. Then the children will think that one ought to act this way, and they will hold to this same manner. (fol. 175rv)

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In the Yiddish books of morality, particular attention is directed to care of the body and to hygiene:50 decency, modesty, a silent bearing in the synagogue, the control of gestures, and the propriety of clothing are likewise signs of derekh erets.51 One chapter of the Seyfer brantshpigl, for example, treats table manners.52 Included is advice on food hygiene (such as one can find in the first part of Maimonides’ Mishne touro), as well as a code of table manners which demonstrates a similar desire to combat all negligence, dirtiness, and the disrespect of others. The book explains as follows concerning the table manners of women: The teachers of morals write that women in particular ought to conduct themselves correctly at the table. They ought not to eat quickly, nor drink like wild animals that convulse and gorge, nor in a rush nor snatch the food, nor take huge bites, nor take one bite right after the other, nor eat great quantities and go after it with excessive gusto [violence] . . . From this a great deal of evil comes, as I have already in part described, but there is much more to say––who can describe it all! Bones and remnants are to be placed on one’s own plate and not on the table or in front of someone else, for that might disgust him. It is a sin to disgust others. One should not throw bones under the table so that the dogs can eat them; a dog can bite the foot of one of the guests. Even if the dog does not bite, it can cause fear and the meal is disturbed. . . . When one coughs or sneezes over the table, one should turn one’s face away in order not to spray the face of one’s neighbour or spatter the table. When one sneezes, one should place one’s hand before one’s mouth. One should avoid opening the mouth widely before other people, in order that they not be able to see down one’s throat. If one is eating using a spoon and piece of bread [to push the food onto the spoon], then one should regularly eat from that piece of bread. One should not drink to the point of drunkenness. That is a very serious, shameful sin for men, and thus even more so for women. For she will talk a lot and reveal many secrets. (fol. 160rv)

It is to be noted that it is in the musor sforim that for the first time in Ashkenazic society advice having to do with the sexuality of couples and marital morals is brought together.53 While these texts are generally borrowed 50 There are chapters on how to behave at toilet, how to prepare oneself for bed, how to sleep, and on corporeal and spiritual hygiene. 51 On this subject (among others), see BT Hul 84b; Derekh Erets Rabba 6–9; Shab 113a–114b, 145a. 52 Ch. 43: ‘How one should behave at the table’. In the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Frankfurt, 1707), there is a chapter similar to the one in the Seyfer brantshpigl with almost an identical title (p. 58v). 53 This is, for instance, the case in the Seyfer brantshpigl, which includes a chapter (no. 38) entitled, ‘When they are lying down, how to behave virtuously in bed’. Let us also refer at the same time to the Yiddish translations of Hebrew texts such as the Iggeret ha-kodesh (Seyfer igeres ha-koudesh) by Moses b. Nachman (Nachmanides, Ramban, Moses Gerondi (thirteenth century)); Yiddish translation: Fürth, 1692; or the Seyfer shney lukhous ha-bris by Isaiah b. Abraham ha-Levi Horowitz (1575; publ. Amsterdam, 1649), the abridgement of which was translated as Ets khayim (Frankfurt, 1720), mentioned above. This very popular work went through thirty-nine editions. The two ethical works mentioned included information on marital and sexual morality characteristic of Jewish society. Let us recall that one of the meanings of the


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from Hebrew sources, this social regulation of sexuality nonetheless constitutes the first trace of familial law in the vernacular. On the other hand, these considerations link the books of morality to the marital guides that aim to control the behaviour of couples, especially by means of instruction concerning the maintenance of purity in the sexual act and blocking all threat of selfish pleasure or licentiousness.54 The following passage concerning sex is representative of the treatment of the Jewish sexual ethic as it appears in Yiddish books: The sages write that the union [baheftung] of the man and the woman should not take place except with great love and friendship.55 The thoughts of both of them should be pure and to the glory of God [le-shem shomayim]. The sages write that the pair thus accomplishes a mitsvo to the glory of God.56 And in so far as it is accomplished for the glory of God, they can both attain eternal life. . . . The mitsvo that the man and the woman carry out during intercourse with great virtue and to the glory of God constitutes a great mitsvo which has no limit. The sages write that it is to the glory of God when anyone has intercourse with his wife under the covers and with a lowered voice, and they both have pure thoughts. On the other hand, if they are not focused, if they are uncovered, and if they cry out with each other, it is as if he were lying with an animal. A verse says: ‘Cursed be he who lies with any kind of beast’ (Deut. 27: 21). That is like sleeping with a prostitute. The prophet Jeremiah says: ‘you have a harlot’s brow’ [Jer. 3: 3]. The brow signifies impudence. There is no worse character trait in a person than impudence. In the tractate Gitin, it is explained that a person with an impudent face comes to great sins. The prophet Ezekiel says: ‘Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!’ [Ezek. 16: 32]. The woman who does not conduct herself virtuously during intercourse, it is as if she were unfaithful to her husband. It is necessary during intercourse that both have a single, focused thought. Both ought to be full of modesty. The tractate Pesakhim says: ‘If they do not have their thoughts in unison, they are like a lion that rips and devours and feels no shame.’ The immoral man is an ignoramus [amorets]: he behaves with impudence and without modesty. In the tractate Khagigo, our teachers explained on the subject of people who

term derekh erets designates the harmonious sexual relations of a couple. On this topic, see Charles Mopsik, transl., Lettre sur la sainteté, ‘Les Dix Paroles’ (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1986); see also Jean Baumgarten, ‘Amour et famille en Europe centrale (fin du Moyen Âge––XVIIIe siècle)’, in Shmuel Trigano, ed., La Société juive à travers l’histoire, vol. ii (Paris: Fayard, 1992), 413–33, 608–13. 54

This entire conception seems obviously drawn from cabbalistic notions. In the chapters of the Seyfer brantshpigl devoted to sexuality, there are thus references to the ‘sages of the cabbala’ (fol. 135r), and one also finds the following comment: ‘This is found well explained in the Sefer Yetsirah [Seyfer Yeytsiro], but this is not the place to say more’ (fol. 136v). 55 This same idea of ‘love and friendship’ or ‘conjugal friendship’ is also found in the works of some Christian theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. See, for example, Jean-Louis Flandrin, Familles: parenté, maison, sexualité dans l’ancienne société (Paris: Seuil, 1984), 156–8, and Edmund Leites, Puritan Conscience and Modern Sexuality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). 56 Just as in prayer, the notion of kavono (fervour, intention, inner concentration) is central here, as well.

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have intercourse with virtue: ‘the prophet Jeremiah said on the subject: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” [Jer. 1: 5] or I loved you. Those who have intercourse with virtue, God loves their seed.’ On the other hand, King David explained in the Psalms: ‘The wicked go astray from the womb’ [Ps. 58: 4]. In the Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer [Pirkey de Rabi Elyeyzer], it is written: ‘When the man and the woman love each other and they have intercourse with virtue and dignity, the shekhino lies down between/with them.’ (ch. 38, fols. 134v–135v)

Two themes occupy important places in this behavioural system: the struggle against superstition and magic, and the struggle against loose morals. It is obviously important that the Jewish people who are only weakly Judaized not succumb to the temptation of idolatry. In this way, a separation both rigid and relentless obtains between the sacred and the profane, the pure and the impure, in the end to combat the proliferation of non-orthodox practice. Everything that might participate in a para-religious, syncretic hybrid formation that would fall under the rubric of a paganized Judaism is rigorously castigated.57 In this offensive, which had as its goal the improvement of the morals of the people, a central role devolved upon the struggle against the degradation of standards of conduct. Especial attention was given to strong language and to ‘sins of the tongue’.58 These are obvious concerns based on precepts scattered through biblical and talmudic literature and thus were not an innovation within Jewish ethical thought.59 Nonetheless, the insistence with which the opposition to linguistic sins appears demonstrates that moralists, preachers, and commentators viewed them as an actual, omnipresent, and devastating social threat that had to be eradicated. The Yiddish books of morality proposed a well-codified and structured inventory of the sins of the tongue. One finds thus reflections on blasphemy and curses and other serious affronts to the Creator.60 Lying in all its forms, such as treachery and false witness, is likewise severely condemned, just as is the one who resorts to verbal aggression, argument, polemic, quarrelling, and insults.61 The verbal behaviours that express the duplicity of human relations––gossiping, slander, 57

This is especially the aim of the Seyfer brantshpigl, ch. 68, entitled ‘This chapter shows that one should never practise sorcery.’ 58 See Carla Casagrande and Silvana Vecchio, I peccati della lingua: disciplina ed etica della parola nella cultura medievale (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1987). 59 The sacred texts abound in comments and advice having to do with ‘sins of the tongue’. One might cite, for instance, from Proverbs––‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Prov. 18: 21), or the talmudic passages that insist on the necessity of behaving with civility in the company of others by using moderate speech that is stripped of all violence (see Avot 4, 15; Ber 6b; BM 87a; Pes 3a]. 60 See, for example, the Seyfer brantshpigl, ch. 25: ‘Every person should be satisfied with what God, blessed be He, gives’; and ch. 38 is devoted to scolding (sheltn) and cursing (flukhn). 61 On lying, see Seyfer brantshpigl, chs. 53, 56, and 63, which specifically address this sin (lugn), swearing (shvern), and bearing false witness (falsh eydes) and false accusations (bilbulim). The last-named sins all have to do with the concept of makhaloukes, which has among other connotations that of a quarrel with one’s neighbour or spouse.


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denigration, and its opposite, flattery––are likewise banned.62 The same is true of outbursts through which are expressed pretention, derision, obscene rudeness, and vain and empty speech.63 On the other hand, silence is very highly valued as the expression of a moderate temperament that can control impulsive behaviour and is not full of empty words.64 Beyond these directives tied to Jewish ethics, one finds codified for the first time in the vernacular a coherent collection of virtues suitable for all of civil society. It is not merely a technical significance that the vernacularization of these norms takes on by means of substituting vernacular works for the texts of the sacred language. The codification of morality could of course be viewed as a sign of a process of acculturation in numerous aspects of Jewish culture. One might take as evidence the obvious relations that the Yiddish books of morality have with the treatises on civility published in Christian Europe in the same time period.65 But the musor sforim bear witness in particular to the consolidation of a Jewish familial morality that was clearly based on the classic texts of biblical and post-biblical literature, which aimed especially to respond to the social needs of the period and to combat ignorance and the growing distance from the Jewish tradition. From this perspective, the popular Yiddish book took on a triple role: it was a kind of substitute for rabbinical authority; it offered a harmonious model of familial and social relations; and, finally, it served to educate the reader in a concrete way by imposing a code of conduct based on principles of virtue. The Yiddish books of morality might lead one to believe that they expressed the truths of a doctrine formed by the religious elite who, for pedagogical purposes, had adapted them into the vernacular for the sake of the masses. The people would thus become a kind of ‘passive receptacle’ into which it was necessary to inculcate normative terms and ethical models, in order better to control the people. Both the structure of Jewish society, which was composed of heterogeneous groups that were strictly hierarchized, and the state of crisis that permeated the Jewish communities of Europe in the modern period, require the revision of the notion according to which Old Yiddish literature had no other purpose than to subjugate the masses to the directives of the Law. On the contrary, these texts are in fact resonance chambers, both of the desire to conform to established usage and of the religious conflict and violence that permeated Jewish society: they bear witness to the tensions among rabbinical authorities, orthodox tendencies, heterodox expressions, and messianic currents. The musor sforim contain numerous references to the political situation in the Jewish community. It is not only 62 In the Seyfer midous and the Seyfer brantshpigl, see the chapters devoted to gossiping (loshoun ho-ro), denigration (rekhilus), and flattery (khanifo). 63 See the Seyfer brantshpigl, chs. 51–3: mockery: lakhn, shpotn; impertinence: azuskayt; and vain speech: havolim, devorim beteylim. 64 A chapter of the Seyfer midous is devoted to silence (shesiko). 65 On this subject, see Elias, Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation.

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religious life that seems unsettled, due notably to the Jews’ life in exile and the endemic crises that weakened the communities, but also to the organization of the society itself. Numerous authors insist on the multiple injustices and disorders which they constantly witness. For them, the abandonment of respect for the mitsvous and the weakening of the fear of God have immediate social consequences: each disturbance in the community is no more than an expression of the violation of divine commandments. Thus one dimension of social critique, and sometimes even of revolt in opposition to some representatives of ruling groups, notably the kley koudesh,66 whose conduct was now so distant from the fundamentals of Jewish ethics, no longer functioned as a model for the people. The bilingual Sam khayim (Prague, 1590), written by an apothecary in Ludomir (Volhynia), named Abraham Ashkenazi, offers a convincing example of this type of critique addressed to the representatives of community power.67 The work claims to be primarily a practical handbook intended to show proper conduct to which every community leader should hold, in order to assure the smooth running of a Jewish town. The author, who classifies himself among the uneducated and deliberately omits all reference to halakhic texts, addresses to the people a series of concrete recommendations concerning social life. In the versified introduction, he explains, among other things: The order is of the leaders who lead the community, that they by means of their leadership should be an adornment for the people before God. Thus God will stand by them, so that sin and shame do not come to them. I will present things as to how roshim (presidents of the community council) behave properly and do not seek their own benefit. . . . But I implore the people and fall at their feet . . . so that they not mock me who has not studied much halokho. . . . I will explain the duties of the roshim without omission, then I will go on to the conduct of the rabbis, the guardians of the city, then to the manner in which one should raise the sons and daughters. Thereafter we will speak of synagogue trustees [gaboim], how they ought to occupy themselves with the community finances, and how one should force the wealthy to give, so that they can be full of kindness. Or even, when some thing is needed for some community activity, how one can make them contribute. (unfoliated, fol. 2r)

There follows a series of requests addressed to rabbis, to judges of the rabbinical court, and to administrators to demonstrate that they treat everyone fairly, dedicate themselves humbly to the affairs of the kohol without accruing charges, lighten taxes, and help the needy: Thus whoever wants to be parnos over the people must have compassion for them at all times. . . . And whoever wishes to wield a leadership role by means of pride and arrogance, all the gates of Hell will stand open before him. . . . They ought not to 66 The ‘Jewish clergy’, including rabbis, cantors, judges, scribes, beadles in the synagogue, and ritual slaughterers. 67 This is the earliest book of morality published in central Europe; see St. CB, no. 4183; St. Serapeum, no. 229.


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engage in flattery, nor should they make constant use of their political power, nor desire any bribery. . . . When they demand and collect taxes, well aware that the poor do not have enough to live on, they ought to lend them the money temporarily. They ought to be generous to widows and orphans.68

Beyond the advice addressed to members of the kohol, the author speaks of the duties of merchants who ought to make sure that they always have accurate weights and measures, and of yeshivo-bokhurim: the rabbis ought to keep proper watch on what they study, and if necessary they are obliged equitably and fairly to punish them; otherwise the students would ‘celebrate Purim all year round’. For their part, the students of talmudic academies should not be lazy nor misbehave, nor ‘run after young girls’ as do some ‘who know no more than a few simple verses from the sidro’, but rather they should concentrate on their studies, the source of happiness and bliss in this world and the next. This kind of critique is particularly prominent in the books of morality written during the periods of suffering, persecution, and crisis. A good example of them is thus Seyfer kav ha-yoshor by Zevi Hirsch Koidono˙ 69 This work was ver b. Aaron Samuel, published in 1705–6 in Frankfurt. written during a time when the Jewish communities of Europe were experiencing a deep spiritual crisis after the shock and the thwarted hopes of Sabbatianism. In the general breakdown of Jewish society, the exacerbation of economic conflicts, oppression by some community authorities, and the deficient practice of charity and mutual aid that undermined the communities, the book’s author saw evidence of a cosmic chaos that only a respect for the law of Israel and messianic redemption could repair. The book thus castigates Jewish tax collectors who placed themselves in the service of the Christian rulers regardless of religious law, and it also bears witness to the economic conflicts that gnawed away at the communities of the period. Thus Koidonover, after having drawn an ideal portrait of the good community leader as unselfish and charitable, depicts the situation in his own generation thus: They [community leaders] arouse great fear among the people and cause them much suffering. By means of the tax collectors and community functionaries, they extort the goods of the people. At the same time, they stuff themselves and drink, are big and fat; they strut about in their luxurious clothes and offer huge dowries for their children, while the simple folk of the seed of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac go about in tatters with their poor wives, because the leaders have taken from them even their straw matresses, their talis and their kitl [long white garment]. Scarcely anything do they have left besides the straw from their beds. When winter comes and the rains begin to fall, they shiver from the cold along with their poor children. They begin to 68

Translation from text citation in Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 178. See BH, iv, no. 1861; St. CB, no. 7429; E. Tsherikover, ‘Die geshikhte fun a literarishn plagiat’, Yivo-bleter 4 (1932), 159–67; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 187–96. From the editio princeps to the most recent edition (Brooklyn, 1976), there have been approximately fifty-six editions of this text which has been popular throughout the Yiddish-speaking communities of the diaspora. 69

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weep . . . and cry out against their leaders. If the latter had even the slightest pity, the poor would never suffer such misery. What a great sin it is to see these authorities lead the grand life of eating and drinking with the community’s property. . . . The leaders ought to take care that they not behave pridefully, and that they have compassion for others and avoid being violent and cruel, especially with the poor and ordinary people. For the tears of a poor person are hot, and when a poor person weeps or complains to the Holy One, blessed be He, that prayer is heard. (Seyfer kav ha-yoshor, ch. 9, fols. 19v–20r)

There are many ethical texts that provide a tragic view of communities gnawed by injustice and poverty. According to the tradition, each Jew has a bit of power to restore the world and society by keeping the commandments of the Torah. The attenuation of society’s suffering thus would lead directly to the process of the redemption of Israel. -    Beginning in the seventeenth century in central and eastern Europe, a group of ethical texts was published that were directly based on the literature and thematics of cabbala. This constituted a special development because up until that time mystical writings had been quite limited and did not circulate beyond a restricted circle of the educated elite. These texts make it possible to reconstruct the channels by means of which the Jewish mystical tradition (especially the Lurianic tradition) was transmitted to the ordinary classes and to appreciate the religious as well as social significance assumed by the vernacularization of cabbalistic sources.70 The printing of mystical books in the vernacular is directly linked with the upheavals experienced by Jewish society in the early modern period. Most important of all was the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 which, as Gershom Sholem points out, ‘produced a crucial change in the history of the Kabbalah’. He adds: ‘[t]he profound upheaval in the Jewish consciousness caused by this catastrophe also made the Cabbalah public property. Despite the fact that the Cabbalah had spread in preceding generations, it still remained the preserve of relatively closed circles, who only occasionally emerged from their aristocratic seclusion.’71 The expulsion from Spain set in motion a development in the purpose and the place of cabbala in Jewish religious life, as well as marking the beginning of its dissemination in the rest of Europe, expecially in Germany and Poland. Thereafter one finds many echoes of the penetration of mystical themes in Old Yiddish literature, such as, for example, in this excerpt from the Seyfer tikunei ha-mou’odim (Fürth, 1725): 70 Gershom Scholem has demonstrated the historical role of these texts in the popularization of themes from Jewish mysticism; see the article ‘Kabbalah’, EJ, vol. x, col. 552 and ‘Shabbatai Zevi’, EJ, vol. xiv, col. 1248. ˙ 71 See Scholem, ‘Kabbalah’, EJ x, coll. 540–1.


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Everyone thinks that when he has learned how to study a page of Gemoro, he has become a scholar [lamdon], and he never looks at another holy book. But, dear people, know that when a man has studied the entire Gemoro and the Tousofous without having any knowledge of the secrets and wisdom of the cabbala, he is, in comparison to those who do have such knowledge, like a child who has only begun to study. . . .72 Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai wrote the Zouhar so that everyone could take pleasure in it ˙ and so that, thanks to all that splendid instruction, one might attain the world to come. . . . Some people think that when it is a matter of the science of the cabbala, then it is necessary that one be a master of the holy names and have all kinds of knowledge about how to vanquish demons and evil spirits. But that is a different kind of wisdom, called practical cabbala. In the cabbala of the celestial realm, the grandeur, the power, and the holiness of the Holy One, blessed be He, is taught.73

Elsewhere in the same text is found the significant passage: ‘In the Zouhar it is said: Elijah the prophet explained to Shimeon bar Yohai that the Messiah will ˙ not come until the generation when the Zouhar is studied deeply by everyone, by simple people who are not great scholars, but who possess in themselves the treasure of the fear of God’ (fol. 10r). Faced with the crisis that permeated the Jewish community, with the growing threat of a decline in study, with the spiritual disarray of the masses, with the discredit of certain philosophers and theologians who were unable to offer satisfactory responses to questions that expressed the agonies of the time, and with the mass conversions of the period, Lurianic cabbala took on a particularly important religious role that included a unifying function.74 It is in the mystical literature that the scholars and the people would search for responses to the questions concerning exile, redemption, and messianic hopes. Cabbalistic teachings could thus both be more broadly diffused and aid in finding explanations of the dramas of the time and in overcoming the spiritual crisis that permeated Jewish society. Old Yiddish literature became one of the privileged witnesses of this broadening of the Jewish mystical thematic and of the progressive dissemination to an ever-growing number of Jews. Nonetheless, in the vernacular books only some limited aspects of the Jewish mystical tradition were brought out, resulting in the formation of a coherent collection both in its relations to Hebrew texts and as an expression characteristic of the literature in the vernacular. The first characteristic of this vernacular mystical literature is seen in the existence of anthologies which had as their purpose to recapitulate the essence of the cabbala and to furnish a generic outline of it, intended to familiarize the general public with the secrets of the Torah. That is the clear reason for the avoidance of all theorizing and philosophical speculation. These were not publications intended ever to systematize or explain concepts 72

Translation from the text citation by Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 392. The quotation is from the preface to the Fürth edition; on the last named topic, see fol. 12r. 74 On this topic, see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1941; 3rd rev. edn. New York: Schocken, 1954; rpt. 1995), 244–86. 73

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or the lexicon characteristic of cabbala or to penetrate to the secrets of the Zohar, but rather to give a synthetic overview accessible to every Jew, whatever his level of education. That is the tradition to which belongs the translation of the Zohar in Yiddish entitled Seyfer nakhlas Tsvi by Zevi ˙ Hirsch b. Jerahmiel Hotsh (or Hotsch) (Frankfurt, 1641–1711).75 This ˙ ˙ anthology of exoteric texts, essentially ethical and aggadic passages from the Zohar, was quite popular among the Jewish masses, as the number of editions printed up to the twentieth century attests, initially under the original title, and then beginning in the nineteenth century under the title Noufes tsufim (‘the honeycomb’).76 The text has three prefaces, two in Hebrew, one in Yiddish. The first Hebrew preface gives information about the conditions of the work’s composition. The translator was none other than the greatgrandfather of Zevi Hirsh ben Jerahmiel Hotsh, that is Aviezer Zelig, the ˙ ˙ ˙ the Lublin region. He began great cabbalist and head of the yeshivah in writing the text in 1601, but did not publish it before his death. His son Yosei assembled the rabbinical approbations (haskomous) that made possible the publication of the book. The massacres of 1648 nonetheless thwarted his plan. It was the grandson of Aviezer Zelig who undertook the task of publishing the book after introducing some changes, first because the manuscript had been damaged, secondly because the translation was too literal, and finally because some esoteric passages had been translated. It was unthinkable to reveal to ordinary Jews the secret parts of cabbalistic doctrine. Zevi ˙ Hirsh Hotsh undertook the task of rewriting the translation by his ancestor, ˙ suppressing the passages judged to be too complex: he completed the defective sections, reorganized the structure of the work, added citations from mystical texts such as the Tikunei ha-Zohar (Tikuney ha-Zouhar), and adapted the style of the book to make it more colloquial.77 The publication was further delayed several times, in particular by reason of a fire that ravaged the city of Frankfurt and because of financial difficulties encountered by the adaptor. The Nakhlas Tsvi nonetheless was finally published in 1711. It was widely distributed and became a very highly valued text among eastern European hassidim. The Yiddish preface provides interesting information 75

The Yiddish translation was by Selig of Lublin. On this text, see BH iii, no. 1867; St. Serapeum, no. 214; Gershom Scholem, Bibliographia Kabbalistica: Verzeichnis der gedruckten die jüdische Mystik (Gnosos, Kabbala, Sabbatianismus, Frankismus, Chassidismus) behandelnden Bücher und Aufsätze von Reuchlin bis zur Gegenwart. Mit einem Anhang: Bibliographie des Zohar und seiner Kommentare (Leipzig: W. Drugulin, 1927), p. 209, no. 100; Erik, Geshikhte, 239–42. On the different editions of this text, see Khayim Liberman, ‘Sefer Nakhlas Tsvi le-rabbi Tsvi Hirsh Khotsh mi-krako im shaar mezuyaf’, in Ohel Rahel (New York, 1980), 417–31. ˙ 76 The catalogue of the National and University Library in Jerusalem contains thirty-one editions of Nakhlas Tsvi and six of Noufes tsufim printed in Germany and eastern Europe (Vilnius, Lemberg, Lublin, Grodna, Zhitomir, Warsaw, etc.). 77 This mystical text is a part of the Zohar that comprises a commentary on Genesis. See the Zohar followed by the Midrosh neelom, ed. Charles Mopsik and Bernard Maruani, Midrash neelam, in Le Zohar, transl. Bernard Maruani, ‘Les Dix Paroles’ (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1981).


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about the decision to translate the book into the vernacular. The author explains that the history of the revelation of the Torah is divided into various phases. At Mount Sinai God asked Moses to reveal the secret sense of the Torah to scholars, keeping the obvious sense for the Jewish people. Even if the simple people could not penetrate to the hidden aspects of the Torah (compared to a garment wrapped around the heart of the revealed Law), their reward would be no less great, all the more if their intention during prayer, their fervour (kavono), and fear of God, were sincere. Moses wanted God to give the Mishnayous, Gemoro and the Midroshim at the same time, but God refused. It was not until after the destruction of the Temple when Israel was exiled and the Law was progressively more forgotten that the Oral Torah was written down. The great secrets that it contains were nonetheless concealed. In their turn, these secrets too were lost. God thus sent Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and his disciples (compared to the great light that was hidden for ˙ the six days of creation) to uncover them. As for the choice of the vernacular, the author explains: Thus in this work there are many things written in the revealed sense. Even if it is in loshoun ashkenaz, the reward [for reading it] is very great, for the holy Torah was taught by Moses in seventy languages. Each word spoken by the Holy One, blessed be He, has been translated into seventy languages. . . . Especially in that country where the language of the Targum is spoken, the book of the Zouhar was addressed to everyone, even to the masses. In our country, the language for everyone is Yiddish, so that those who are educated should not think it shameful to read holy books in taytsh [‘Yiddish’]. Thus it is that here the language of the Zouhar should be Yiddish. I have therefore introduced into this book many fine pshatim [‘literal commentaries’] that appear in the Zouhar and reveal the hidden meaning of the verses and interpretations, so that this holy book should awaken the fear of God in the hearts of everyone.78

The translator repeatedly insists on the fact that the redemption cannot come except by means of the cabbala and the Zohar, which ought to be studied by every Jew, whatever his level of comprehension and understanding. The structure of the book, ordered according to the weekly pericopes, participates in the tradition of homiletic literature, of which the primary example is the Tsene-Rene.79 Let us note that the itinerant preachers (magidim) were one of the means by which cabbala spread through the Jewish populace. Gershom Scholem connects this book to a series of moral treatises and other texts written by eighteenth-century itinerant preachers who secretly professed Sabbatianism: among others, the Sefer shevet musar (Seyfer sheyvet musor) (Constantinople, 1712) by Elijah b. Solomon Abraham ha-Cohen (Yiddish translation, Wilhermsdorf, 1726), the anonymous Tohoras hakoudesh (1717), the Seyfer shem Yaakouv by Jacob b. Ezekiel Levi (Segal of 78

Excerpt from the Yiddish preface to the Nakhlas Tsvi, unfoliated (preface, fol. 4v). Erik, Geshikhte, 240, notes the common time period and place of origin of the authors of the Yiddish Zouhar and the Tsene-Rene, that is the beginning of the seventeenth century in the Lublin region. 79

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Zlatova) (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1716), and the bilingual prayer book––Seyder tefilo derekh yeshoro by Jehiel (Michael) Epstein b. Abraham (Frankfurt ˙ am Main, 1697).80 All of the mystical works in Yiddish are organized around several themes taken from the cabbalistic tradition, especially from the circle of Isaac Luria, including the belief that human actions form an integral part of the cosmic and divine drama. By their acts, humans influence the divine world for good or ill. The recitation of prayers and the performance of mitsvous have repercussions in the heavenly spheres and necessitate a person’s strict adherence. The temporal world, social life, and one’s inner disposition cannot but reflect the upper world. Every good action cannot but hasten the process of tikun (process of restoration), just as every violation of the Law delays progress toward redemption. The heart of these mystical books in the vernacular is a reflection on the meaning of the Jewish exile and the collective suffering of the Jewish people. As Scholem notes: ‘Exile and redemption are the two poles of the axis around which the Lurianic system revolves; viewed in a dimension of depth, they now stand out as numinous symbols of a spiritual reality of which historical exile and redemption are merely the concrete expression.’81 The Yiddish texts reveal, in connection with the anxious waiting of the Jewish masses, a tormented and unstable world, marked by sin and the desire for purification, haunted by the deficiencies of a sinful generation that is dominated by evil. So great are the evils directly associated with the Jewish exile and with the collective sins of the Jews. In a number of these texts the decline in the observance of the commandments and the law is insistently described. In the communities it seems that a great spiritual and material disarray dominates, a sign of the disturbance of the world that makes all the more urgent the return of God and the thirst for tikun. One of the works that best transmits the instability and inquietude of this generation is the Seyfer kav ha-yoshor by Zevi Hirsh Koidonover (mentioned above), published in Frankfurt in 1705–6 ˙ a popular Hebrew–Yiddish bilingual edition.82 At the same time that it in brandishes the threat of punishment for those who depart from the divine path, the author draws up a catalogue of individual and collective violations, demonstrating the unity that can exist in human action, the historical destiny of the Jewish people, and the disturbance of the cosmos. The most trifling of these bad deeds tends to perpetuate the ‘shattering of the vessels’ and to obstruct the process of ‘mending’. Thus, for example, in a passage where the 80

See Gershom Scholem, ‘Shabbatai Zevi’, EJ xiv, col. 1248. ˙ Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, 26. ˙ 82 On this text, see Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 387; Erik, Geshikhte, 309–13; Tsherikover, ‘Die geshikhte fun a literarishn plagiat’. In this article, Tsherikover shows that in the Hebrew version the author of the Seyfer kav ha-yoshor drew on a book entitled Seyfer yesoud yousef by Joseph b. Solomon Darshan (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1679). The book was reprinted several times, once in Constantinople, in 1724, in Ladino. 81


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author mocks vanity and arrogance, he explains: ‘The shekhino (dwelling place and presence of God) cries out because of prideful people. For it is because of this sin that the exile of the shekhino and the exile of Israel are lasting so long. It is through their pride that humans bring much evil to the world.’83 This theme is likewise at the heart of the book, Seyfer hakiros ha-lev bilshoun ashkenaz by Solomon b. Simeon Wezlar of Fürth (Amsterdam, 1731), who castigates vanity, frivolity, and the blindness of the children of Israel.84 The author proposes a doctrine of moral self-perfection based on inner asceticism and struggle against earthly temptation. This improvement of the human prepares for the mending of the divine vessels. In the mystical books in Yiddish, the world is represented as a field of conflicting and antagonistic forces, a battlefield between the ‘forces of good’, the yetser ha-tov, and the ‘forces of evil’, the yetser ho-ro. The earth is peopled by myriads of demons and evil spirits who haunt and torment humans and turn them away from God. Each sin, whether by word or deed, emboldens these hordes of maleficent forces, as the Seyfer kav ha-yoshor explains: When someone brings forth a lie, as soon as his words fly up through the air and reach heaven, the angel Samael flies to meet them. . . . This officer-in-charge, Samael, comes and strengthens himself in the bowels of the earth. He leaps five hundred miles at a bound and grabs the false interpretations, mistaken sermons, and lies, and, with these words the angel Samael constructs a false heaven which is called the heaven of falseness and deceit. The angel Samael can thus float six thousand parasangs85 in a single instant. Lilith, the mother of demons, comes to him and joins herself to him. And they strengthen each other in their false heaven; then many thousands and myriads of squadrons of armed angels of destruction assemble and draw up in formation as if they were of this earth. And, because of our many sins, they are there to massacre the people of Israel.86

There is a further consequence of human sin: the transmigration of the souls which wander without finding either rest or the place that has been reserved for them in the world to come since the day of their birth, near the divine throne. There is thus a parallel drawn between the infinite gilgul of lost souls and the Jewish generations that have been expelled and wander, suffering exile. Only the process of tikun can put an end to this infinite circling of the sinful souls. The author of the Seyfer kav ha-yoshor explains, for example, the effect that virtuous actions and prayer by the just can have on the migration 83

See Seyfer kav ha-yoshor, ch. 7, fol. 12v. See St. Serapeum, no. 74; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 393. 85 A parasang is an ancient unit of measurement, originally Persian, then adopted in the Hellenistic world, equal to some 3½–4 miles. 86 See Seyfer kav ha-yoshor, ch. 4, fol. 7rv. On the demonology of this book and other texts of Old Yiddish literature, see Sarah Zfatman-Biller, ed., Demonologyah be-sifrut yidish––homer letargil (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, Yiddish Department, 1974); eadem, Nisuei adam ve-shedah: gilgulah shel motiv ba-siporet ha-amamit shel Yehude Ashkenaz ba-meot ha-16-ha-19 (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1987). 84

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of the souls: ‘Some souls there are that are not at rest in the mekhitso (the division of heaven) where they are, and they have to join themselves to grass, fruits of the earth, or fruits of trees. When humans eat these fruits and recite a blessing and even when they study with their mouths, then the soul experiences a tikun, and it leaves its prison to find rest’ (ch. 6, fol. 11r). From this perspective, a great number of texts address the problem of the soul on earth, from the moment of birth up to death and beyond death, at the moment of successive migrations.87 Especially characteristic of such texts would be the Sod ha-neshomo (Basel, 1609) by Abba b. Solomon Bunzlau, a brief ethico-mystical booklet that focuses on the journey of the soul from the guf up to the resurrection of the dead.88 This book brings together various fragments taken from the classical texts of the Jewish tradition (having to do, for instance, with cosmological mysticism) and bears witness to the spread of concepts of the world to come, characteristic of Jewish mysticism among the Jewish populace. This collection of texts allies itself with the pedagogy of fear intended to inculcate the terrors of Hell, and a disgust for evil, and to recall the omnipresence of the devil, the nit guter (‘the one who is not good’). The aim is above all to illustrate the art of dying well, the suffering of sinners at the moment of death and in the oulom ha-bo (‘the world to come’), as opposed to the eternal happiness of the just in gan eyden ‘Paradise’, all of which could function to bring about repentance.89 87 On the subject of the soul at birth, see J. Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke, no. 195; Baumgarten, ‘ “Le Livre de la création de l’homme” ’, 98–106. 88 The guf designates a treasury of souls found at the foot of the divine throne; see BT Yev 62a. On the Sod ha-neshomo, see Jean Baumgarten, ‘Il “Segreto dell’ anima” (1609): Appunti sulla tradizione mistica ebraica nella letteratura yiddish’. Asmodeo 1 (1989), 133–44. 89 This type of book belongs to the tradition of the popular almanac among Christians, in which one finds a great deal of counsel about how to die well (ars (bene) moriendi) and descriptions of Paradise and Hell. On this subject, see Geneviève Bollème, La Bible bleue: anthologie d’une littérature ‘populaire’ (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), 39–87; Roger Chartier, ‘Normes et conduites: les arts de mourir (1450–1600)’, in Lectures et lecteurs, 125–63. On gan eyden, see, for example, the Shaarey gan eyden (n.d., n.p.), adapted from a Hebrew text (Venice, 1589) attributed to Moses Romi; see St. CB, no. 4074; St. Serapeum, no. 298. The Seyfer ha-gan or Seyfer oulom ha-bo was published in the sixteenth century in Cracow. See Walter Röll, ‘Zum “Sefer ha-Gan” Jizhaks ben Elieser’, in Fragen des älteren Jiddish, Trierer Beiträge, Sonderheft 2, ed. Hermann˙ Josef Müller and Walter Röll (Trier: Universität Trier, 1977), 35–41; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 59. Allied with texts that are intended to lead to repentance are such texts as the Rozngortn (Prague, 1609); see St. Serapeum, no. 276; or the Taytsh aptek (Amsterdam, 1652, 1697; Offenbach, 1655), which was the Yiddish translation of the Sefer avkat rokhel (Seyfer avkas roukhel) by Makhir (Rimini, 1526); the Yiddish translator was Naphtali Pappenheim; see St. Serapeum, no. 295, which addresses the topics of the messianic period and the soul after death; the Seyfer yeshuous ve-nekhomous (Hanau, 1620; Fürth, 1691; Amsterdam, 1719) by Jacob b. Meshullam Weil (Jacob Bahur/Bokher); see St. Serapeum, no. 94, which addresses the redemp˙ tion; the Seyfer khayey oulom (Freiburg in Breisgau, 1583); see St. Serapeum, no. 70, which addresses the topic of the preparation of the soul before death; the Seyfer inui ha-nefesh urefuosou (Fürth, n.d., c.1722; Frankfurt, 1723) by Mordecai b. Moses; see St. Serapeum, no. 232, on the torments of the soul and the deliverance in gan eyden.


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Faced with the shadowy nature of the world, and the strength of sin and transgression that form an obstacle to the relations between humans and God and hinder the process of the restoration of the world, the Yiddish authors insist on the predominance of ethics and on the importance of moral deeds, as if the recovery of the world and the approach of the redemption presupposed individual asceticism and the collective keeping of the mitsvous.90 An essential concept of cabbala is found in many of the ethico-mystical texts in the vernacular, that is: avoudo tsourekh gavoua.91 The term signifies that God has need of the deeds of humans that prove to be decisive for bringing about the mending of the cosmos and the world. It is by means of the practice of virtue, the contemplation of the divine mysteries, individual purification, and the transformation of the soul that the harmony of the world and the union with God will be restored. Neglecting the domain of speculative theology, the authors emphasize the importance of religious experience, of practice, of customs, and of piety. As Scholem explains: ‘It is the Jew who holds in his hands the key to the tiqqun of the world, consisting of the progressive separation of good from evil by the performance of the commandments of the Torah.’92 It is not simply a matter of demonstrating the general relationship that exists between keeping the mitsvous and the cosmos, but rather specifying the practical procedures that, due in particular to good deeds, make possible the transformation of the world and the hastening of the tikun. One of the conditions essential for bringing about the redemption is prayer, which has an immediate effect on the divine world, brings about an awakening of superior forces and moreover strengthens the world here below and restores the shattered harmony.93 The Yiddish mystical texts abound in detailed descriptions of the best manner of praying. They presuppose first of all a spiritual preparation by means of silence and the inner purification with a view to the union of the soul with God. Prayer must be accompanied by kavono, simultaneously a concentration of the intellect and orientation of the heart toward the superior spheres and toward God. Once the prayer has been spoken, it is prolonged by means of inner meditation and contemplation in the heart of hearts. The gestures that accompany prayer are described in detail, from the purification of the hands, to one’s conduct in the synagogue near the Holy Ark and at home, to the necessity of being close to a pious person: all conditions that permit prayers to rise more easily to God. On the other hand, the 90

This ethico-mystical current characteristic of Yiddish literature is related to the ethicocabbalistic musor sforim in Hebrew, such as the Toumer Devouro (Venice, 1589) by Moses b. Jacob Cordovero; see Louis Jacobs, transl., The Palmtree of Deborah (London: Valentine, Mitchell, 1960). 91 See Roland Goetschel, Meïr ibn Gabbai: le discours de la Kabbale espagnole (Louvain: Peeters, 1981), 276–84, 489–91. 92 See Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, 42. ˙ 93 See Roland Goetschel, Prière, mystique et judaïsme: colloque de Strasbourg, 10–12 septembre 1984 (Paris: Presse universitaires de France, 1987).

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proximity of an impious person tends to contaminate the place, to attract demons and evil spirits, and thus to cause catastrophes, to obstruct the paths of transmission between earth and the divine realm. Every mitsvo or prayer that is performed participates in individual atonement, shortens the exile of the shekhino, and accelerates the process of the redemption of the Jewish people. It is necessary to add to these mystical procedures the role of tshuvo (‘repentance’), ‘the study of the Torah’, ‘charity and the fear of God’: all are virtues that obviously belong to the Jewish tradition in the broadest sense but which, in these texts, however, take on a strongly mystical tone, in particular because they have a direct effect on the realm of the sfirous (sefirot). Contrary to the more speculative and esoteric mystical tradition, the originality of this vernacular development lies in its placing the accent on ethical behaviour as a means of access to the superior realm of the divine. Nonetheless, although the reflection on the human act is primary, it is regarded from an essentially mystical perspective: the terrestrial world is connected with the world above just as the human body is directly linked with the sefirotic structures. The play of correspondences between the world of deeds and their consequences for the divine realm remain at the centre of this vernacular tradition. Let us emphasize one final aspect characteristic of the mystical texts in Yiddish: the central role played by narrative, such as exempla, tales, legends, and aggadic stories drawn from talmudic and midrashic literature, as well as from rabbinical folklore, a veritable storehouse of situations, events, characters, holy deeds, and morals which the author combined according to the needs of the context in order to support a lesson drawn from the cabbalistic tradition or to accompany a moral lesson. The Kav ha-yoshor by Zevi Hirsch ˙ dominKoidonover b. Aaron Samuel provides an excellent example of this ance of narrative and of the constant articulation of narrative with ethical prescription. Therefore, one should take care not to see any impure things. Nor should one speak any obscenity or vilification of another person, but rather one should accustom oneself to speaking little. Especially when one goes to the synagogue for prayer, one should not even speak very much with a friend, much less with a stranger, and [it is best] if one can become accustomed not to speak with anyone before prayers. Now I would like to write a story about how speech causes trouble. Rabbi Isaac Luria, may his memory be for a blessing, had a disciple whose name was Rabbi Isaac Ashkenazi, may his memory be for a blessing. He went into a village named Eyn Zitim to the tomb of one of the Tannaim, Rabbi Judah bar Ilai. Then Rabbi Isaac Luria says to his disciple, ‘When you come to the tomb of Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, the Tanna, recite the holy names, and he will reveal to you secrets from the Zohar. But you should not speak with anyone.’ Then Rabbi Isaac Ashkenazi received the blessing of his master, the Ari, may his memory be for a blessing, and went happily to the village Eyn Zitim. And when he arrived at the cemetery, he said his prayers and recited all the holy names as his master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, had instructed him. Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, the Tanna, did not, however, respond to him. So Rabbi Isaac Ashkenazi returned to his master, Rabbi Isaac Luria, may his memory be for a blessing, and wept and cried out and said,


Books of Morality and Conduct

‘Rabbi, I did as you instructed me, and lay down on the tomb of Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, but he did not respond to me.’ Thus Rabbi Isaac Luria, may his memory be for a blessing, counselled him: ‘My heart did not accompany you, for I know for a fact that you met [along the way] a man of Arab ethnicity, and the Arab did not greet you, but you were the one to greet him first and you spoke profane words with him.’ And thus the disciple Rabbi Isaac Ashkenazi had to acknowledge that he had spoken with an Arab while on the road. (ch. 2, fos. 4v–5r)94

It is by means of this aggadic tradition, from this living storehouse of stories and experiences drawn from the holy literature, and by means of moralizing narrative that popular Yiddish literature conveyed the secrets of the Torah and sought connections between moral deeds and the redemption of the world. Becoming the true nature of the specular tradition, it found itself in the aggadic tradition: it was the key that made it possible to ‘open the gates that lead to the secret storehouse that is sealed by truth’.95 The narrative is invested with a restorative function that has as its purpose to reunite the scattered members of the Jewish people: it possesses a strength of order on which the transformation of humans and the world depends. By creating a framework of references, of common memories, it establishes anew a unity, shattered up to that point, that was conducive to the communication with others and to the communion with the divine. For the same reasons as prayer, the recitation of stories possessed a unifying and restructuring power that enabled the struggle against the suffering caused by exile. Narrative thus participates in the same way as study, the keeping of mitsvous, and repentance, in the process of tikun and the redemption. The three dimensions characteristic of mystical literature in the vernacular come together and are interwoven in the tales: the teaching of virtue, cabbalistic doctrine and narrative as a means of access to the hidden meaning of the Torah. A simple example drawn from the Seyfer tikunei ha-mou’odim permits us to illustrate this triple interweaving characteristic of the tale (maase). To begin with it is a matter of moral instruction, in the tradition of the musor sforim and concerned with the deficiencies of speech: *A person should take care not to say crude things or gossip. In particular, he should take care to speak little while in the synagogue in the morning and evening during prayers. He should not even converse with his friends, much less with a stranger. When a person utters no unnecessary word, his prayers are answered. I will tell you a story about superfluous and inappropriate words which were spoken by a disciple of Isaac 94 The Kav ha-yoshor was first published in Frankfurt, 1705–6; it is here cited from the 1709 edition. This tale is also found in the Touledos (or Shivkhei) ho-Ari, the book of hagiographical tales about the life and miraculous deeds of the cabbalist Isaac Luria. This text appeared in a variety of early Yiddish texts, generally connected with the interdiction of idle speech, profanity, and slander, such as, for example, the Seyfer tikunei ha-mou’odim (Fürth, 1725). On this tale, see the recent edition of the Shivkhei ho-Ari (Jerusalem: Ahavat Shalom, 1998), 89–90. 95 See Rabbi Yehudah Lowe (the Maharal of Prague), Beeyr ha-goulo; transl. from the French translation by Édouard Gourévitch, Be’er ha-golah / Le Puits de l’exil (Paris: Berg, 1982), 15.

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Luria named R. Isaac Ashkenazi. He went to a village to the tomb of a sage, Judah bar Ilai. R. Isaac Luria said to his disciple: ‘when you arrive at the tomb of the sage, if you say the divine names, he will reveal to you the secrets contained in the Zouhar, but you may not speak with anyone.’ R. Isaac Ashkenazi received the blessing of his master, then he left joyfully for the village where the sage was buried. When he arrived at the cemetery, he recited prayers and the divine names, just as R. Isaac Luria had prescribed, but R. Judah bar Ilai did not respond at all. R. Isaac Ashkenazi returned to his master and groaned, wept and cried out, saying: ‘Rabbi, I did as you told me to do. I went to the tomb of R. Judah bar Ilai, but he did not respond to me at all.’ R. Isaac Luria replied to him: ‘I know that on the way you met an Arab who did not greet you; on the contrary, you addressed a greeting to him, and you even exchanged pointless words with him.’ The disciple should have recognized that he had spoken during the trip, which shows that even a simple frivolous utterance can spoil prayer, concentration, and the orientation to God [kavono]. (p. 16)

Among the works focused on tales and stories, Eyn sheyn nay seyfer nikro maase ha-shem (Adounoy) (part 1, Frankfurt, 1691; part 2, Fürth, 1694) by Simeon (Akiva Baer) b. Joseph Henochs is to be mentioned.96 As is noted on the title page, it brings together tales from the Gemoro, Zouhar, the Sefer shalshelet ha-kabalah (Seyfer shalsheles ha-kabolo) by Gedaliah b. Joseph ibn Yahia (Venice, 1587), and Seyfer eymek ha-meylekh by Naphtali b. Jacob Elh˙anan (Bacharach) (Amsterdam, 1648) and ‘miraculous events that God ˙ performed by means of the great scholars like Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair (his father-in-law) and also Rabbi Isaac Luria ˙and his ˙ disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital’. The author of the Maase ha-shèm, Simeon Akiva Baer ben Joseph Henochs, rabbi of Schnaitach, was also the author of Seyfer avir Yaakouv (Sulzbach, 1700).97 This book, organized according to the weekly portions of the Pentateuch read in the synagogue, traces the legendary episodes of the life of Simeon bar Yohai and especially the writing of the Zouhar while he was secluded in a cave for˙ twelve years in the company of his son Eleazar and the mysteries of the cabbala were revealed to him. The mystical texts in Yiddish, which spread through all central and eastern Europe beginning in the seventeenth century, were to have a significant influence on the propagation of cabbalistic and Lurianic ideas among the people. In these texts, the Jewish masses found answers to questions that haunted them concerning Jewish suffering, exile, and evidence for the coming of the Messiah. In placing the emphasis on practical morality and aggadic stories, these books made an important contribution toward responding to the needs of a large portion of the Jewish populace and popularizing a system of ideas deriving from Lurianic cabbala. The texts inspired by the mystical tradition 96

See BH ii, no. 413; St. Serapeum, no. 158. It was reprinted many times, notably in Frankfurt am Main, 1703; Frankfurt an der Oder, 1707, 1788, 1796; Amsterdam, 1708, 1723; and Fürth, 1604. 97 See St. CB, no. 7210. 1; St. Serapeum, no. 1; it was reprinted in Fürth, 1729, and Amsterdam, 1717.


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of Safed won the support of a scholarly elite obsessed by the historical misfortune of the Jewish people. The ethico-mystical texts in Yiddish enabled this collection of ideas to penetrate the new strata of society in order to provide ordinary Jews with the keys to consolation and comfort, and a framework of reference indispensable to understanding the misfortunes of the times.       :    Rabbinical authorities adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the Yiddish books of usage and conduct. On the one hand, a number of scholars expressed their loathing and contempt for the vernacular texts, not hesitating to condemn them when they addressed halakhic issues, or dealt with dinim or the liturgy, traditionally domains reserved for Hebrew.98 Rabbis and the educated elite assessed the dangers that could arise from the popularization of legislative documents and the divulging of the secrets of the law revealed by God in Hebrew.99 By making available the divine prescriptions in the vernacular, one opens up the possibility that the ‘ignorant’ will assume the power of deciding halakhic issues and of proclaiming themselves experts in the interpretation of the Law. If the sacred texts become clear to the broad populace, is there not a danger that non-orthodox conduct will be condoned and deviant behaviour will appear? This was the source of the distrust of Yiddish books, which never received full and complete recognition by the representatives of ‘scholarly culture’.100 The rabbinical milieux nonetheless remained conscious of the state of religious neglect in which a large proportion of the Jewish populace lived. It was a problem which Jehiel Michael Epstein ben Abraham effectively took into account in his Seyfer˙ derekh ha-yoshor la-oulom ha-bo (Frankfurt, 1704), where he explains: *In numerous communities, one finds no one who can study. In the yishuvim, one does not often find anyone who has studied. Moreover, not all the books that a lamdon has––and which contain all the laws and the manner in which one must behave––are to be found there. That is the reason why books such as the minhogim sforim, the 98 On the prohibition of compilations of dinim in Yiddish in the sixteenth century and their distribution among the ‘ignorant’, see Simha Assaf, ‘Zutot: teshuvah neged hibur sifrei dinim be˙ ˙ yidish’, Kiryat sefer 20 (1943), 41–2; Jean Baumgarten, ‘Prières, rituels et pratiques dans la société juive ashkénaze: La tradition des livres de coutumes en langue yiddish (XVIe siècle)’, Revue de l’Histoire des Religions 218 (2001), 369–403. 99 On the official position of the rabbis toward vernacular literature, see above, Chapter 2. 100 Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis u-sifruso, 74, notes an edition of Seyfer simkhas hanefesh (Vilnius, eighteenth century; an abridgement of the Shulkhon orukh) which was publicly burned, because ‘the masses, in particular the women, had taken to making legal decisions on their own initiative’. In 1796 a new edition of Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh appeared in Shklov, with the section concerning legal matters omitted; see Noyekh Prilutski, ‘Bibliografishe notitsn’, Yivo bleter 1 (1931), 222–7.

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Khumoshim-taytsh, the Seyfer lev tov, the Brantshpigl, and many other precious books in Yiddish have been written, which simple people can buy and keep in their houses to read them and know what is right and wrong in order better to serve the Holy One, blessed be He.101

Later he adds: *In the large communities, the Jews hold scrupulously to the practices according to the tradition of our ancestors. In each town, they have a rabbi and many scholars who know how women should conduct themselves during their period of impurity and during pregnancy. On the other hand, in the yishuvim, the minhogim are not understood, or everyone keeps the practices according to his own will. But each Jew is supposed to know how to conduct himself correctly, and he ought not live, eat, or drink as do beasts. (p. 92)

For the rabbis, there was no more effective solution for drawing the people out of the ignorance in which they were vegetating than to distribute the laws and customs in a language which they could understand. The scholars accepted and even encouraged the distribution of texts regarding practices, customs, and laws in the vernacular, but only under certain, well-defined conditions, in restricted cultural situations, and without ever calling into question their supremacy––as lamdonim––as interpreters and administrators of the Law. The distribution of the books of custom in Yiddish was a clear manifestation of the will on the part of the rabbinical authorities to teach Jewish customs to the Jewish masses, instead of restricting the distribution only to the educated, scholars or students of the yeshivah. This tendency expressed a change in the circulation of and access to the normative and legislative texts that regulated daily life; it also masked the importance of the Jewish clergy in the lives of the people. A knowledge of Jewish custom constituted one of the most imperative needs in matters of religious instruction. That is the root cause for printing such a great number of Yiddish texts, beginning in the sixteenth century, that have as their primary purpose the recapitulation of the essentials of the Law that every Jew is supposed to know. Thus one finds books such as the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Frankfurt, 1707)102 that offer abridgements of the Jewish 101 The book was reprinted in Frankfurt in 1713 and 1717; see BH i, no. 995; St. Serapeum, no. 46. The passage here is cited from the edition of Frankfurt, 1717, pp. 40–1. One finds in the same book another important passage: ‘everyone ought to study according to his level of understanding. If someone does not understand the Holy Language and daily studies the dinim about how people should behave from a Yiddish book or from other books that have been made, such as the Seyfer lev tov, the Taytsh khumesh, the Seyfer orkhous tsadikim in Yiddish, the Seyfer ha-yiro, such study will be accepted by the Holy One, blessed be He, just as well as when a scholar studies in Hebrew books according to his own understanding.’ Later the author explains that an ordinary Jew who studies in a Yiddish book likewise attains Heaven (see fol. 58r; translated from Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 249). 102 ‘The joy of the soul.’ The aim of the book is especially to drive out sadness and to teach a respect for the laws, the source of earthly fortune and happiness in the world to come. The author


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legal code (Kitsur shulkhon orukh), which consist of a collection of dinim presented succinctly so that every Jew can serve God. Also to be cited is the Dinim vo-seyder by Jacob b. Elhanan Heilbronn (Venice 1601–2 (?)), which deals with the purification and ˙salting of meat.103 This book, based on the rules of Israel Isserlein ben Pethahiah, is especially addressed to women so ˙ that they might know how to prepare meat after the ritual slaughtering, which itself quite clearly remained the privilege of men, most particularly, of the shoukhet. Some texts address questions of cashering, the Shkhitous uvdikous, which summarize the regulations disseminated in Hebrew halakhic literature.104 These texts clearly show the tenuous role played by texts in the vernacular that dealt with the laws governing Jewish life. The richest corpus of texts concerning religious regulations is that of the minhogim sforim, of which one finds the earliest manuscript evidence in the sixteenth century and which were published in multiple editions in the principal centres of European publishing up to the eighteenth century. There are many factors that played a role in the origin of this tradition that constituted an important segment of diasporic Jewish literature: above all, the existence of a multiplicity of practices, often divergent according to cultural area and community traditions.105 The need made itself felt on the part of the rabbinical authorities to clarify and codify the practices in order to strengthen community life. On the other hand, the accumulation of halakhic details regarding the most everyday aspects of Jewish life, such as the sabbath, prayer, kashrus, and family life, remained a matter of indecision for ordinary Jews, often because of an inability to know which precise practice ought to be followed and in which manner most scrupulously to keep the holidays and the commandments that punctuate the Jewish year. Such difficulties promote the fixation in writing of usage (minhog), custom (nouhag), regulations and practices.106 The guides to conduct offer a compendium of texts focused on both private and social life. They have for their purpose to educate the community and to respond to all questions that any Jew can pose concerning the appropriate manner of keeping the Law and following custom. It is in the Middle Ages, when the kehilous of the cities of Europe were founded and says: ‘You will find (in this book) a remedy for the suffering of the body and the soul. Whoever takes this remedy will see his cares diminish, then disappear, and his joy will be great.’ The author claims to base his work on an abridgement of the legal code of Maimonides. On this book, see BH iii, nos. 555b, 698. 103

See St. CB. no. 5538. 1; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 31. Brief texts that address this issue of ritual slaughter were published in Amsterdam, Cracow, Frankfurt, Wilhermsdorf, Dyhernfurt, Hanau, and Prague; see St. Serapeum, no. 286. 105 On this topic, see Hirsch Jakob Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958; rpt. Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1996). 106 On the meaning of the word nouhag, see Güdemann, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens, index and vol. iii, pp. 12 f. 104

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the religious traditions characteristic of the Ashkenazic territories were established, that the customs began to be written down, especially in order to furnish a rational basis for the observance of minhogim and to show the validity of differences that could exist among practices originating in various geographical locales.107 Some books of custom were written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by rabbis in the south of France who thus wished to differentiate their own communities from those of Spain.108 To these texts one might add the rabbinical codes and liturgical texts in which the authors deal with the laws as wells as customs.109 Beginning in the twelfth century, some books of conduct were also written for the communities of Germany.110 Finally, one ought to recall the ties that exist between the tradition of musor sforim and that of the minhogim sforim. A good example of that relationship is presented by the Sefer Hassidim (Seyfer khasidim) by Judah he-Hassid, in ˙ ˙ alternates with references to many customs which ethico-religious advice and 111 practices. This collection of Hebrew texts bears witness to the fragmentation, as well as to the vitality of local customs. The tradition of minhogim occupied an important place in Jewish literature in the course of the Middle Ages: at the same time, it made possible the affirmation of practices characteristic of the Ashkenazic cultural world, and it also constituted an effective pedagogical method for assuring a better understanding of the customs among the broad Jewish populace. When the first books of custom were written in the vernacular, an older Hebrew tradition of the codification of local custom already existed. The minhogim sforim were integrated into this tradition with which they shared 107 This topic is analysed by Herman Pollack, ‘An Historical Explanation of the Origin and Development of Jewish Books of Customs (Sifre Minhagim): 1100–1300’, Jewish Social Studies 49 (1987), 195–216. 108 This is the case with the Seyfer ha-minhogous (twelfth–thirteenth centuries) by Asher ben Saul of Lunel, who describes the customs of Provence, and with the Ha-Manhig by Abraham Yarhi ben Nathan (Constantinople, 1519), restricted to the laws concerning the sabbath, prayer, ˙ and the holidays; he presents a collection of practices characteristic of the communities of Spain, Provence, northern France, and Germany. 109 This is the case with the Orkhous khayim (part 1, Florence, 1750) by Aaron b. Jacob haKohen of Lunel (fourteenth century) (? Spain < 1492) and the Seyfer ha-eshkoul by Abraham b. Isaac of Narbonne (twelfth century). 110 For example, the Seyfer ha-roukeyakh (Fano, 1505) by Eleazer b. Judah of Worms (twelfth– thirteenth centuries). One might also note the books that describe the practices of celebrated rabbis. There were thus some disciples of Meir ben Barukh of Rothenburg who brought together a collection of the customs of their master. Along the same lines, one might take note of Seyfer ha-minhogim (Riva, 1558) by Abraham Klausner. The Seyfer leket yousher by Joseph b. Moses of Höchstadt describes the practices of Israel Isserlein and, in the fourteenth century, the Sefer haMaharil (Sabbioneta, 1556), those of Jacob Levi Molin (Moellin) b. Moses (Maharil) (fourteenth century). 111 See Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid. (twelfth–thirteenth centuries), Sefer hassidim (Seyfer khasi˙ ˙ dim) (Bologna, 1538); ed. Reuben Margaliot, Sefer hassidim (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-rav Kuk, ˙ 1970).


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numerous points in common. The books of custom in the vernacular nonetheless had their own characteristics, by reason of their specific audience and of their well defined purposes. The oldest versions date to the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, such as the minhogim manuscripts found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.112 There are also other collections of the same type in the libraries in Turin, Berlin, Hamburg, and Oxford.113 The first printed version (Venice, 1589) was published by Simon ben Judah Levi Ginzburg.114 The text is based on the Hebrew book of customs by Isaac Tyrnau.115 The purpose of this work, intended ‘for scholars 112

(1) MS hébr. 586 (from northern Italy); the manuscript is a collection of Ashkenazic practices and customs ordered according to the Jewish calendar. In the final folios, there is a list of personal names followed by the dates of their deaths. The first note is in the hand of the scribe. It indicates that his father died the third of Adar 262 (1503); EYT 31. See Mordecai Kosover, ‘Dönen = dawnen, tözen = tetsˇen, sˇolt = tsˇolnt’, in Maks Vaynraykh tsu zayn zibetsikstn geboyrntog // For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday (The Hague: Mouton, 1964), 168; Zofia Ameisenowa, ‘Sefer minhagim metsuyar mimei-ha-beinayim ha-me’uharim’, Tarbiz 28 (1959), ˙ 200. (2) MS hébr. 587 (from Italy), a collection of liturgical customs, composed and written down by Samson ben Menahem, who lived in Cividale; according to the colophon, it dates from ˙ 1533. It was written, ‘in order that it serve for the purpose of reading and studying the Jewish customs of the entire year as one should pray and keep the customs’. The manuscript includes a Jewish calendar. (3) MS hébr. 588 (from Italy, Casal-Maggiore), a collection of liturgical customs copied by Uri ben Jekuthiel in the sixteenth century. It includes both a Jewish calendar and a list of the poroshous of the Pentateuch. On these three manuscripts, see BH iii, p. 1185; St. Serapeum (1864), no. 406; (1869), no. 106; Jean Baumgarten, ‘Les Manuscrits Yidich de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’, in Field of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Folklore and Literature, v, ed. David Goldberg (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 125–34; Diane Wolfthal, Picturing Yiddish: Gender, Identity and Memory in the Illustrated Yiddish Books of Renaissance Italy (Leiden: Brill, 2004). 113 The oldest manuscript of customs in Turin dates from 1549; see BH iv, p. 1051; Bernardino Peyron, Codices Hebraici manu exarati Regiae bibliothecae quae in Taurinensi Athenaeo asservatur (Rome: Fratres Bocca, 1880), no. 229. There are three manuscripts in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, on two of which Moritz Steinschneider reports (MS Or. qu. 694 and 1049): Verzeichnis der hebräischen Handschriften der königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, i (Berlin: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1878; rpt. Hildesheim: Olms, 1980), no. 166. The Hamburg manuscripts are: cod. hebr. 118, 238, 250; see BH ii, p. 1354; iv, p. 1051; Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, cat. nos. 207, 208, 209; St. Serapeum (1869), no. 137. On the Oxford manuscripts, see Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, no. 909 (the Minhogim by R. Yuspa Shamash of Worms) and no. 1217. 1. 114 Venice, 1589, or Mantua, 1590. See Morris Epstein, ‘Simon Levi Ginzburg’s Illustrated Custumal (Minhagim-Book) of Venice, 1593 and its Travels’, in Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies, iv (Jerusalem, 1973), 197–211; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 18; EYT 72. 115 Tyrnau was an Austrian rabbi of the fourteenth century, author of a book of customs whose first edition appeared in Venice in 1566. He was a student of Abraham Klausner who himself wrote a collection of Ashkenazic Minhogim. Tyrnau’s goal was to collect customs and practices known to everyone, especially following the Black Death (1348–50), which had considerably weakened the Ashkenazic communities. In the Hebrew preface to the Yiddish translation of the work (fol. 1v; Venice, 1593), he states: ‘There are fewer and fewer scholars. . . . I have seen communities in which one finds no more than two or three people who have a real knowledge of local customs.’ The adaptation into Yiddish had the same goal, namely to spread the

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and the uneducated’, is clearly enunciated in the versified preface: whatever his qualifications or lack thereof, he will be able to speak of the shoufor, the lulov, the suko, the eyruv tavshilin, kashrus, and the inspection of khomets; women do not let the four corners be seen, for they cover the challah with their apron; both young and old know to hold their hands over sabbath candles. . . . And when one does not know the rule [din] exactly, one can follow common usage, but if one wishes to turn away from custom, one ends up in Hell, for if you leave custom behind you, then Hell will be in front of you. I now want to begin, with God’s will, the practices of Saturday night, for it is there that the week begins; the night precedes the day, then the whole week, then the sabbaths of the year, the order of the beginning of the month [rosh khoudesh], then the whole month. I will begin with rosh khoudesh nison. You will hear many good titbits. Then come the twelve months of the year (or sometimes thirteen), then about the youtserous, haftorous, brokhous, circumcision, and weddings with the seven blessings, and other things. You may draw up your own accounts; I will confirm it [by touching the handkerchief]. I will also teach you how to pray when there is no minyon, and not to say takhanun on certain days; on houshano rabo to observe the moon. Therefore, buy this collection of customs without delay, for they are useful night and day, at Tisha-bov and at Purim, at Rosh ha-shono and at Yom kipur. (fol. 2r, Venice, 1593)

This edition, which condenses the essence of Jewish religious law, was reprinted many times in the major European centres of Hebrew printing (in Italy, Germany, Prague, Basel, and Amsterdam), clearly demonstrating the importance assumed by this kind of compilation intended for the broad Jewish populace.116 Such works in Yiddish demonstrate above all the desire on the part of scholars to transmit to the Jewish populace Jewish customs in an accessible and clear manner that raised no controversy. It was less a matter of local custom (minhog ha-mokoum or minhog ha-medino) or custom practised by certain restricted groups in Jewish society, than of widespread customs currently practised as part of the whole cultural and religious structure comprising Ashkenazic Jewry. Thus the title page of the edition of Venice (1593) practices and customs to the broad populace in a clear and concise form. The collections by Isaac Tyrnau and the Maharil had the most influence on the books of customs in Yiddish. On the classification of the manuscripts and the relationships among the manuscripts and printed editions, see Shtif, ‘A geshribene yidishe bibliotek in a yidish hoyz in venetsye in mitn dem zekhtsntn yorhundert’, cols. 525–7. 116

The collection published in Venice, 1593, included a calendar for seventy years (luakh ouf zibntsig yor). Another edition was published in Venice, 1600–1; see Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish beitalyah’, nos. 18, 19, 27. The German editions were: Frankfurt am Main (nine editions between 1645 and 1728); Dyhernfurt, 1692; Frankfurt an der Oder, 1707, 1724; Homburg, 1729. The Prague editions were in 1665 and 1682–8; the Basel edition appeared in 1601. There were six editions in Amsterdam between 1645 and 1728. In effect, the Minhogim sforim, along with the Tsene-rene, were the most widespread Yiddish books in all of Europe. Between 1590 and 1733 there were no fewer than twenty-eight editions printed in central European presses; not a single edition appeared in eastern Europe.


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indicates that its collection of the customs of the Jewish year are intended for all the Ashkenazim, whether those in Italy (velsh land) or Moravia (Meyrn), Bohemia (Beym), or Poland (Pouln).117 The Yiddish books of custom, just as their counterparts in Hebrew, brought together the principal rules which governed the Jewish religious year, during holidays and private or public celebrations. The preface of the Minhogim published in Amsterdam in 1703, printed by Isaac ben Jacob of Cordova and published by Hirsh Levi Rofe, clearly indicates the various commandments at issue in the books of custom (here cited from the 1707 edition, unfoliated): One should praise the Lord God, for his name is indeed exalted. For He has given us his holy Torah, and he has prescribed therein the mitsvous that we must keep, as you will read in these minhogim, which will gladden your heart: what you should do before going to bed and in the morning when you arise; that you should pray with devotion [kavone], whether you are in a yishuv or in a kehilo; and how to keep the sabbath at its time, for then the world to come will welcome you; and also the order of kidush and havdolo just as we received from our ancestors. Every month you should sanctify the moon and recite the blessing with great fervour. In the first month which is called Nisan you should purify everything from beginning to end. On the eve of Passover after the midday hour, no one should take khomets into his mouth. On the night of the seyder, one should tell the story of the exodus from Egypt so that we are worthy of returning to Jerusalem. On the eighteenth day of Iyyar one must keep Lag ba’Omer, with desire and joy, singing and laughter. On the sixth day of Sivan, one should celebrate Simchat Torah––men and women, young and old. On the eighteenth day of Tammuz in the community, great and small should fast and pray. On Tishah b’Av one should not forget to say the lamentations and the kinous with sadness and complaint. In the month of Elul Moses went up to the heavens to receive the final tablets. For that reason one starts loudly to sound the shoufor, so that Satan and the evil impulse be destroyed. In Tishri the Holy Name created the world, as will be explained to us in this book. He also sits on the throne of judgement to judge both the just and evildoers. Up to Yom Kippur the time is given to be able to pray for life eternal. On Sukkot one should take the lulov with great joy, for we know that we have prevailed in the conflict. In Heshvan when the trees lose their leaves and one begins to feel the winter, one keeps ˙ shney ve-hamishi u-shney with fasting and prayer so that the Holy Name protects us ˙ from the cold. In Kislev we keep Hanukkah by lighting candles in remembrance of the ˙ miracle, as you will find in this book. In Tevet there was a great lamentation in Jerusalem; so, we must fast on the tenth day.

The Minhogim bukh written by Simon Levi Ginzburg includes the principal rules of life that each Jew is obligated to respect through the entire year. The book is divided into short chapters that sum up the basic practices characteristic of Ashkenazic territory, concerning the sabbath, the days of the week, the holidays that punctuate the Jewish year, and the domestic ceremonies–– weddings (brutlouf or breyleft), circumcision (bris-milo), the redemption of 117 Some Minhogim sforim bring together customs of communities in the German-speaking lands, while others include customs of both Germany and Poland.

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the first-born (pidyoun ha-beyn), and mourning (hilkhous aveylus). Each chapter assembles excerpts from sacred texts that the compiler reorganizes around a theme or according to the sequence of the liturgical year or domestic celebrations. The point was not to leave any ordinary Jew, who did not know Jewish practices or who was unable to consult a rabbi, in ignorance of religious customs. These books of conduct showed that they were obviously of use to Jewish families that lived in isolated village communities and themselves had to take on the obligation of adhering to the many rules of Jewish life, such as, among others, the koshering of meat, the search for khomets on the eve of Passover, and the construction of a suko on the holiday of Sukkot. For urban Jews, these works were also a valuable vademecum that one could consult in case of doubt about the dinim or if one had forgotten them, without the mediation of an authority, a rabbi or shoukhet. In reading these collections of customs, it becomes clear that they are interwoven from various texts drawn from the Jewish tradition. Thus in chapter 2 of Simon Levi Ginzburg’s Minhogim bukh, which concerns the weekdays (following the chapter on the end of the sabbath), practical considerations are first treated, exactly as in the corresponding chapters of the musor sforim. The section begins with advice about the conduct of one’s life and hygiene that every Jew is obligated to observe upon rising in the morning: In the morning one should arise early, in order to recite the Eyl meylekh as soon as the sun has begun to shine, and no later, for that is the right moment. In rising, one should be quick and not lazy. One should imagine that a prince or lord has sent for him; or if he was out to get something important, then he would be quick about it. It is all the more necessary to be in good form since this is done in God’s service, blessed be He, who provides nourishment and clothing and gives life. In the summer you should not allow the evil impulse [yetser ho-ro] to convince you that you have not slept enough. . . . One should take care of the needs of nature, conduct oneself decently in the toilet and not expose oneself to the world, even though it is dark. This is applicable for both men and women. Whoever delays heeding the call of nature commits a sin. Afterwards one should wash his hands with a container so that one pours water onto the one hand three times, and thereafter onto the other hand three times. One hand should not touch the other before the water has been poured onto each hand three times. For they are impure due to the evil spirits [beyze rukhous] which during the night have traversed them. One should avoid pouring out this water in a place where people commonly pass by. . . . One may not touch the mouth, the nose, or the eyes before having washed one’s hands. One should thoroughly wash one’s face and dry it, for whoever washes his face without drying it, the Gemoro explains that there is a risk that a boil will appear on his face. (fol. 4v)

The chapter then addresses the order of the recitation of the prayers in the synagogue, the mitsvas tsitsis, then the manner of putting on tefilin,118 all of which considerations are borrowed from the large Jewish legal codes such as 118 One puts on tsitsis in the morning after having washed one’s hands, and the tfilin at morning prayers.


Books of Morality and Conduct

the Shulkhon orukh, but reduced here to their simplest expression: ‘When there is a minyon in the synagogue, one recites kadish and borkhu. While the khazon recites borkhu, the assembled worshippers say: “yisborakh veyishtabakh veyispoar” [blessed, praised, glorified], as it is written in the tfilous.’ Finally, there are aggadic fragments in the form of exemplary stories intended to teach an ethical lesson applicable to contemporary life, just as in the homiletic literature or the Yiddish books of morality: One should wear the ritual fringes [arba kanfous] all day. For it is the same as when someone who does not want to forget something ties a knot in his belt, so that when he sees it, he remembers that thing. Thus it is with the four fringes. When one sees it, he remembers all the mitsvous that are prescribed for him. Everyone knows the story of the scholar who met a prostitute. . . . She sat down naked on a sumptuous bed. When he wished to go to her and lie with her, the tsitsis struck him in the face. . . . The prostitute wanted to know what fault he found with her. The scholar responded that he had never seen such a beautiful person in all his life. But we Jews observe a mitsvo called tsitsis that are like four witnesses who bear witness of sin. The prostitute made a gift of one third of her fortune to the kingdom and the rest to charity. She followed the scholar to his house of prayer and study, and she became a pious Jew. She married the scholar and became a pious rebetsin. (fol. 6r)119

The chapter closes with the thought that appears in almost all devotional books in Yiddish, concerning the compelling necessity to study; that is, to read sacred texts in Hebrew. For those who do not know Hebrew, the author notes: ‘After the prayer service, one should study. If a person cannot do that, he ought to read in the books of morality in Yiddish [taytsh shtrof bikhln] a little every day. For when a person dies, the first thing concerning which he is judged is whether he studied his portion every day, a little or a lot’ (fol. 6r). The books of conduct abound in information about the local customs and practices that are characteristic of a community or a region: the specific manner of observing a commandment or an embellishment of a divine commandment, especially if these customs add a particular touch to a practice or rite. In the chapter concerning marriage and the seven blessings, for instance, the author takes stock of certain differences encountered among communities in the observance of matrimonial practice: In some communities no tkhinous are said on the night before [a wedding]. At Worms, the bridegroom leaves the synagogue during the recitation of tkhinous120 . . . The bridegroom takes her [the bride] by the hand and leads her briefly, while the members of the community throw grain on them while saying: ‘be fruitful and multiply’ [Gen. 8: 17], so that peace will reign over them, as is said in the verse: ‘He makes peace in your 119

See BT Men 44a. This parable appears several times in the Tsene-rene. The fiancé is often called to the Torah (aliyo) in the synagogue the sabbaths before and after the wedding. This practice is designated oufruf (ufruf), oufrufenish (ufrufenish). The women throw hazelnuts, almonds, grapes, and sweets down onto the bridegroom from the upper section of the synagogue that is reserved for them. 120

Books of Morality and Conduct


borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat’ [Ps. 147: 14]. In some communities, one adds money to the grain. Thereafter the poor pick it up. Then the bride and groom sit together briefly. Then the rabbi takes the groom and leads him forth. The women take the bride and cover her with a veil.121 This comes from Rebecca, who, when she met Isaac, covered her face with her veil as a sign of modesty.122 In some communities they dance a mitsvo tants, the men with the groom and the women with the bride.123 In the morning, no tkhino is recited, but one says the blessing: ‘Praised be the triumphant one.’ Customarily it is recited out of doors, as a sign of a good omen, so that the offspring of the couple may be as numerous as the stars of the heavens.124 The head of the groom is covered in memory of the destruction of the Temple. In some communities, he puts on a long mantle over his sabbath garments, just as does someone who is in mourning. The bride also wears a sargenes.125 (fos. 75rv)

After the eyrusin and kidushin came the nisuin, during which one read the kesubo, the marriage contract. The text explains: ‘One takes another glass, for one may not make the blessing of eyrusin and the blessing of the nisuin with the same glass. The blessings must be separated. . . . One offers the drink to the groom and bride, and the groom breaks the glass in memory of the khurbon.126 In some communities the groom throws the glass into a wall’ (fos. 75v–76r).127 These vernacular books of conduct and custom, based on Hebrew models such as the work by Isaac Tyrnau, thus offered a vast collection of Jewish customs from the Ashkenazic world. For this reason, they are valuable documents for understanding the relations between local customs and collective beliefs and for better defining a multitude of particular realizations of the rituals that structured the Jewish year. The ruptures within the communities of the Ashkenazic diaspora, in addition to the strong ritualization of the 121

The ceremony is called badekn di kalo. According to the custom, it is a sign of modesty and

piety. 122

Cf. Gen. 24: 65; see also M Ket 2. 1. A traditional dance performed during the wedding in honour of the bride and groom. There is a description in the Seyfer minhogim, published in Venice, 1593. Jehiel Michael Epstein ˙ describes another kind of mitsvo tants, in which the roles are reversed, the men inviting the bride to dance, and the women inviting the groom (in the Seyfer derekh ha-yoshor la-oulom ha-bo (Frankfurt, 1704)). 124 An allusion to Gen. 22: 17 and 24: 60. 125 The male garment is long and white, the kitl. This garment of mourning, which could serve as a shroud, is worn by the groom so that he thinks of death and so that he will abstain from tasting earthly pleasures without restraint. From this point forward, he will wear it on the evening of the seyder, during the prayer service of Rosh ha-Shanah and on Yom Kippur. Moreover, white is a symbol of purity, and thus the groom’s wearing white indicates that he is free from all fault. The word sargenes is another name for the same garment. 126 The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. On this custom, see BT Ber 31a. This breaking of the glass is also thought to drive away demons and evil spirits who, jealous of the happiness of the humans, wish to disturb the ceremony or do harm to the couple; see Jacob Z. Lauterbach, ‘The Ceremony of Breaking a Glass at Weddings’, HUCA 2 (1925), 351–80. 127 On this group of practices, see Baumgarten, ‘Amour et famille en Europe centrale’, 413–33, 608–13. 123


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Jewish religion, made it all the more necessary to compile in handbooks that made accessible to the broad populace the essential customs that every Jew was obligated to practice. In this way, these normative texts played an obvious role in the regulation of behaviour, strengthening religious practice, as well as the struggle against the uncontrolled proliferation of non-normative behaviour. There is one final characteristic of minhogim sforim that must be mentioned: they are illustrated by magnificent woodcuts.128 Some are based on illustrations found in the Haggadot. Others were created by non-Jewish artists for Jewish publishers. The fact that the Yiddish books of custom adapted from Hebrew were illustrated with prints that represent the most significant moments of the Jewish liturgy leads one to believe that they were intended not only for the audience of men and women who could read, but also for their children who were learning to read.129 The woodcuts were for the reader and for the teacher, schoolmaster, or parent, an effective tool for teaching the mitsvous. The alliance of text and image thus enabled all Jews, from a very young age, to familiarize themselves with the most important religious duties incumbent upon them, both by means of reading and instruction via the images. This collection of vernacular books makes it possible to recognize that Jewish society was experiencing––as was the case across Europe beginning at the time of the Renaissance––what Norbert Elias has called a society im Übergang ‘in transition’ in the domain of customs and private life.130 Jewish books of morals and conduct bear witness to an inner desire to codify behaviour, at the same time that they demonstrate the development of a more ordered society whose subjects have internalized a multitude of strict norms having to do with collective comportment, halakhic practice, and Jewish customs. From the broad range of these vernacular compositions a new social code emerges that has as its purpose the more effective control of individuals and an increased respect for halakhic practice which forms the foundation of Jewish identity. The authors of the Yiddish books obviously only collected 128 On the illustrations in Yiddish literature, see the book by Chone Shmeruk, Ha-iyurim lesifrei yidish ba-meot ha-taz ha-yaz (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1986) and ‘Ha-iyurim min haminhagim be-yidish, venitsiah, 1593 be-hadpasot hozerot bi-defusei prag ba-meah ha-17’, Stud˙ ies in Bibliography and Booklore 15 (1984), 31–52. 129 Some of the woodcuts that appear in the editions of the Minhogim-bukh of Simon Levi Ginzburg present scenes in which children appear; e.g. on fol. 3v, one sees the ceremony of havdolo: the father holds a cup of wine and the sons a candlestick; on fol. 19v, the father inspects a room at Passover in order to remove the khomets; a child is lying on his stomach under a table; on fol. 67r, sweets are offered to children on Simkhas touro. There is a description of the woodcuts in Epstein, ‘Simon Levi Ginzburg’s Illustrated Custumal’, 207–11; see also Shmeruk, Ha-iyurim, 42–55. 130 See Norbert Elias, Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation: Soziogenetische und psychogenetische Untersuchungen, 2 vols. (Basel: Haus zum Falken, 1939; rpt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), i. 91.

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and compiled the rules of conduct which they found before them in the sacred Hebrew tradition. The vernacularization nonetheless expresses a desire for codification that corresponds to the demands for a harmonious and ordered social life. The books play an obvious social role: simultaneously as tools of instruction for individuals and as substitutes for rabbinical authority and community power. These publications took on a considerable importance for the study of the change of collective customs and the development of Jewish life in Europe in the modern period. The broad distribution of the books of morals and custom from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries throughout Ashkenazic Europe remind us that the moral instruction of the broad populace and the consolidation of the faith were among the major concerns of this period.

 Prayer in the Vernacular Beginning in the sixteenth century, the problem of translating prayers into the vernacular was one of the important questions confronting Jewish society and one that provoked many debates and contradictory opinions. Given the primacy of the Hebrew liturgical canon, one might ask to what extent prayer in the vernacular was encouraged or, on the contrary, prohibited. The rabbinical authorities adopted an ambivalent attitude that well illustrates the tensions that this thorny issue inevitably caused. As for the Yiddish authors, while they did not call into question the foundations of the Jewish liturgy, they decided in favour of a partial vernacularization of the prayers. In order to understand precisely where the vernacular worship of God developed, it is necessary to recall certain liturgical practices that had already been long established in Jewish society. This focus will help to define the narrow space in which vernacular prayers operated, at the same time that it will demonstrate the internal coherence of Jewish liturgical culture. Let us recall that when the Yiddish language appeared at the end of the tenth century, the Hebrew liturgical canon had already long been established and occupied a central place in religious life. This simple historical statement limits from the outset the significance of the liturgy in the vernacular.1 The synagogue service could only be carried out in Hebrew, the sacred tongue, and in no other language. While books of prayer in the vernacular could be published, they could only play a peripheral and restricted role in relation to the central liturgy, which necessarily had to be performed in the sacred language. The idea of a liturgy in the vernacular is in itself incongruous, since it stands in such direct opposition to the liturgical practice already established for centuries and to the absolute primacy of Hebrew in the liturgy. Such an issue in the context of Jewish society proved to be contrary to current liturgical practice and to the strict boundaries between the lingua sacra and lingua franca. It could meet with nothing other than the opposition of the rabbinical authorities and even provoked interdiction and banishment, so great seemed its contradiction of the foundations of traditional liturgy. Several well-known developments nonetheless took place in the period following the end of the Middle Ages, which led (under strict surveillance, as it were) to translation of parts of the liturgy and even to the composition of prayers in Yiddish. The issue raised is not without similarities to that 1 See Schalom Ben-Chorin, Bettendes Judentum: die Liturgie der Synagoge. Münchner Vorlesung (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1980).

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posed by the translation of the Bible into the vernacular. Adversaries and supporters of the vernacularization of the liturgy brandished the same arguments that were used by those who condemned or encouraged the publication of the scriptures in the language spoken by the people.2 In the period when texts in Yiddish begin to appear, Hebrew and Aramaic were the sole permitted liturgical languages and those in which the entirety of Jewish prayers had been composed and were recited during the prayer service. For many rabbis, the criterion of comprehension proved to be of secondary importance in relation to the mechanical repetition of the prayer. Nonetheless, the growing distance between the sacred language and an increasing number of the faithful posed a central problem that grew increasingly more sensitive, that is, understanding the meaning of the prayers. The chasm seemed to widen between the educated and those who could not fully participate in the prayer service because of their lack of education. In the prefaces to the Yiddish books, some revealing issues insistently recur: to what extent is it reasonable to conduct prayers in a language which is incomprehensible to the vast majority of believers? Is it not necessary for the people to understand the divine word in a language familiar to them, so that they can better participate in the services of the synagogue? Is it not a more effective means of combating ignorance to translate the prayers into the vernacular and thus make it possible for the liturgy to enter the hearts of the Jewish people? A number of the authors seem aware that the liturgical practice of the Ashkenazic communities only exacerbated the inequalities that existed between the religious lives of the educated and the simple believers. On the other hand, for the ordinary Jews who did not know Hebrew, the actual hearing of the prayers in Hebrew was often without effect. The individual who chanted the words or heard the blessings in a language which he did not understand could not fully participate with kavono either in the service or in the praise of the divine. If the one praying did not understand clearly what he was saying in the prayers, was the relationship between that person and his Creator not thus distorted? All the more so since prayer was supposed to involve the entirety of one’s being, motivating his mind, intellect, heart, as well as his body. His utter inability to understand the words thus altered this privileged moment of communication with God. The fact that simple Jews were in part excluded from the liturgy due to their lack of complete participation in the prayer service was necessarily a hindrance to their religious lives. These were all 2 The situation often resembled that found in non-Jewish society, which was confronted by problems and needs similar to those characteristic of Jewish society in the early modern period. Once again one must recognize that there existed a relationship between the problematics confronting the early Reformation, Luther in particular, who favoured both prayers in Latin and a liturgy in the vernacular, and the issue of Yiddish prayer in the Jewish world. On this subject, see Herman A. P. Schmidt, Liturgie et langue vulgaire: le problème de la langue liturgique chez les premiers reformateurs et au Concil de Trente (Rome: Apud aedes Universitatis Gregorianae, 1950) and Vittorio Coletti, L’Éloquence de la chaire (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1987).


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problems of which the rabbinical authorities became progressively more aware and which made liturgical changes increasingly necessary, however limited and circumscribed, in order to combat ignorance and more effectively involve uneducated Jews in religious life and the praise of God. Given these restrictions and the rigid regulations that governed the relationship between Hebrew as the primary liturgical language and the vernacular, prayer in Yiddish did not appear except in some very limited spaces: on the one hand, as a complement to the liturgy of the synagogue. With insignificant exceptions, the entire liturgy recited in the synagogue was in Hebrew or Aramaic. Yiddish appeared in only a peripheral manner in the private sphere, during familial celebrations or the domestic liturgy, for example in the songs (zmirous) and hymns (piyutim) sung around the family table. On the other hand, when private piety began to take on an increasingly important role in the religious lives of Jews, collections of prayers were published that were intended for individual prayer read at home or during reflective moments that arose during the daily routine. These blessings in Yiddish (BT Ber 40ab) could be recited in public or in private without the necessity of forming a minyon (the group of ten men required for prayer). Finally the need to make accessible to the ‘ignorant’ the basic prayers recited in the synagogue led to the adaptation of the Hebrew rite into Yiddish. It was not at all a matter of replacing the traditional liturgy in the sacred language by one in the vernacular, but rather of facilitating a better comprehension on the part of the ordinary believers and their more meaningful participation in the prayer service. Thus there emerged a division between the domains of the two languages that involved specific liturgical practices, based on common situations and practices specific to the Jewish tradition. The editions of the bilingual collections permit a double usage: they can be read both by Jews who know and pray in the sacred language, and by those whose imperfect knowledge of Hebrew steers them more naturally toward the liturgy in the vernacular. These hierarchies and regulated divisions between the sacred and spoken languages become clear when one analyses the earliest written evidence of the Yiddish language: a blessing found in the Worms makhzour (1272).3 The appearance of prayers in Yiddish is contemporary with the composition of the principal Ashkenazic makhzourim of the thirteenth and fourteenth 3 Jerusalem, National and University Library, Osroth 4° 781, vol. i, fol. 54r (92r according to the old foliation). See Dov Sadan, ‘Ketovet rishona be-yidish keduma ba-mahzor vermayse’, ˙ Kiryat sefer 38 (1962–3), 575–6; and idem, ‘Der eltster gram in yidish’, Di goldene keyt 47 (1963), 158–9; Max Weinreich, ‘A yidisher sats fun far zibn hundert yor: analiz fun gor a vikhtikn shprakhikn gefins’, Yidishe shprakh 23 (1963), 87–93; 24 (1964), 61–2; Walter Röll, ‘Das älteste datierte jüdisch-deutsche Sprachdenkmal: Ein Verspaar im Wormser Machsor von 1272–1273’, Zeitschrift für Mundartforschung 33 (1966), 127–38; Chone Shmeruk, ‘The Versified Old Yiddish Blessing in the Worms Mahzor’, in The Worms Mahzor, The Jewish National and University ˙ ˙ Library in Jerusalem, Ms. Heb. 4o 781/1. Introductory Volume. ed. Malachi Beit-Arié (Jerusalem: Jewish National and University Library; Vaduz: Cyelar Publishing, 1985), 100–3; EYT 2.

Prayer in the Vernacular


centuries.4 In the Worms makhzour the following Yiddish blessing appears: i G ‘a good day to whoever AG v½Rxv U T ½e SeK Nd vx H T ½ YB d a IYA i RWoZX qM x $YD di RYWx $ v AG v½U xv d B OYA i QU x UW carries this makhzour into the synagogue’. This blessing is written in the empty spaces inside the large Hebrew letters of the word bedaato, the first word of the additional prayer (musaf) for the dew recited on the first day of Passover.5 A study of the manuscript makes it possible to specify the role and the function of this vernacular blessing within the makhzour. The manuscript’s owner, Barukh ben R. Isaac, who had hired the scribe, kept this prayer book, which is quite heavy and written on parchment in large format, in his own house. It was carried to the synagogue by an ordinary Jew for prayers on holidays. The blessing is addressed therefore to this porter, who carried the makhzour from the house of the book’s owner to the synagogue, to thank him for his hard work (due to the size and weight of the manuscript). Since the porter was most likely an uneducated Jew, the blessing inserted in the body of the Hebrew text was more appropriately written in the vernacular. It is also important to note that the blessing is not an integral part of the prayers, but is rather a supplemental, peripheral element, which indicates the limited possibilities that existed for Yiddish in Jewish literature, particularly in liturgical texts, since the canonical core of the liturgy was composed in Hebrew and Aramaic. Only a few prayers in the vernacular were added without ever calling the predominant position of Hebrew and Aramaic into question. Once again the limited scope of Yiddish served to respond to very particular and well-defined needs, namely for the dissemination of prayer among the people, particularly for women, the uneducated and children whose knowledge of the sacred language was deficient. The same conclusion results from an analysis of the earliest trace of Yiddish in a printed book: the prayer, ‘Almekhtiger got’, found in the Passover Haggadah, published in Prague in 1526 by Gershom Kohen; the poem is a translation into Yiddish of the well-known piyut (liturgical hymn) ‘Adir hu’, from the Passover Haggadah:6 4

Among others, the makhzour of Vitry (eleventh century), of Laud (1290), of Leipzig (1300), of Dresden, Breslau, Nuremberg (1331), and of Darmstadt (1340). 5 The Hebrew word means ‘with his approval’. See the Tfilas tal sung so that plants are refreshed by dew and rain, and for the fertilization of the earth and the restoration of the land of Israel. 6 Beginning in the Tannaitic period such liturgical compositions began to be integrated into the prayer service. They are ordinary prayers that have been versified or set musically, or prayers composed for holidays and domestic celebrations (circumcisions, weddings, etc.). In the Middle Ages, the payetonim composed a vast collection of these liturgical poems or songs; see Israel Davidson, Otsar ha-shirah veha-piyyut (New York: Beit Midrash ha-Rabbanim de-Amerika, 1925; rpt. Jerusalem: Ktav, 1970). The Haggadah has conventionally been referred to as the Ma nishtano? (‘how does [this night] differ [from all other nights’?]), as is clear from the following example: on the title page of the Haggadah of Prague (1691), one reads: ‘Ma nishtano nicely and well printed. With all the illustrations as in the Italian [velshe] Ma nishtano. Also on good paper and with good ink, exactly as in the Italian Ma nishtano. Also much finer than those earlier


Prayer in the Vernacular


Omnipotent God, build your temple quickly, so quickly in our day, quickly, yes, quickly. Merciful God, just God, humble God, high God, worthy God, mild God, gracious God, faithful God, God of the Jews, strong God, living God, powerful God, renowned God, eternal God, fearsome God, tender God, royal God, rich God, strong God. You and no other are God, and build your temple quickly, so quickly in our day, quickly, yes, quickly.7

This is one of the most widely known and oldest liturgical Yiddish songs, the first traces of which appear in a Haggadah manuscript of the fifteenth century.8 In the Hebrew version, there is an acrostic that comprises the twentytwo Hebrew letters in alphabetical order. The adaptation of the poem into Yiddish is not restricted to a simple and literal translation: it too is ordered by

ones. It is a pleasure to read from it. There are also many dinim in Yiddish [taytsh] in the book; they have been specially completed for this edition. All children can also understand how to participate in the Seyder. So buy quickly, before they are all gone.’ On the Yiddish poem, see Lazarus Goldschmidt, ed., The Earliest Illustrated Haggadah Printed by Gershom Cohen at Prague, translated from the German manuscript by Immanuel Goldschmidt (London: Barmerlea Book Sales, 1940); Yitskhok Shiper (Ignaczy Schipper), ‘Di elteste shpurn fun der yidisher shprakh un literatur’, Di yidishe velt 1 (1928), 121–30; Max Weinreich, Bilder, 53; Geshikhte, iii. 279; Dov Sadan, ‘Boy dayn tempel shire’, in Kheyn-gribelekh (Buenos Aires: Asociacion pro Cultural Judia, 1971), 115–20; Uriel Weinreich, College Yiddish (New York: YIVO, 1948; 6th edn. 1999), 102–4; Shmeruk, Prokim, 50–2; Avrom Yaari, Bibliografyah shel hagadot pesah (Jerusalem: Bamberger, ˙ Wharman, 1960), nos. 6, 7; Heike Tröger, ‘Ein Siddur der Universitätsbibliothek Rostock und Varianten des Liedes Almechtiger Got in Italien des 16. Jahrhunderts’, Jiddistik Mitteilungen 13 (Trier, 1995), 1–11. 7 A number of Christians interested in Yiddish included versions of this hymn in their own publications: Johannes Buxtorf, Synagoga Judaica (Hanover, 1622) (text in Hebrew and Latin in ch. 18); Johannes Christoph Wagenseil, Belehrung der Jüdisch-Teutschen Red- und Schreibart (Königsberg, 1699), 105; and Tela ignea Satanae (Altdorf, 1681), 381 (both in Yiddish); Johann Jacob Schudt, Jüdische Merkwuerdigkeiten, 4 vols. (Frankfurt am Main, 1714–18; rpt. Berlin, 1922), ii. 230–1 (Yiddish text in Roman-alphabet transcription). 8 See Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, hébr 1333, fol. 39b, where the prayer exhibits several differences from the later printed version. It begins, for example: IYYD AYÏB IWN UWG RGYNYYA


















‘One and only God, build your temple quickly, so quickly, so quickly in our day, quickly, now build, now build, now build, now build, now build, now build your temple quickly, yes quickly.’ See Baumgarten, ‘Les Manuscrits Yidich de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’, p. 141. This piyut is neither in Rashi nor in the makhzour of Vitry, which prompted Daniel Goldschmidt to date it to the fourteenth–fifteenth century, the period in which it must have been introduced into the Haggadah; see Daniel Goldschmidt, ed., Haggadah shel Pesah (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1960), 96; see also on this piyut, Heike Tröger, ˙ ‘Ein Siddur der Universitätsbibliothek Rostock und Varianten des Liedes Almechtiger Got in Italien des 16. Jahrhunderts’, Jiddistik Mitteilungen 13 (Trier, 1995), 1–11.



Prayer in the Vernacular

an acrostic, in which the initial letters of each divine attribute, as in the original Hebrew, follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus the poet recomposed a hymn in the vernacular that has the same poetic form as the Hebrew source text.9 In the Haggadah there are two other pizmounim sung during the seder: ‘Ekhod mi youdea’ and the Aramaic ‘khad gadyo’.10 All three hymns are found in the Ashkenazic tradition of the Haggadah from the sixteenth century onwards.11 These collective songs accord well with the joyous character of the holiday of Passover, simultaneously combining religious instruction and joy in celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people. In the same period, in numerous versions of the Haggadah, there are Yiddish dinim that enable everyone whose knowledge of Hebrew is insufficient for understanding the order of the rite or the sacred language to understand and properly keep the holidays and liturgical practice.12 9

The corresponding divine attributes in Hebrew are:

















The only significant differences are in letters such as het, samekh, and taw, which are used ˙ only for Hebrew/Aramaic (or Hebrew/Aramaic-derived) words; of these, only the first is found in the Yiddish version: RUNEX. 10 Bilingual versions of the former (Hebrew followed by Yiddish): in the Offenbach Haggadah (1722). See Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, iii. 175–6; Lajb Fuks, ‘Ekhad mi yodea: di geshikhte fun a lid’, Di goldene keyt 58 (1967), 224–8. There is a German version of this song, entitled ‘A song for the little boys among us’, which is found in the collection by Ludwig Achim Freiherr von Arnim, Der Knabenwunderhorn (Wiesdaben: Killinger, 1874), 480–2. See also Zunz, Di gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, 126; Karl Joseph Simrock, ed., Die deutschen Volkslieder (Frankfurt am Main: H. L. Brönner, 1851), no. 335; Ben-Chorin, Betendes Judentum, 136. The ‘Khad gadyo’ was not included in the Prague Haggadah of 1526, but was printed for the first time in the Prague Haggadah of 1590. Its composition is dated to the sixteenth century. On the song’s history, see Shmeruk, Prokim, 51–3. 11 See Daniel Goldschmidt, Haggadah shel Pesah, 96–9. The author places the three liturgical ˙ songs in a paragraph entitled ‘Piyyutim found at the end of the Seder’. According to Yaari’s inventory of twenty-three complete bilingual versions of the Haggadah (published in Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, Sulzbach, and Fürth), only ‘Almekhtiger got’ appears in the earliest of the texts (Mantua, 1560, 1568; Prague, 1590; Venice, 1599, 1601, 1603). The three songs are printed together for the first time in the Haggadah of Venice 1609 (Yaari, Bibliografyah, no. 39). Between 1560 and 1722, Yaari counts twenty-five versions of the Haggadah that include the Passover songs in Yiddish. On the ‘Khad gadyo’, see also BH ii. p. 1287; iv, pp. 1043–4; Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, 133; Johann Christoph Georg Bodenschatz, Kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden (Erlangen, 1748), section 8, pp. 310–19; EYT 26. On the history of the songs for Passover, see Chone Shmeruk, ‘The Earliest Aramaic and Yiddish Version of the Song of the Kid (Khad Gadye)’, in Field of Yiddish: Studies in Yiddish Language, Folklore and Literature, i, ed. Uriel Weinreich (New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954), 214–18; and Hanoch Avenary, ‘Orale judendeutsche Volkspoesie in der Interaktion mit literarischer Überlieferung’, Leo Baeck Institut: Bulletin 87 (1990), 5–17. 12 In order to memorize the order of the prayers for Saturday evening, an illustration (woodcut) was used that represented hare hunting. In Yiddish, one said ‘yaken hoz’ (‘chase the hare’), the phonetic equivalent of the Hebrew word formed by the letters jod, koph, nun, he, zayin, the first letters of the words yayin ‘wine’, kidush ‘blessing’, neyr ‘candle’, havdolo ‘separation’, and



Prayer in the Vernacular

These religious songs (zmirous) which are added to the canonical prayers and blessings in Hebrew, constitute one of the areas in which a vernacular liturgy could develop that was specifically connected to the social life and domestic events and to the celebrations within the family that marked out the life of each Jew.13 Among the hymns, one finds above all sabbath songs, generally sung during the seudous, the familial meals.14 Among the number of shabos lider that accompany the ritual of the holy day that is performed in the home, one of the most famous is the song sung before ‘Havdolo’, commonly known as ‘Got [fun] Avrom’: QYLG WC · IMWQYB ZNWA ILAZ GAU IBYZ AYD · BWL ONYYD IYA LAR$Y QLAW IYYD UYHB · BQEY 'NWA QXCY OHRBA UAG WC 'NWA UNWZYG WC ZNWA UMWQ VWAÑ AYD · IYH IYYA UYG TB$ RED ZNWA ZA · IMWRW ILA 'NWA UNWZYG WC VA LYYH WC 'NWA : LAM 'G GAZ · [IYÑG] IUWG

zman ‘season, time’. An early trace of this mnemonic device is found in the Worms makhzour (1272). In the Birkas ha-mozoun (Prague, 1514), there is an illustration of hare-hunting. See Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, iii. 255; and the Seder Haggadot shel Pesah mi-mantovah, ed. Robert ˙ Bonfil (Jerusalem: Dvir, 1970). The Ashkenazic illustration is imported to Italy in the fifteenth century, at the time of the Jewish migration from Germany to Italy; it is not found in Sephardic Haggadot. See Ernst Weil, ‘Venezianische Haggadah-Holzschnitte aus dem 15. Jahrhundert’, Soncino Blätter 1 (1925), 45–6. Instruction on the proper celebration of holidays and liturgical practice is found in the Haggadah manuscript from Nuremberg (1459) which includes rhymed explanations of the Seyder in Yiddish; see N. Meisl, ‘Jiddische Literatur’, in Encyclopedia Judaica: Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Berlin: Eschkol, 1932), vol. 9, coll. 127–80, facsimile page coll. 131–2; Bruno Italiener, Die Darmstädter Pessach-Haggadah, codex orientalis 8 der Landesbibliothek zu Darmstadt aus dem vierzehnten Jahrhundert (Leipzig: K. W. Hiersemann, 1927–8), 209. In the printed editions, the same kind of explanations of the rite appear; see, for example, the Prague editions of 1624 and 1691 (Yaari, Bibliografyah, nos. 40, 46). The edition of Venice (1609) was printed three times. In each of the versions, there is a translation into one of the three languages spoken in Jewish communities of northern Italy: Yiddish, Judezmo, Judaeo-Italian (Yaari, Bibliografyah, nos. 34–7). See Bezalel Narkiss, ed., Seder hagadah shel pesah, venetsyah 369 The Passover Haggadah, Venice 1609 (Jerusalem: Makor, 1974); A. ˙ Yaari, ‘Topes meyuhad shel hagadah shel pesah, Venezyah 1609 al klaf’, Kiryat sefer 30 (1955), ˙ ˙ ˙ 113–17; Rachel Wischnitzer, ‘Autour du mystère de la Haggada de Venise’, REJ 94 (1933), 184–9. 13 In the catalogue of the Bodleian Library compiled by Steinschneider eighty collections of songs (lid, zemer, and gezang) appear, demonstrating the importance of this type of religious poem in Old Yiddish literature (see St. CB, nos. 3625–707). 14 Some are bilingual: the song by Solomon (Shloyme) Zalman of Erfurt (first half of the fifteenth century), the ‘Mizmour shir le-yom shabos’ of Elijah Loanz in a collection of zmirous (Basel, 1599), or the ‘Zemer noe le-layil shabos’ by Aaron ha-Kohen, published in the Birkas hamozoun (Basel, 1600), and the one by Reuben ben Solomon, in a collection of songs published in Lublin in 1624. There is also the exhaustive inventory in Alexander ben Isaac Pfaffenhofen, Sefer massah u-merivah le-r’ aleksander be-r’ yitskhok papen hofen (1627) (Jerusalem: Magnes/Hebrew University/Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1985), 168–71. Others are in Yiddish alone; see Shmeruk, Prokim, 60–4. Some were composed by women, such as the sabbath poem by Hannah b. Judah Loeb (Hannah Katz). ‘Tefilo le-shabos’, a vernacular adaptation of the prayer ‘Ma touvu’, in the collection Eyn hipshe droshe (Amsterdam, n.d. (seventeenth century)); see St. CB, no. 4723.

Prayer in the Vernacular


God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, protect your people Israel in your tent. The seven days should be pleasant for us and bring happiness, well-being, and health, for all the pious; as the sabbath leaves us, the week comes for our health and good advantage; say it three times.15

Also to be noted, among other examples, are two zmirous found in a manuscript preserved in Hamburg.16 A few excerpts from this poem may suffice to give an impression of the specific tone of Yiddish religious poems as sung during the sabbath in Jewish homes: The Lord God has sanctified, honoured the sabbath before all other days, during which He rests and does nothing else. I say to you truly, celebrate [the sabbath] with prayer and be constant with your friends and also your kin. God has ordained the exalted sabbath when the Jews were in Mara.17 Oh, God created the heavens and the earth in seven days, and the seventh day, worthy God rested. (st. 1) On the sabbath, three meals [seudous] are to be taken as the sages teach us. Joy should reign at the table; one should sing the songs [zmirous] with delight, forget sadness and all cares: this is what the Lord God grants to you. You ought to wear good clothes to honour the holy sabbath. Oh, God created the heavens and the earth in seven days, and the seventh day, worthy God rested. (st. 5) The one who has just sung this song for us is not at all known to us. He comes from the city of Zurich. His name is Benjamin. He has sung us this and many other songs. Now may God protect us from all suffering and extend his merciful hand to us. We pray for it so that everything will go well with us. Oh, God created the heavens and the earth in seven days, and the seventh day, worthy God rested. (st. 10)

The second shabos-lid of the manuscript returns to the theme of divine praise and the sanctification of the holy day. The hymn also has a didactic aim, for it introduces some brief thoughts on the observance and the practices of the sabbath: On the sabbath, we wish to sing, late on a Friday night. God, who can do everything, who created me: I wish to sing his praise and his glory with great honour. He created leaves and grass, heaven and earth and everything that exists. Oh, on the sabbath everything is ready. (st. 1)

See Löwenstein, ‘Jüdische und jüdisch-deutsche Lieder’, 134–6; Basin, Antologye finf hundert yohr yidishe poezye, 8–9; Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis u-sifruso, 62; Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, iii. 280; Shmeruk, Prokim, 64–73. There are variants of this song in Noyekh Prilutski, Yidishe folsklider (Warsaw: Bikher far ale, 1911), i. 15–43. 16 In a book of customs (minhogim-bukh), dating from 1574. See Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, cod. hebr. 250, cat. no. 209; and Solomon Birnbaum, ‘Tsvey altyidishe lider’, Yivobleter 13 (1938), 172–80. The first song comprises ten stanzas of ten lines each, in each of which the final two lines form a refrain; the rhyme scheme is ABABABABCC. The second song comprises five stanzas of nine lines each. 17 Cf. Exod. 15: 25; this is Mara, encountered after the crossing of the Red Sea, where God imposed on the Hebrews a ‘statute and an ordinance’. 15


Prayer in the Vernacular

The heavenly bread18 that he gave to us in the desert. On the sabbath, it did not fall down. That is the proof that the sabbath is a master over all the other days. On Friday [the manna] fell in a double portion. The praise of God has no limit. Oh, to him who can do everything well. (st. 2) You should have your wine for kidush. You should rinse your cups and take care not to pour water into them. You should well fill them full [with wine]; then make kidush over the wine so that it resounds in the house. May we be in Jerusalem next year, our souls’ light and splendour. Oh, say ‘Amen’ altogether! (st. 5)

In addition to the hymns to be sung in Jewish houses or in the synagogue on the sabbath and holidays, such as Hanukkah,19 Purim,20 Simhas Torah,21 ˙ ˙ and Passover, other poems were also recited during familial ceremonies, such as circumcision or pidyoun ha-beyn (redemption of the firstborn). Beyond the recitation of prayers and blessings in Hebrew that punctuate domestic ceremonies, the family and relatives sung songs as a sign of joy and thanksgiving to God, particularly during meals eaten together. In this tradition are found kalo-lider (bride songs) or khoson-kalo-lider (groom-and-bride songs), poetic interludes recited during the wedding ceremony.22 The edition of the Mitsvous ha-noshim, published by Giovanni di Gara (Venice, 1588), ends with two bilingual wedding songs, as does the Minhogim (Venice, 1593), in which there is a song entitled ‘Eyn Kalo lid’ by Jacob b. Eliezer Ulma.23 In this 18

Cf. Exod. 16: 26–36; Num. 11: 6–9; Dent. 8: 3, 16; Ps. 78: 23–5; 105: 40. The reference is to manna. In the desert, two portions fell from the sky on Friday, unlike on the other days of the week. Custom dictates that one take two loaves of bread on the sabbath in remembrance of the manna. 19 Such as, for example, the ‘Zemer noe le-shabos khanuko’, in Birkas ha-mozoun (Amsterdam, 1602). 20 See, for example, the collection entitled Zemer noe le-purim (Prague, c.1650) by Moses Melamed b. Ber. See St. CB, no. 6524. 1. Also to be cited is the poetic adaptation of the Scroll of Esther by Ephraim bar Judah Halevi, Eyn nay lid af der megilo (Amsterdam, 1649). 21 Such as the poem on the gift of the Torah, followed by a song on the Ten Commandments, the Touro-lid (Prague, sixteenth century), and the booklet entitled Gor eyn sheyn nay toure lid (Prague, 1605–15) and the Tsvey sheyne getlekhe lider (Prague (?), 1650 (?)), both by Jacob b. Elijah Levi Töplitz, sung in the synagogue when the Scroll of the Law was taken out. 22 On khoson-kalo-lider, see St. CB, nos. 3679–82, 4341. One of the oldest bilingual religious songs is the piyut by Avigdor ben Isaac Kara (fifteenth century), ‘Ekhod yokhid u-meyukhod eyl’, translated into Yiddish as ‘Shir ha-yikhud’, quoted in full below, pp. 283–5. In the Birkas hamozoun (Basel, 1600), this poem is found again, where, according to its title, it is to be sung while the bride and groom are together for the wedding ceremony itself. See Shmeruk, Prokim, 54–9. On the songs of the bride and groom, see also Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis u-sifruso, 193–8; Erik, Geshikhte, 157–62; Max Freiherr von Waldberg, ‘Jüdisch-deutsche Lieder aus dem 17. Jahrhundert’, ZGJD 3 (1889), 78–83; J. Bolte, ‘Ein jüdischdeutsches Lied des 17. Jahrhunderts’, Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 4 (1890), 92–3; Y. M. Hillesum, ‘A holendish-yidish kale-lid fun sof 18tn yorhundert’, Filologishe shriftn 2 (1928), 345–52. See also the Kalo-lid by Nathan Levi in Steinschneider, Catalog . . . Hamburg, cod. hebr. 250, cat. no. 209. 4. 23 On the songs by Giovanni di Gara, see St. CB, no. 3950; Abraham Meir Habermann, Ha-madpis Zovan di Gara u-reshimat sifrei bet defuso (Jerusalem: Habermann Institute, 1982), 50–3; Shmeruk, ‘Defusei yidish be-italyah’, no. 17. The poem by Jacob Ulma comprises thirtytwo stanzas in Hebrew and Yiddish. See St. CB, no. 3679; Shmeruk, ibid. no. 19; EYT 73.

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poem, which resembles the sermons delivered by badkhonim, the author praises the virtues of young couples, emphasizing the duties of the respective spouses and offering advice about life in the style of the musor sforim, sometimes concerning the man, sometimes concerning the mitsvous that women must keep, namely khalo, nido, hadlokas ha-neyr.24 Two excerpts suffice to show the dual tonality of these poems in which the joys of marriage are sung: There is no greater joy on earth, Than when two people come together in love. For such happiness Every person, male and female Should be prepared To honour the bride and groom.25

The second excerpt addresses the multiple duties incumbent on the bride and groom, such as the bride’s submission to and respect for her husband: My pretty young maiden, Bride, you noble crown. Hear well my words Honour your husband As the lord of a king. You ought not oppose his words, You ought to bow before him, And show your friendship for him. ... Treat him well All the days of your life. (Venice, 1593, st. 7)

This rich tradition strewn with blessings (brokhous), liturgical hymns (piyutim), and religious songs (zmirous and pizmounim) comes together in the bilingual collections, of which the most famous is the Birkas hamozoun.26 The title refers to the blessing recited after meals, in order to thank the Creator for having granted sufficient food.27 This anthology, which was found in almost every Jewish household in Ashkenaz, is called bentsherl in Yiddish.28 The preface to the edition published in 1670 in Amsterdam by Isaac ben Jacob of Cordova gives an idea of the purpose of the text: 24

Badkhonim entertain the wedding guests and deliver moralizing sermons intended to remind the audience of the sacred duties of marriage. 25 Cited from Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis u-sifruso, 190. 26 On the tradition of bilingual religious songs, see Turniansky, ‘Ha-yetsirah ha-du-leshonit be-ashkenaz: kium le-ofiya’, 85–99, including an exhaustive inventory of these songs, pp. 94–9. 27 The prayer may be recited in any language (M Sota 7. 1); cf. Deut. 8: 10. 28 From the word bentshn ‘bless’. The Yiddish word is of Romance origin (benedico). On the tradition of the Birkas ha-mozoun in Yiddish, see Chava Turniansky, ‘Ha-“bentsherl” veha-zmirot be-yidish’, Alei sefer 10 (1982), 51–92.


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*We have again printed [this text] with many supplementary blessings, the corresponding dinim and some songs [zmirous] in Yiddish, the whole organized differently, above all because the meaning of the text was defective, and everyone had a right to complain, for lack of comprehension of the meaning. So, we have arranged the text in Yiddish rhymes, so that everyone who wishes can sing [these religious songs] with a suitable and very beautiful melody, especially women and young girls who do not understand the sacred language. Each rule is presented separately. Whoever reads it will be astonished. In this edition, we have also made many additions, as people will notice, for the sake of utility and for the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He. We have added many woodcuts so that the mitsvous will be pleasing to children, and so that they will become accustomed to them. The whole is so well ordered that there exists no printed book like it in the world.29

Originally there were collections of liturgical texts in Hebrew.30 Some prayers were then translated into Yiddish and incorporated into compilations.31 The Birkas ha-mozoun includes the principal prayers and religious songs of the principal types just enumerated. First, the blessings recited in the household (such as the ha-moutsi recited before meals) or in the context of the significant personal events in Jewish life, such as birth, marriage, and death,32 thereafter, hymns sung at home during Jewish celebrations, such as the sabbath or the meal of Purim. To these are added zmirous, pizmounim and piyutim that do not belong to the synagogal canon but are sung in domestic settings. Many of them were composed by the payetonim during the course of the Middle Ages, transmitted orally and then incorporated (and even translated into the vernacular) into these printed collections. Thus in the Amsterdam edition (1648), there is an example that enables a clear definition of the specific register in which this complement to the liturgy, that included vernacular texts, developed:33 there are various blessings such as a bilingual version of the krias-shma, a collection of sabbath prayers, including the blessing recited over the candles (birkas ha-neyrous), the blessing of the eyruv, kidush, and the song ‘Got fun Avrom’ recited before havdolo (see above). Additionally, there are songs sung around the sabbath table (zmirous), during Hanukkah, and Purim, and during ˙ domestic celebrations such as weddings, circumcisions, pidyoun ha-beyn, and visits to the cemetery. There are also collections of tkhinous, especially 29

St CB, no. 2614. See St. CB, nos. 6950, 3156, 2600–5. 31 In the Mantuan censors’ list, a Birkas ha-mozoun (Lublin, 1582, 1592) is mentioned. The earliest extant Birkas ha-mozoun was published in Basel in 1600 by Cornelius Adelkind; see Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drücke, no. 169, pp. 275–7; Erik, Geshikhte, 215–314. Turniansky inventories seventy-three editions of the Birkas ha-mozoun from 1582 to 1874. 32 The ha-moutsi comprises the blessing of the wine (bourey pri ha-gofen) and the bread (motsi lekhem min ho-orets) (see M Ber 6. 1); see also BT Ber 35a. 33 See St. CB, no. 2609. The title page reads: ‘Printed in ivri and in taytsh so that everyone can understand the prayers [bentshn]. You pious women and men. Have a look at this new collection of prayers. None like it has ever been printed. Thus they will very quickly be sold out. For the 30

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for Yom Kippur and Rosh ha-Shanah, as well as one for Passover, comprising three songs (pizmounim) and the Haleyl which are recited during the seyder on Passover.34 It is into this range of domestic prayer that the vernacular penetrates in particular, while Hebrew remains the language of canonical prayer in the synagogue. Such collections are of obvious importance in reconstructing the domestic liturgy such as it was celebrated in every Jewish household, alongside the synagogal prayer services during which Jews used the sidurim and the makhzourim which represented the seyder ha-tfilous ‘order of the prayers’ that corresponded to the various services of the day, of holidays, and of the first of the month (rosh khoudesh). These texts are also valuable sources for understanding popular piety in Ashkenazic society. Another collection of zmirous was also obviously popular: the second part of the Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh (Fürth, 1727), written by Elhanan Hendel ˙ ben Benjamin Wolf Kirchhan.35 Compared to the other anthologies, this one has two notable particularities. First of all, each song is preceded by a brief musical score that has obvious significance for the study of the history of craftsmen [umonim] [who worked on it] are the best in the country. They print with wisdom and understanding, without trusting either youths or apprentices. They themselves do the work well and correctly. You will find no fault or error in it. . . . They have reworked their entire printing shop. So that it will be known throughout the world, they use good paper and good ink. And they worked assiduously and quickly. Anyone who wishes to print a holy book, may well trust to their skill. . . . So come running right away and buy this new bentshn. Your children will be delighted when they read the new prayer bentshn, and then may we be worthy of seeing the Temple in Jerusalem and returning to Zion. . . . We have added to the end of the bentshn an admonition never before printed by Rabeynu Bakhya he-khosid to awaken the hearts of all people to piety and bliss . . . and a kino or lament on the difficult time experienced by the Jewish people here by reason of the war.’ 34

This refers to Pss. 113–18, which are sung in the synagogue during the principal holidays: Sukkot, Hanukkah, the first and second days of both Passover and Shavuot. Also to be ˙ noted is the Haleyl ha-godoul (Ps. 136), which is recited or sung during many community celebrations. These psalms accompany the important moments of the Jewish liturgy in Ashkenazic communities. Versions of the Haleyl exist in manuscript (Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek, MS 35, dating from 1697) and in printed books (s.l., seventeenth century, St. CB, no. 1281; St. Serapeum, nos. 52b, 397; Staerk and Leitzmann, Bibelübersetzungen, 213–18). 35 He was the son-in-law of Zevi Hirsh Koidonover ben Aaron Samuel, the author of the ˙ book of morals, Seyfer kav ha-yoshor. The Seyfer simkhas ha-nefesh is divided into two parts; the first, a collection of ethical advice and aggadic stories, appeared in Frankfurt am Main (1707) and was reprinted eighteen times up to the twentieth century, in particular in Sulzbach (1715, 1794, 1797, 1798), Amsterdam (1723), and Fürth (1726, 1762). The second part is a collection of dinim, a kind of abridged version of the Shulkhon orukh. See BH iii. 255b, 698; St. Serapeum, no. 294. The second part was edited by Yankev Shatsky, Simkhes hanefesh: yidishe lider mit notn fun Elkhonon Kirkhan. Fotografisher iberdruk fun der ershter un eyntsiker oysgabe velkhe iz dershinen in Fyorda in yor 1727 (facsimile of 1727 edn.) (New York: Mayzl, 1926). See also Pauline M. Fleiss, ‘Das Buch Simchath Hanefesch von Henele Kirchhain aus dem Jahre 1727. Reimuntersuchung als Beitrag zur Kenntnis der jüdisch-deutschen Mundarten’ (diss. Bern, 1913).


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Jewish religious music.36 On the other hand, these songs are primarily versifications of ethical advice closely related to the tradition of books of morality and conduct.37 Beyond the praise of God and the blessings, these musor un dinim lider seem in particular to have as their purpose to remind uneducated Jews of the rules of life and advice on how best to keep the mitsvous and the ritual of the holidays, and even to teach them these rules by means of songs. The author clearly explains his intention when he says: ‘Nor do I write such things for people who live in Jewish communities and can pose questions to their rabbi and scholars. . . . I have clearly organized the rules, the punishments, and the laws, so that everyone can read them; and in order to find favour, everyone can establish a period every day to read them’ (Frankfurt am Main, 1707, preface, fol. 1r). Thus this work, written in a simple style accessible to the whole Jewish populace, constituted a kind of composite of the religious songs and the tradition of musor and dinim. The work followed an order similar to that of the minhogim sforim: it begins with songs for Friday evening and the sabbath and proceeded to those for the principal holidays, ending with those for the domestic celebrations, circumcision, and weddings. A few excerpts from the song for Purim provide a clear idea of the specific character of this collection. It begins with a rhymed retelling of the Scroll of Esther: There was once a king named Akhashveresh who ruled over all the Jews. Once he wished to show his riches, so he fed his subjects for one hundred and eighty days. People from all his territories came. Once when the king had drunk too much wine, he ordered Queen Vashti to come before him and his princes in the nude. The queen thought it improper; the king fell into a rage and ordered that she be executed immediately. With time his rage passed, and the king regretted what he had done and was quite vexed and wished to have a very beautiful queen with him again. He had all the young girls assembled, who then had to appear before him. None pleased the king except Esther, who found favour in his eyes. . . . Afterwards the king appointed a man named Haman to oversee his subjects. He was a descendant of Amalek. By order of the king, all subjects had to bow down before this man. Only Mordecai, who sat at the gate of the king, refused, for Haman had a cross on his back. Then Haman decided to obliterate Mordecai and all the Jews from the face of the earth. 36

It is interesting to note that the music which served to accompany these zmirous is often influenced by the religious song characteristic of the Lutheran choral tradition. As noted earlier in this study, the same phenomenon of borrowing German musical forms is found in Old Yiddish epic poetry which was performed with German melodies, such as those for the German poems, Herzog Ernst and Dietrich von Bern. In the conclusion of his book, Elhanan Kirchhan explains ˙ that he included the melodies so that they could be played by a musician during the domestic ceremonies, or even so that the readers could ask a musician to sight-read them so that they could memorize them. 37 Among the texts of the tradition of ethical song (musor lider), reference should also be made to the bilingual collection entitled Shir ve-zemer noe al ourekh ha-golus (Lublin, 1624) by Elhanan Helin b. Abraham of Frankfurt, the author of the historical poem ‘Megilas Vints’. See ˙ the new edition of the collection, Chava Turniansky, ed., Shir ve-zemer noeh al orekh ha-galut (Elhanan Helen of Frankfurt, Lublin, 1624) (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1968). ˙

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After this text there are considerations on the customs that each Jew should keep on Purim. This topic seems to indicate to what extent some Jews, especially those in rural areas and villages, had forgotten the basic customs of the holidays. The author is persuaded of the usefulness of this kind of book for teaching anew the fundamentals of Jewish custom and explaining the meaning of the mitsvous in a simple manner: One is obligated to read the Megilo once during the day and once at night. Not a single word may be left out, so one ought to listen well and pay attention. Both before and after, one recites all the blessings. A person alone does not recite the blessing afterwards, nor does he do so beforehand when he reads the khumesh. So do not save your money to buy a better Megilo. The women are also obligated to listen to the reading of the Megilo. Small children are not to be brought, but those who understand everything prevent them from making mischief. One is obligated to give a half shekel when one recites afternoon prayers; a poor person who lives in discomfort is nonetheless obligated to give two coins. . . . Do not drink so much as to make yourself so drunk that you do not understand the prayers when one recites Maariv, one does not say Al ha-nisim and Miney zeroim when one cannot finish it. On the evening when one reads the Megilo, one ought not to eat, even if the stomach growls. And when one reads only for the women, they ought to recite the blessing and say lishmoua megilo. . . . One can never praise sufficiently the signs and wonders that God brings about for everyone and each one in particular. Dear God, send us the Messiah with miracles and marvels so that the evil impulse leaves us. Then, we can serve you properly.

The author, obviously sensitive both to the poverty and to the state of spiritual abandonment of the Jewish masses, thus knows how to impart advice on proper living by means of religious songs, all the while giving hope and confidence to those who have grown distant from the strict observance of the divine precepts. It is clear that this kind of vernacular paraliturgical collection illustrates clearly many of the possibilities for a literature in the vernacular. Even if these religious songs might appear insignificant in comparison with the rich tradition of Hebrew piyutim, they nonetheless demonstrate a stubborn perseverance in transmitting the essence of Judaism to uneducated Jews, despite the sorrows of the time. On the other hand, the tradition of zmirous and lider is the source of numerous characteristics of both early and modern Yiddish poetry, particularly in the creation of literary forms suitable for Yiddish literature, drawn simultaneously from the tradition of the piyutim and popular German poetry. There developed a great variety of song, based on formal models characteristic of Yiddish religious hymns. The song entitled ‘Simkhas-touro-lid’ by Rebecca bas Meir Tiktiner––one of the first female Yiddish writers––offers a representative example.38 This hymn was sung by women in the synagogue while they prepared the scroll of the 38 See Chone Shmeruk, ‘Ha-soferet ha-yehudit ha-rishonah be-polin––rivke bas meir tiktiner vehiburehah’, Gal-ed 4–5 (1978), 13–23; EYT 104. ˙


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Law for the hakofous.39 In the same vein, the ‘Poem of the Ten Words’ by Yente bas Isaac, a song of praise to God and to the Torah, is to be mentioned.40 One might also mention the tradition of parodic poetry,41 songs of yeshivah students and khazonim,42 as well as the poems in the form of a contest, such as that between wine and water, between Hanukkah and the other holidays, and that between the impulse to do good ˙and the impulse to do evil.43 While the countless popular songs which form one of the treasures of Old Yiddish literature draw on European folklore, their roots also reach deeply into the tradition of vernacular song that developed in Europe from the Middle Ages onward.44 Religious poetry constituted an important aspect of literary creativity in Yiddish and illustrates clearly both the capacity for creativity and the possibilities available in the vernacular.

 ‘  ’ In the modern period, an increasingly important role was assumed by private prayer, that is, prayers beyond those publicly read or sung in the synagogue during the prayer service; private prayers were recited during moments of contemplation that could occur throughout the day, or during times when danger, sickness, and even suffering came to disturb the regular order of the day. The individual who was praying then turned directly to God to ask protection, or aid, or to initiate repentance and ask for mercy. These prayers of devotion prolonged the liturgy in the synagogue, and many of the worshippers felt that they were too abstract or distant, or that they did not take into sufficient account the concerns, the personal needs, or the need for more intimate communion with God. This type of inner prayer generally took the 39 These are processions during which one circled the bimo seven times with the scroll of the Law which had been taken from the holy ark. 40 See Noyekh Prilutski, ‘Die umbakante altyidishe dikhterin Yente bas Yitskhok’, in Vakhshteyn-bukh (Vilnius: YIVO, 1939), 36–54. 41 See, for example, Max Weinreich, ‘Tsvey yidishe shpotlider af yidn’, Filologishe shriftn 3 (1929), coll. 537–51. 42 On the songs by yeshivah students, see Aron Freimann, ‘A frankfurter bokhurim-lid fun 18tn y’h’, Yivo-bleter 13 (1938), 345–53. This is a poem written by a poor yeshivah student who complains of his sad lot and describes the conditions of his precarious life. On songs by khazonim, see Yankev Shatsky, ‘Yehude Leyb Zelikover un zayne “Shirei yehude” ’, Yivo-bleter 3 (1932), 140–7. 43 On the tradition of Streitgedichte in Yiddish literature and their relation to European literature, see Chava Turniansky, ‘The Evolution of the Poetical Contest in Ashkenaz’, in Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore, Research Projects of the Institute for Jewish Studies, Monograph Series 7 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1986), 60–98. 44 See, for example, the popular collections in central and eastern Europe in (unsigned) ‘Aus unseren Sammlungen III. II. Lieder’, Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für jüdische Volkskunde 4 (1899), 123–30; included is a version of the Havdolo-lid: ‘Got fun avrom’, evidence of the perennial nature of this repertoire of religious song. See also Bolte, ‘Ein jüdischdeutsches Lied des 17. Jahrhunderts’, 92–3.

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form of a private, emotional conversation with a divine confidant who was simultaneously praised for his mercy and asked for forgiveness.45 A Jew could address God on his own behalf, on behalf of a third party or for the entire community. Such prayers took place especially in the private household in moments of individual devotion, private readings with neighbours or relatives, or more collective prayer during holidays of the Jewish calendar. Whether recited in silence in one’s heart alone or read or even sung in public in a small group of relations, these prayers only served to prolong and deepen the prayer service, while giving it a more intimate character and providing the opportunity for requests more specific to family life, children, health, or the misfortunes of the time. The vernacular, suitable for an outpouring of emotion, for intimate personal communication, and for unrestrained supplication, played an important role in this type of private prayer. The opportunities offered by the printing press, which was spreading through Europe at the time, favoured the distribution of books of devotion in small format and intended particularly for Jewish women, as is demonstrated by the tradition of tkhinous ‘prayers of supplication’ which was a kind of expression quite specific to Old Yiddish literature. Of course there were also such prayers in Hebrew, but it was particularly in Yiddish that they developed and assumed a special place in the religious life of uneducated Jews.46 Beginning in the seventeenth century, booklets generally entitled Seyder tkhinous u-vokoshous ‘book of supplications and petitions’ began to be published in the central and eastern European centres of Jewish publishing; they were primarily directed at a female readership.47 Some few collections are even attributed to female 45

See Devra Kay, ‘Words for “God” in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Poetry in Yiddish’, in Dovid Katz, ed. Dialects of the Yiddish Language (Oxford: Pergamon, 1988), 57–67; eadem, ‘Women and the Vernacular: The Yiddish Tkhine of Ashkenaz’, St. Cross College, diss. Oxford, 1990; eadem, ‘An Alternative Prayer Canon for Women: the Yiddish Seyder tkhines’, in Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Frau in Deutschland, ed. Julius Carlebach (Berlin: Metropol, 1993), 49–96. 46 There is an extensive corpus of Hebrew piyutim recited after the prayer service, focusing on the personal relationship between God and his people, and on personal petitions (bakoshous). Recited in relation to the prayer of Takhanun, they have some similarities to the tradition of slikhous ‘the prayers of penitence and pardon.’ See, for example, BT Ber 16b–17a; or Pss. 6, 25, which were often used as tkhinous. On the collections of piyutim in Hebrew, see Ezra Fleischer, ‘Piyyut’, EJ xiii, coll. 573–602, which includes a list of the most important payetonim of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. On the Yiddish prayers, see Solomon B. Freehof, ‘Devotional Literature in the Vernacular: Judeo-German Prior to the Reform Movement’, Central Conference of American Rabbis: Yearbook 33 (1923), 375–424; Shulman, Sfas yehudis-ashkenozis u-sifruso, 67–9; Grünbaum, Jüdischdentsche Chrestomathie, 328–43; Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, i. 259–62. 47 In his catalogue of the Bodleian Library, Steinschneider cites forty-three editions of tkhinous, and he inventories more than two dozen in Serapeum, nos. 304–30 (published in Prague, Dyhernfurt, Homburg, Amsterdam, Frankfurt am Main, Sulzbach, Jessnitz, Fürth, and Berlin). In his Otsar ha-sefarim (Vilnius: Romm, 1880), entry: tav, no. 562, p. 650, Yizhok Ben-Jacob ˙˙ comments: ‘The tkhinous for women in loshoun ashkenaz: there are so many of them that one can


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authors.48 While one should not overestimate the importance of this phenomenon, it did nonetheless constitute a characteristic feature of Old Yiddish literature, since numerous collections of tkhinous were written by men who were conscious of the spiritual needs of humble Jews. It should also be recognized as a sign of the changes that were taking place in Jewish society where the role of women in religious life was becoming more important. Here again, as in the previous chapter, it would again be excessive to speak of the feminization of Jewish literature in the vernacular, especially since the position of women and their role in religious life did not change radically, for, according to the conceptions characteristic of traditional Jewish society, they could have nothing to do with knowledge and study. The emergence of a need for religious knowledge did not lead to an emancipation based on a desire to associate women more closely with the spiritual life of the community. The existence of this tradition of women’s prayers was nonetheless an indication of a change in religious behaviour. In addition, it was not unheard-of that a neither count them all nor make a list of them in this work.’ Some individual collections of tkhinous were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Prague (1590, 1688), Venice (1552, 1666), Basel, and Amsterdam (1650, 1680). In the eighteenth century, some editions brought together several collections, such as the one published in Sulzbach in 1798. In the nineteenth century, they were reprinted in great numbers in Polish and Russian presses. A Seyder tkhinous was also integrated into some makhzourim (Amsterdam, 1762) or in the Sidurim (Frankfurt am Main, 1696–7; Amsterdam, 1692, 1712). Many books of prayer mention that they are also intended for men, for ordinary people, as well as for women who cannot read Hebrew. In the edition of tkhinous published in Amsterdam (1648 or 1650), there is a prayer whose headnote is: ‘On a day when one fasts, one says this tkhino during Minhah before Elohei netsur.’ See the essays ˙ by Chava Weissler: ‘Voices from the Heart: Women’s Devotional Prayers’, in The Jewish Almanac, ed. Richard Siegel and Carl Rheins (New York: Bantam, 1980), 541–5; ‘The Traditional Piety of Ashkenazic Women’, in Arthur Green, ed., Jewish Spirituality (New York: Crossroad; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 245–75; ‘The Religion of Traditional Ashkenazic Women: Some Methodological Issues’, Association for Jewish Studies Review 12 (1987), 73–94; Traditional Yiddish Literature: A Source for the Study of Women’s Religious Lives, The Jacob Pat Memorial Lectures (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988); ‘Prayers in Yiddish and the Religious World of Ashkenazic Women’, in Judith R. Baskin, ed., Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 159–81; Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998). It is also necessary to count among these women’s prayers (meydlshe brokhous), the prayers recited at night (nakht-leyenen, tikun krias-shma, ovnt zegen, and taytsh nakht krias-shma), such as the collections published in Prague (1700, 1719), Amsterdam (1676), and Fürth (1691). See St. Serapeum, nos. 215–16, 274; St. CB, nos. 3093–5, 3097; Max Weinreich, Geshikhte, i. 272–3; iii. 280–1. 48 See Noyekh Prilutski, ‘Die umbakante altyidishe dikhterin Yente bas Yitskhok’, 36–54; Shmuel Niger (Shmuel Charney), ‘Di yudishe literatur––un di lezerin’, Der pinkes 1 (Vilnius, 1913), coll. 85–138 (rpt. and trans., see bibliography); English: ‘Yiddish Literature and the Female Reader’, trans. and abridged Sheva Zucker, in Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, ed. Judith R. Baskin (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 70–90; Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 250–9; E. Korman, ed., Yidishe dikhterins: antologye (Chicago: L. M. Stein, 1928), 27–47, who includes a poem by Toube Pan, entitled ‘Eyn sheyn lid nay gemakht be-loshoun tkhino’ (Prague, seventeenth century); see also St. CB, nos. 3706–7.

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collection of tkhinous was attributed to a fictive female author or translator. In other cases, it was often difficult to determine the identity of the author, for some prayers of supplication were published in small format books distributed by pedlars in which there was no indication of place of publication, edition, date, or author.49 In eastern Europe, one might refer to the case of Sarah Bas-Tovim (eighteenth century), author of two collections, the one entitled Sheyker ha-kheyn, whose preface gives a good illustration of the style and tone characteristic of prayers of supplication: You dear women and young girls, read this tkhino, and your hearts will rejoice. They [the prayers] were taken from holy books. By their merit you will be worthy of going to the land of Israel. I also put in a fine new tkhino that one should recite on Mondays, and Thursdays, fast days, and during the Days of Awe: ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain’.50 Beauty is nothing. Only good deeds count. ‘Wisdom builds her house.’51 The main point is that a woman should run her household so that one can study the Torah there and that she can lead her children on the path of justice in the service of God. I, poor woman, I was scattered and undone. I was unable to sleep. My heart murmurs inside me, and so I recalled where I came from, where I will go, and how I will be received. A great fear fell upon me, and I implored the living God, blessed be He, with a torrent of tears, that this tkhino might go forth from me. I, Sarah Bas-Tovim, distinguished and celebrated woman, who does not waste herself in vain thoughts, but rather for the sake of beloved God, blessed be He, I have composed this tkhino, so that it will be a memorial after my death. Whoever reads this tkhino, his prayer will without doubt be accepted by the Holy Name. I, Sarah Bas-Tovim, daughter of a scholar and rabbi, famous and a great expert in the Torah, our teacher Rabbi Mordecai, son of a rabbi, the great light, Rabbi Isaac, may his holy memory be for a blessing, of the holy community of Satanow, may God protect her.52

The second collection, published after her death, in 1838, was entitled Shlousho sheorim. The preface indicates to us the meaning of the title (‘The Three Gates’): 49 There has also been reference to tkhinous that circulated among a female readership, as is indicated by many references of the following type: ‘We found this tkhino at the house of the pious wife of the rabbi, the worthy Hene, who had received it from her mother-in-law, the worthy rabbi’s wife, Dame Lea Mayzel’; or: ‘this tkhino was found in the sack of books of prayer (amtakhous ha-tkhinous) left by the pious wife of the rabbi, Dame Rachel Hinde’, referring to a bag in which women keep their prayer books and devotional works, particularly those in Yiddish. Cited by Weissler, Traditional Yiddish Literature, 14. 50 Prov. 31: 30: ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a women who fears the L is to be praised.’ 51 Prov. 14: 1; the following verse says: ‘but folly with her own hands tears it down’. 52 Translation from the text citation in Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 288–9. At the beginning of the tkhino, one finds: ‘This tkhino was made for the modest woman, Sarah, the daughter of our teacher, Rabbi Mordecai, may the memory of the just be blessed, the grandson of Rabbi Mordecai who was the president of the rabbinical court of the holy community of Brisk [BrestLitovsk].’ One also learns that due to a reversal in fortune, she led the life of a wanderer toward the end of her life.


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I, Sarah Bas-Tovim, do this for the sake of beloved God, blessed be He, and blessed be His Name. I have arranged for the second time a new, fine tkhino in the three gates. The first gate rests on the three mitsvous imposed upon women: khano, that is khalo [the taking of the dough], nido [ritual purity], hadlokas ha-neyr [lighting candles]. The second gate is a tkhino which is to be recited when one blesses the new moon, and the third is for at the Days of Awe. I take as help the living God, blessed be He, who lives always and eternally, and put this second new and fine tkhino in Yiddish [taytsh] with great love, great fear, trembling, terror, broken limbs and with great entreaty, with great. . . .53 May God have pity on me and on all the people Israel so that I may not be obliged to wander a long time, due to the merit of our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. May my own mother, Leah, also pray to God, blessed be He, so that my wandering life be an atonement for my sins. May the Holy Name pardon me for having spoken, in my youth, in the synagogue during the prayer service and the reading of the Torah. Lord of the whole world, I lay before you my supplication as I begin to arrange my tkhino with great fervour [kavono] and from the bottom of my heart, you protect us from suffering and pain. I implore the beloved God, blessed be He, that he have great mercy on the people Israel and on my old age, that I not be forced to lead a life of wandering. . . . Remember when our father Abraham gripped the neck of Isaac in his left hand, and in his right hand he held the slaughtering knife in order to sacrifice his son Isaac. He did it for love of you, and he did not hesitate to fulfil your order as you commanded him. So turn to us and grant us mercy. I implore the heavens, the earth, and all the angels that they pray for me and that these two tkhinous of mine become a crown on His holy head. Amen.54

The tkhinous by Sarah Bas-Tovim became so popular in eastern Europe that some collections written after her death in the nineteenth century were attributed to her.55 All these prayers are characterized by a specific style, a mix of intimate confidence and often pathetic, passionate, or sorrowful entreaty addressed to God. Thus these tkhinous constitute valuable evidence of the ways of thinking and the religious practices of ordinary Jews in traditional Ashkenazic society. As was the case with many liturgical texts in the vernacular, these supplications had as their purpose to enable women, and if need be, also men who did not know enough Hebrew, to pray. The preface to the collection published in Amsterdam in 1648 makes the point clearly: Our sages have created a great many praises of, thanks to and prayers to almighty God, and, in order to honour his Holy Name, they wrote them in the holy tongue, 53

A word is lost from the text here. Translation from text cited by Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 289–90. 55 Particularly texts composed by writers of the Haskalah, such as Isaac Meir Dick, Naphthali Maskileison, and Moses Aaron Shatzkes. Some have thus posed the question, whether this author in fact existed, or whether it is rather not a matter of a pseudonym, to which collections were attributed, including the two treated here. See Zinberg, Geshikhte, vi. 252–5; and Niger, ‘Di yudishe literatur––un di lezerin’, 83–106, 129; Kathryn Hellerstein, ‘Songs of Herself: A Lineage of Women Yiddish Poets’, Studies in American Jewish Literature 9 (1990), 138–50. 54

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which women generally do not understand and thus cannot know how to say them. This is like a blind person who stands at the window and looks out onto the street in order to see marvellous things. The same is true of women who recite the tkhinous in the holy tongue without understanding what they are saying, although there are some good people who translate and publish them. (unfoliated, fol. 1v)

Compared to the prayers of the liturgy in the synagogue, the tkhinous give the impression of a relative freedom in structure and composition. Feelings, emotion, and indignation pour out in a less constrained manner than in the canonical prayers fixed in an immutable manner. Some tkhinous can thus vary from one edition to another, because they are abridged or expanded, or because they were rediscovered particularly in collections of the eighteenth century, which indicates clearly that these texts existed in a space that privileged free and trusting communication of intimate religious feeling. Beyond variations in content and dialectal differences, however, the structure of the collections of tkhinous nonetheless continued to be based on a fixed order. One part included prayers that were interspersed among the principal Hebrew prayers that formed the order of the prayer service, for example when the khazon sang the prayers or the scroll of the Law was taken from the Ark. Another part is recited before or after the entry into the synagogue. Thus, in the collection published in Prague in 1650, it is said: ‘After the tfilo [the eighteen blessings], one recites this blessing’ (fol. 2v). Others are simple translations into the vernacular from the canonical liturgy, for the use of women. The essence is composed of prayers recited every weekday and associated with the cycle of the creation or the supplications on important occasions, especially on fasts.56 The title page of the collection from Amsterdam (1650) specifies thus: ‘For every day of their lives, people recite the tkhinous for all occasions, early in the morning when they awaken, dress, wash their hands, and acknowledge and praise God, blessed be He.’ A representative example of a supplicatory prayer addressed to the Creator and recited every Tuesday by all pious women is the following: I, your servant, daughter of your servant, I come with body bent and spirit broken, submissive, before the throne of your grandeur. I implore you, I, such a poor one, before the sumptuous threshold, that you ever provide us––me, my husband, my children, and all my household––with a proper portion of nourishment honourably and without shame from your generous hand and not from the hands of others. And provide us with an honourable place to live without war and border disputes, that we may not suffer expulsion. Provide us with houses close to the synagogue and not far 56 With respect to the cycle of creation: in the book of tkhinous published in Frankfurt am Main (1686), the first prayer is recited ‘with great kavono [“fervour”;]’ on Sunday, the first phase of the creation of the world. Then, each prayer is in relation to the events of the creation as reported in Genesis: on Monday, the issue has to do with the separation of the upper and lower waters; on Tuesday, of food and grass; up to the sabbath, which is devoted to rest. The relevant fasts: the tenth of Tevet, the fast of Esther, the seventeenth of Tammuz, the ninth of Av.


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from the house of study so that I, my husband, and my children can quickly come to your Holy Name. (Frankfurt am Main, 1686, fol. 10r, col. ab)

Certain prayers have to do with the protection of the husband who travels far from home in his work or is a pedlar or craftsman, while others focus on the well-being of the family in the larger sense.57 This excerpt from a tkhino, recited on Wednesday, provides a pertinent illustration: I, your servant, daughter of your servant, come to you with head bowed to the earth to receive your sanctity. I implore you by your great grace and your mercy that you have mercy on me and my children and all the women and children of your people Israel who fear the stricture of your judgement. Almighty God, do not let evil come to me, my children, or all the children of Israel. Protect us from evil spirits that go about nowadays even during the day. If they were to wish to harm us, bring us under your protective wing and shelter, preserve and protect us. . . . (Frankfurt am Main, 1686, fol. 10r, col. b)

Intended primarily for women, these texts included prayers having to do with the observance of the commandments incumbent upon women: ‘To light candles on the holy sabbath. To purify oneself of all impurity. To take the dough and serve one’s husband.’58 Other prayers have to do with the significant moments in the lives of Jewish women. If something happy or sad happens, the recitation of a tkhino makes it possible to sanctify it, to communicate her joy, or to lessen her grief. Thus there are prayers to be recited during the period of mourning, during visits to the cemetery, and when one is silent at the grave of a just person. But it is in particular motherhood––labour, childbirth, and the life of the newborn––that gives rise to many prayers for protection and intercession, as is illustrated in these representative excerpts:59 57

See the edition of Amsterdam (1648 or 1650): a tkhino is to protect against ‘evil people or demons or spirits that hinder prayers’ (tkhino 4, col. b); ‘Protect us from water and fire . . . evil winds, lightning and thunder, both at home or on the street, whether we sleep or wake, and from all great terrors, high water or sea storms, floods, water from below or above, and from all evil encounters, wherever we are or go’ (tkhino 9, col. a). The prayers for the well-being of the household also have to do with anxieties connected to the misfortunes to which Jews in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were victim, such as persecutions and discriminatory legislation: ‘Protect us from imprisonment and hunger and thirst and corruption and evil decrees’ (tkhino 5, col. b). 58 This focus is indicated in the title of many tkhinous. See, for example, in the edition of Sulzbach (1798), the twenty-fifth prayer: ‘This tkhino for subsistence is to be recited by women’; the seventy-second: ‘A widow is to recite this tkhino with great devotion’; the ninety-fifth: ‘This tkhino is to be recited by a women when she is ill’ (Taytshe tkhinous, Frankfurt am Main, 1686, fol. 5v). 59 In the Tsene-rene, the translator/author, Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov, cites a tkhino which was recited before the birth of a child: ‘Master of the universe, because Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, we women must all suffer great distress. If I had been there, I would have taken no pleasure in it, just as now I have not rendered the citron during these seven days, because it belonged to a mitsvo. But today, on Hoshanah rabbah, the mitsvo is completed, and I have rendered it [the citron] unfit, but I have not hastened to eat it. And no less pleasure than I have had from eating this would I have had from the Tree that you forbade to eat’ (p. 16).

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*Tenderly give us good food. Provide what your creatures need and everything that is useful to them. Protect me, my husband, my children, and those who rely on you. Give me breasts that are always healthy so that I can nourish my little children and that nothing can disturb my milk. May the same be for all women of Israel who nurse their children so that they can bring them up that they serve your Holy Name, fear you, and love you. . . . Our Father, our King, our Creator, God the venerated, the mighty, the one who is feared, the merciful, full of grace. He is quick to anger, and his grace is immense. Protect us and save us from all suffering, for our miseries are many, which rest on our evil thoughts. Have pity on us, on the exile of your people Israel, on my young children and on all nursing children. I implore you to grant us the merit of our ancestors, the just and the pious. . . . Weaken the yetser ho-ro so that the child will be of good character after his youth. Protect me and my child from all evil spirits and demons. May the evil eye not do us any wrong.

Many tkhinous are permeated with mystical conceptions of prayer, especially with respect to the paramount importance of kavono, that is: inner concentration, fervour, sincere devotion, and an exact correspondence between heart and speech. The prayers recited thus with fervour and complete and pure intention have a direct effect on the cosmic regeneration that is disrupted by human sin. The angels receive the prayers of humans and convey them up into the celestial spheres where God hears them. There is an obvious influence of the cabbala to be discerned in these ideas, which, beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, under the influence of Isaac Luria, began to emerge from the circle of initiates to circulate among a broader readership.60 Yiddish books were one of the channels by means of which these ideas, hitherto restricted to Hebrew treatises accessible to a limited audience or even strictly to cabbalistic groups, could be disseminated more widely.61 Thus at the end of the collection entitled Menouro (Prague, 1650), there is a representation of a seven-branched candelabra formed by the text of Psalm 67. In the Sulzbach edition (1798), it is preceded by the note: ‘This Psalm in the form of the Menorah should be said every day. It is a great charm against all evil. . . . Whoever says the Psalms every day and concentrates upon the picture of the Menorah will find favour and wisdom in the eyes of God and men; King David carried the Psalm in the form of a Menorah upon his shield, when he went out to war.’62 In the book of prayer by the cabbalist Isaiah ben Abraham ha-Levi Horowitz, the Shaar ha-shomayim (Amsterdam, 1717), the same candelabra is already found, 60 See Freehof, ‘Devotional Literature in the Vernacular’, 406–8; Z. K. Newman, ‘Kabbalistic Ideas in the Women’s Yiddish Prayer Book, Tkheenes’, in Identity and Ethos: A Festschrift for Sol Liptzin on the Occasion of his 85th Birthday, ed. Mark H. Gelber (New York/Bern/Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1986), 37–48. 61 On the vernacularization of mystical Jewish texts, see Jean Baumgarten, ‘Textes mystiques en langue yiddish (XVIIe–XIX siècles): les traductions des Shivhei Hayyim Vital et Shivhei ˙ ˙ ˙ ha-Ari’, Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 2 (1997), 65–103. 62 Translation cited from Freehof, ‘Devotional Literature in the Vernacular’, 407–8.


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preceded by the comment: ‘I have found written that this psalm should be said in the form of a Menorah. Concentration upon it will be of avail in many good purposes, for it contains many great mysteries. It is especially efficacious in the nights when the Sefira is counted.’63 The existence, in the books of tkhinous, of ideas connected with the transmigration of souls, the role of prayer in the process of redemption, angelology, and the power of the divine names, attests to the dissemination of these cabbalistic themes. Old Yiddish literature was to become one of the sites where many cabbalistic teachings, connected with eschatology and messianism, were widespread, and by means of which they could gain access to an audience of readers composed of ordinary Jews. The piyutim in Yiddish also included prayers for the forgiveness of sins and the confession of sins which belong to the tradition of the slikhous.64 These prayers are recited during fasts and the period of penance between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur. Some bilingual collections were published beginning in the sixteenth century in central and eastern Europe. The title page of the edition published in Cracow (1594) brings together a group of prayers that illustrate the place of the vernacular in the liturgy: ‘You will find here in Hebrew and well translated into Yiddish some slikhous, pizmounim, and parts of the makhzour that every child of Israel, whether man or woman, is obligated to recite and to say in response to the khazon during the holy time of Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot.’65 Besides the bilingual penitential prayers, instructions on correctly following the service also exist. These collections have an obvious practical purpose: on each page a Hebrew prayer and its Yiddish translation, preceded by the initial words of each segment in Hebrew, are printed together. These graphic reference points enable anyone to follow the service correctly and to keep up with the prayers recited by the cantor, whether as they are sung with the congregation of the faithful in Hebrew, as is the case with the men, or as they are recited in the vernacular in the women’s section of the synagogue. These collections can also include slikhous composed for private penance or to 63 Translation cited from Freehof, ‘Devotional Literature in the Vernacular’ 407–8. On Horowitz, the Ha-shelah ha-kodoush (1565?–1630) and author of the Seyfer shney lukhous ha-bris (1575), Amsterdam, 1649, see Zinberg, Geshikhte, v. 139–46; Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, ‘Horowitz, Isaiah ben Abraham ha-Levi’, EJ viii, coll. 990–4. The comment on the Sefirot refers to the celestial spheres and to the divine attributes as defined in cabbalistic thought. 64 These prayers especially accompany the blessings of the Amido. They are found, beginning in the ninth century, in the collection of prayers by R. Amram. Later a great number of piyutim are composed in Ashkenazic communities (especially by Rashi and Gershom ben Judah), which were the basis of collections of slikhous and were integrated into the order of daily prayer. Also to be mentioned are the slikhous recited during individual fasts, which all sinners who wished to be forgiven for individual sins might impose upon themselves. See Abraham Rosenfeld, The Authorized Selichot for the Whole Year, 2nd edn. (London: I. Labworth, 1957). 65 On the edition of Cracow (1594), see St. CB, no. 2840; Shmeruk, ‘Reshimah bibliografit’, no. 30.

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petition divine intercession, following misfortunes suffered by a community, for example. One such collection is the book entitled Slikhous in taytshn (Prague, 1602).66 In addition to penitential prayers recited during the Days of Awe and other fasts, this work includes two slikhous composed by Avigdor ben Isaac Kara and recited every year in the minhah service on Yom Kip˙ pur.67 The first is a text concerning misfortunes (gzeyrous) which descended on the Prague community on the eve of Passover in the month of Nisan in 5149 (= 1389).68 The townspeople invaded the Jewish quarter on the pretext that two Jewish children had thrown garbage on a priest. During the ensuing pogrom, the synagogue was burned, there was pillaging, numerous Jews were killed, and the cemetery and sacred books were desecrated. After the detailed description of the dramatic events, Isaac Kara expressed his pain in his elegiac poem and called upon God to have pity on the children of Israel. The second text takes up the complaint again, expands on it, and asks God to forgive the sins of his creatures. According to the evidence of Jacob Moellin, Isaac Kara was closely associated with the court of Wenceslas IV and Jan Hus.69 One of his poems was even supposed to have been used by the leader of the Hussites. The poem concerns divine unity, ‘Ekhod yokhid u-meyukhod eyl’, of which there is a Yiddish version entitled ‘Shir ha-yikhud’, that appears, notably, in the Birkas ha-mozoun of Basel (1600):70 · IYYA 'NWA GYNYYA UWG RGYUKEM LA · IYYR WU$YB ICREH IKYLUYA IYA : IYYMYG QLAW IYYD IYYZ LAR$Y HÏLLH


66 A collection in Yiddish only, published by Henoch, cantor in the Altnayshul in Prague and composed on the model of original prayers in Hebrew by Jacob ben Elijah Halevi of Töplitz. See BH, i. 1080; St. Serapeum, no. 228; rpt. Frankfurt am Main, 1693. 67 Kara was dayan in the Prague synagogue during the fifteenth century, a cabbalist and author of piyutim. 68 There is a Hebrew version entitled ‘Et kol ha-telo’o’ (‘on all the tribulations’), cited in A. Blaschka, ‘Die jüdische Gemeinde zum Ausgang des Mittelalters’, in Die Juden in Prag: Bilder aus ihrer tausendjährigen Geschichte: Festgabe der Loge Praga des Ordens B’nai B’rith zum Gedenktage ihres 25jährigen Bestandes, ed. Samuel Steinherz (Prague: Im Kommissionsverlag bei ‘Die Bücherstube’, 1927), 58–80. See also Sylvie Anne Goldberg, Les deux rives du Yabbok: la maladie et le mort dans le judaïsme ashkénaze: Prague XVIe–XIX siècle (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1989), 64. 69 See Shiper, ‘Di eltste shpurn fun der yidisher shprakh un literatur’, 125–6; Shmeruk, Prokim, 60–3. 70 In this edition, there is an indication that the poem was also sung when the bride and groom are joined in marriage on the wedding day. See Prijs, Die Basler hebräischen Drucke, 520–1.



Almighty God, unique and one | in every heart you are pure | Israel is your own people. | Hallelujah. Creator of all things out of nothing | whoever compares himself to you sees indeed that | all mastery is nothing compared to you. | Hallelujah. Jews, Christians, heathens, consider this | that God the Lord never took on material form | do not turn to the delusions of fools. | Hallelujah.

Prayer in the Vernacular


God without body, without needs, undying | without flesh, without blood, without wine, without bread, | blessed he who has the faith. | Hallelujah. Six hundred and thirteen commandments | with which he has bound us | we are his people, and he our god. | Hallelujah. The celebration of the sabbath and circumcision | both old and young Jews observe this | more than any people or language. | Hallelujah. True faith is not to be sought anywhere | other than among Jews in their books | False religion is indeed to be cursed. | Hallelujah. Kenites, Naaman, Obadiah | Rahab, Naomi, and Ruth the Moabite | they converted to this faith. | Hallelujah. Pursuers of truth, diligent and consistent, | they put their lives on the line | Lord God, you should give us your help. | Hallelujah. Sole master of all perfection | turn to us with your blessing | be blessed today and for ever. | Hallelujah.

Taken all together, these hymns, poems, and songs illustrate at once the range in which paraliturgical texts in the vernacular could be deployed: while primarily reserved for domestic usage and in private devotion, one also notes the progressive increase in the valuation of the vernacular in religious matters. Alongside the canonical register of Hebrew prayer, a new space developed for religious expression in the vernacular, favourable to the outpouring of religious feeling and to more intimate communication with the divine. The development of liturgical song testifies to the changes of religious feeling and to the emergence of new forms of piety better adapted to the longings of the ‘ignorant’.        ()    () In the period in which Yiddish literature was established on a firm footing, the Jewish liturgical canon had already been in existence for centuries.71 The prayer book (seyder ha-tfilous) was codified in Hebrew in an immutable order that left little opportunity for change and liturgical innovation (cf. BT Ber 33a). Beginning in the Middle Ages, especially in the Rhineland and Germany in the period 1180–1320, a great number of collections of liturgical texts, makhzourim, and sidurim were brought together for the sake of systematizing and ordering Jewish prayer.72 These manuscript collections served as 71

On the historical development of the Jewish liturgy, see Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden; Abraham Berliner, Randbemerkungen zum täglichen Gebetbuch, 2 vols. (Berlin: Poppelauer, 1909–12); Ismar Elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Leipzig: G. Fock, 1913; rpt. of 3rd edn. Hildesheim: Olms, 1995); Abraham Zebi Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and its Development (New York: Holt, 1932; rpt. New York: Schocken, 1967); Raphael Posner, ed., Jewish Liturgy: Prayer and Synagogue Service Through the Ages (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975). 72 Makhzourim are collections of prayers recited in the synagogue on holidays and the special sabbaths that occur in the course of the Jewish year; sidurim are collections of prayers for daily


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the foundation of the liturgical literature for the following centuries. They are generally large folio volumes that were used on site in the place of prayer, since they could not be transported by the worshippers.73 Beginning in the thirteenth century, however, the sidurim were often copied for the private use and domestic celebrations of the community’s wealthy families. In the fifteenth century, when the Ashkenazim settled in the communities of northern Italy, illuminated prayer books were copied that formed the basis of the bilingual makhzourim. The spread of the daily prayer book (sidurim) and the collections for holidays (makhzourim) in Yiddish translation grew steadily from the fifteenth century onward, before they were published in printed editions.74 In a sixteenth-century sidur, the editor remarks: ‘Seeing as how the material contained in this book grows day-by-day to the extent that it attains the proportions of a Shulkhon orukh . . . and is so cumbersome that it is difficult to carry to the synagogue, the editor . . . has decided to print the sidur in two volumes. The first includes the daily prayers and the second the prayers for holidays.’75 Printers, conscious of the growing demand on the part of uneducated worshippers, concentrated their efforts on publishing collections of prayers, generally in a handy format so that it could be consulted and used throughout the Jewish year. After the end of the seventeenth century, prayer books were published in the major centres of Hebrew printing in the Ashkenazic world and broadly distributed by booksellers and pedlars throughout the communities of Europe. The makhzour and the sidur were among the small number of titles found commonly in all Jewish households, an indication that the books were widely available. In this context of the broader distribution of prayer books, it seems natural that vernacular prayer books would also have been published for men and women who could not participate fully and with the required fervour in the synagogue prayer service. The issue of a prayer book in Yiddish, however, brought up very concrete problems, particularly having to do with its use. The central question is whether some portion of the worshippers, male or female, prayed in Yiddish in the synagogue and whether these prayer books were read during the service and individual worship. The two oldest prayer books are those of Amram Gaon (d. 845) and Saadia Gaon (882–942). The Makhzour de Vitry (thirteenth century) serves as the basis of the Ashkenazic rite (minhog ashkenaz). 73

Cf. the discussion of the Worms makhzour (1272), above pp. 262–3. On the manuscript versions of Yiddish prayer books, see Judah A. Joffe (Yuda Yofe), ‘Yidishe prakhtdruken’, Yivo-bleter 16 (1940), 45–58. In the Cairo genizah, there were two folios found on which were written the prayers ‘Al ha-nisim’ and ‘Piyut asher heni’, recited on Hanukkah and Purim; they could have been part of a Yiddish translation of the prayers dating ˙ from the fifteenth century. See Chone Shmeruk and Agnes Romer-Segal, ‘Seridim me-siddurtefilah be-targum le-yidish min ha-meah ha-15 (?) be-genizat Kahir’, Tarbiz 50 (1980–1), 456–62. 75 See Meir Roest, Catalog der Hebraica und Judaica aus der L. Rosenthal’schen Bibliothek (Amsterdam: J. Clausen, 1875; rpt. Amsterdam: B. M. Israel, 1966), i. 734–5. 74

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in the synagogue or, on the other hand, if they were only used by the ‘ignorant’ as simple preparation for or as a complement to the liturgy in the sacred tongue.76 The documents concerning prayer in Yiddish lead us to think that the vernacular prayer books found especial use as supplementary works intended to help men and women who had insufficient practical use of Hebrew and thus encountered difficulties in following the service in the synagogue. Of course, one might suppose that a small number of Jews preferred to make use of these texts during the prayer service,77 since they could not understand the Hebrew prayers, but that was a marginal and limited phenomenon. The dominant position of Hebrew made it impossible that a vernacular liturgy could supplant the recitation of prayers in the holy tongue, which remained the heart of the service. In the bilingual books, the Hebrew text preceded the vernacular translation, for the memorization of the canonical prayers maintained its central importance. The translation into the vernacular was only a palliative intended to make the prayers comprehensible, but in no way could they supplant the Hebrew liturgy. The existence of a certain number of prayer books in both manuscript and printed form in which the Yiddish text stands alone might lead one to imagine that the practice of the liturgy in the vernacular was common.78 Everything points, however, to their use for individual reading, at home and in the synagogue, but always as supplemental to the prayer service celebrated in Hebrew. The most common practice was to pray with the assembly of worshippers in Hebrew and only then to read or reread the prayers in the vernacular.79 Moreover, the effectiveness and the incantatory and sacred character of prayer depended more on mechanical repetition and its fixed and immutable character than on the comprehension of the words. If the worst came to the worst, it was, according to some rabbis, not altogether necessary to have access to the content, since the essence of prayer resided in the absolute fidelity to the original text, to which one was to listen attentively or on which one was to meditate at regular intervals in the course of prayer services. The authors of Old Yiddish literature, however, laid claim to a radically different approach to liturgical texts. According to them, the fact that Hebrew had become an 76

See Dovid E. Fishman, ‘Mik