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Zusha: Online Repository of Hasidic Tales

Today a new website was unveiled that hopes to be the ultimate online repository of Hasidic tales, at least in Hebrew. Zusha, the brainchild of the Israeli journalist Sara Beck, wants to make the Hasidic tale available in a modern and accessible digital format. Each story is presented in a more modern and accessible Hebrew language version than the original, along with the original source itself, some basic explanations about language or terms, and sometimes commentary by different individuals. The stated goal is to collect “tens of thousands” of Hasidic tales and make them available to the public.

Ruth Ben David and R. Amram Blau

A few years go while looking for something in the stacks of the JTS Library z”l, I came across a fascinating book. I don’t remember why I took this book off the shelf, but it was a gem. The book the I had found was the transcribed autobiography of Ruth Ben-David, a convert to Judaism who is best known as one of the people who helped hide Yossele Schumacher after he was kidnapped from his parents and smuggled to Europe, and as the woman who later married Rabbi Amram Blau, the leader of Neturei Karta. As an aside, if you are interested in Neturei Karta and the whole Ben David-Blau episode, I highly recommend Motti Inbari’s Jewish Radical Ultra-Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, Zionism and Women’s Equality.

Inbari’s research into Neturei Karta was fascilated by the depositing of Amram Blau’s archive at Boston University. See this article by Yair Ettinger for a description of the archive and the relationship between Ben David and Blau. This Thursday Kestenbaum Auction House is conducting an auction with some great material and among the items being auctioned are a number of letters from Ben David and Blau, along with some correspondance with other rabbinic figures.

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I guess that these are letters that weren’t included in Amram Blau’s archive and are now up for sale. Hopefully they’ll be made available to scholars for use in their research because this is a fascinating episode in the lives of two fascinating people.

Update: Although the original post was written a few months ago, Prof. Kimmy Kaplan has just published a book on Amram Blau and Neturei Karta.


A Rare Letter of Rav Kook, Yoel Moshe Solomon, and Zionist Mythmaking

The recent issue of Asif, the annual publication of the Yeshivat Hesder association, contains the publication of a rare letter from 1904 written by Rav Kook to the leaders of Jaffa after he accepted the position as rabbinic leader of their community. There are many interesting aspects of the letter, one of them being that the negotiations between Rav Kook and the leadership of Jaffa lasted two years. Even taking into consideration the speed of communication in the early 20th century and a cholera outbreak at the time, this may shed light on some aspects of Rav Kook’s arrival in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Yehoshua Weisberger’s article (Hebrew) contains not only a transcription of the letter but also some historical background to the decision to offer the position to Rav Kook. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Kook’s son, was aware of this letter’s existence, but neither he or anybody else was able to locate it. It was recently located in the archive of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen Kook, Rav Kook’s nephew, and Rabbi Weisberger has now made it available to the larger public.

One of the figures who was instrumental in offering the position to Rav Kook was Yoel Moshe Solomon.

Except for those who are interested in the history of early Zionist settlement in Palestine, most people are familiar with Yoel Moshe Solomon from the song the Ballad of Yoel Moshe Solomon that describes the founding of Petah Tikva or the street named after him in downtown Jerusalem.

Yoel Moshe Solomon is a fascinating figure and the story that the song describes, the purchase of the land for Petah Tikva and its settlement, has been the subject of much historical speculation and controversy. To summarize a very interesting story, Yoram Taharlev, who wrote the song, relied upon the description found in the great historian and bibliographer Avraham Ya’ari’s Zichronot Erez Yisrael. While the description found there is based upon something written by one of Solomon’s sons, there are a number of other versions of what transpired the day in 1879. If you’re interested in learning more about Yoel Moshe Solomon and the myth and history surrounding the founding of Petah Tikva, I highly recommend this episode (Hebrew) of Ran Levy’s excellent podcast Osim Historiah that includes a lecture by Eli Eshed in which he talks all about what may have really happened to Yoel Moshe Solomon and his companions when they set out to create the historical settlement of Petah Tikva and the genesis of Yoram Taharlev’s song.

New on the Shelf: Abudarham and Torah Reading

I recently discovered Rabbi Yoel Katan’s column Kiryat Sefer in the newspaper Besheva. In each column Rabbi Katan recommends some new books that have been published. In a recent column Rabbi Katan mentioned two books of interest.


1. Sefer Abudarham-Written by David Abudarham/Abudirham, there have been numerous editions of this important commentary on the liturgy and a recent one is a partial edition of the book that includes a comprehensive commentary and variant readings from MSS and early printed editions. I have the first volume of this edition and apparently the second volume has been published and a third volume is on the way. Rabbi Katan does mention that this edition isn’t based upon the MSS, although some variant readings from MSS are brought, and that it would be good for an edition based upon MSS to be published.

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2. Vezot ha-Torah: Minhagei Keriat ha-Torah be-Eidot Yisrael-This recent book by Rabbi Dr. Hayyim Talbi is a comprehensive examination of the different customs surrounding the reading of the Torah. There are discussions about calling people up to the Torah, selling aliyot, and just about anything else related to the Torah reading. On Twitter I saw a tweet about this book and that is how I arrived at Rabbi Katan’s column. So Twitter can be good for Torah learning.

Drinking on Purim

I recently gave a talk about the issue of drinking on Purim in which I tried to show that based upon a reading of rabbinic literature there is no clear mitzvah to get drunk on Purim. The source sheet that I used can be downloaded from here or viewed below.


Drinking on Purim

New Journals from Magnes Press-Spring, 2017

Some new journals from Magnes Press:

Tarbitz 84, 3

Nili Samet – New Light on the Administrative Term bēn bayît in Biblical and Rabbinical Sources

Bezalel Bar-Kochva – The Religious Persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes as a Historical Reality

David Henshke – Between Blessings and Prayer: On the History of the Amidah Prayer

Mordechai Sabato – On the Inclusion of the ‘Mikan Ameru’ Homilies in the Halakhic Midrashim

Michael Rand – Surviving Fragments of the Qillirian Heritage in Provence/Catalonia and in Spain: In the Wake of New Materials from the Genizah

Jonathan Vardi – Between Shemuel Ha-Nagid and the Poets of Zaragoza

Textus XXVI

Emanuel Tov – The Development of the Text of the Torah in
Two Major Text Blocks

Michael Segal, Emanuel Tov, William Brent ת Seales, Clifford
Seth Parker, Pnina Shor, Yosef Porath, with an Appendix by Ada
Yardeni – An Early Leviticus Scroll from En-Gedi: Preliminary

Kristin De Troyer – Reconstructing the Older Hebrew Text of the
Book of Joshua: An Analysis of Joshua 10

Armin Lange – 4QXIIg (4Q82) as an Editorial Text

Gary A. Rendsburg – How Could a Torah Scroll Have Included
the Word? זעטוטי

Nancy Benovitz – Psalm 91:1 and the Rabbinic Shemaʿ in Greek
on a Byzantine Amuletic Armband

Yosef Ofer – A Fragment of the Aleppo Codex (Exodus 8) that
Reached Israel

Rachel Hitin-Mashiah – Main Division in the Verse in the 21 Prose
Books: Syntactic Study

Jordan S. Penkower – An Esther Scroll from the 15th
Century: Determining its Type among Five Traditions (Oriental,
Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Italian, Yemenite)

The Languages of the Jews

The different languages that Jews have spoken throughout our history have been varied and numerous. One of the more unfortunate developments of the last few decades is that many of these languages are disappearing. In order to at least provide some record of these languages a website has been created that attempts to document these different languages. The website is open to people sending recordings of people speaking different Jewish dialects, so it you can help, record away.

Since as part of my year in Israel after high school I lived with a family on a Moshav that came from Djerba, I am partial to the Judeo-Arabic dialect of the Jews from Djerba. Below is a recording of a man describing the observance of Yom Kippur in Djerba. Although I still hear the dialect whenever I visit this family, I have forgotten most of the words and phrases that I learned. The one that I do remember has to do with my Hebrew name, Menachem Mendel. When I first told them this name they broke out laughing. It took a minute until one of them told me that in the Judeo-Arabic dialect that they spoke Mindil means rag.

Angels, Demons, and Ghosts in the Talmud

There is now a database available online for angels, demons, and ghosts in the Babylonian Talmud. HT

Israel Channel 1 on Women in the World of Gemara and Halakhah

From Israel Ch 1:

Also see this article by Tzvika Klein on the recent statement by the OU on women in religious leadership positions.

The William Davidson Talmud

This is really big news from Sefaria:

Today, Sefaria is excited and humbled to announce the release of The William Davidson Talmud, a free digital edition of the Babylonian Talmud that will include English and Modern Hebrew translation by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

You can already access 22 tractates in English (Berakhot through Bava Batra) on Sefaria. The Modern Hebrew translations will begin appearing online later this year, and the remaining English tractates will follow.

For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance. Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone, with free and open licenses. Through the generous support of The William Davidson Foundation, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s translations will be available with a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license, making them free for use and re-use — even beyond Sefaria.

Learn more here!




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