Archive for February, 2009

As I wrote a couple of days back, I downloaded the PDFs of both the Auerbach and Albeck Eshkols and perused them.

After writing my original posting on the subject of the Nahal Eshkol, I emailed Prof. Marc B. Shapiro (who is the person who seems to have written the most about this subject online) with several outstanding questions I had on the subject. His reply was that the answers to my questions about the source of Albeck’s manuscript could be found by reading the introduction to Albeck’s volume. I was also interested to see what Auerbach had to say about his volume, so full of expectation I set about reading both volumes.

The first thing that I noticed is that they are entirely different books. I am no scholar, but without having read them from cover to cover, I would hazard a guess  that they have no common sections in them at all. 

I then went on to read the editors’ introductions. Auerbach’s introduction is written in long and ornate language and starts off with the story of how he duscovered the manuscript beautifully written “in well formed Sefardic hand” and amazingly erudite etc. and how he came to the conclusion that he had the Eshkol in his hands when he found sections that had been quoted by other books as being from the Eshkol. He then continues that the manuscript was in a very bad condition and that he needed to do a lot of work to interpret it and bring it to print. He claims that the manuscript was rotten and infested and in addition that there were sections written in another hand that he claims were fake.

Of this story, Shapiro writes in his first blog post on the subject:

It came as quite a shock when in 1909, many years after Auerbach had died, the great scholar R. Shalom Albeck accused him of having invented the story of the Spanish manuscript in order to enable him to forge the work.

and later

Needless to say, the supposed Spanish manuscript has never been found.

I then moved on to Albeck’s introduction. Here Hanoch Albeck opens with describing how his father Shalom Albeck started the work which he completed and with notes about how he edit ed and completed his father’s work. He then continues with his father’s introduction including a section on which manuscript he used and how he edited it. Here he writes the following (page 21):


Which translated says:

3) Manuscripts of the Sefer HaEshkol

In the following chapter I will enumerate the names of the authors who attributaed the Sefer HaEshkol to “Rabenu Ha-Abad” (R. Yitzhak of Navorna) and the writers who used the work. Here my purpose is to show the quality of the two manuscripts of this book from which I copied the book that present before you.

1) This I will call the “Carmoly manuscript”, for it comes from the library of the honored Eliakim Carmoly of Frankfurt Am Main. This is the manuscript that was used by Rabbi Auerbach in the Eshkol that he printed and it is now in the possession of the inheritors of his estate in Halberstadt. It is written on strong paper of quarter size in old, wide and well formed Sefardic script. The manuscript starts on page 2, and by counting it can be seen that not only page 1 is missing, and before it is a smooth sheet like a title page on which has been written in large lettering [by Carmoli?] “Sefer HaEshkol of Rabenu Avraham son of Rabbi Yitzhak of Navorna.

He then goes on to describe a second manuscript “the Paris manuscript” that he used to supplement the Carmoly one where it was missing pages or was difficult to read.

You will probably have noticed an amazing revelation here. Albeck worked from a manuscript that he got from the Auerbach family in Halberstadt!

So was this presumably the manuscript that Auerbach used? If so, then how did Albeck claim that the whole Spanish manuscript story was a fake and how does Shapiro say that Auerbach’s manuscript was never found? It certainly appears that Auerbach had a manuscript, even if he faked the text rather than laboring over the original.

Albeck’s description (on the page subsequent to the quote above) of the manuscript is that it was in a much better state than Auerbach claimed although he mentioned smudged and faint sections and parts written in a different hand. However, having Paris manuscript for comparison he succeeded in overcoming these problems. Maybe Auerbach claimed all this in order to justify his forgery – like he was writing what the Eshkol should have been, rather than what it was? Maybe Albeck was claiming that although there was a manuscript, it didn’t match and the discrepancies were unexplained?

It looks like I am going to have to purchase a copy of the “Kofer HaEshkol” in order to understand what is going on. I saw reprints on sale online for USD18, so this looks like my next move.

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I just found (it wasn’t that difficult if I had thought to look) both Auerbach’s and Albeck’s Eshkols online. I am downloading them. What particularly interests me are the forwards. I’ll let you know what I found out.

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“The wetter, the better”

Ben Dorfman c.1975

Ben Dorfman was the perpetual gabbai or “warden” as we called them then, in the Sutton and District Synagogue. That was back in the 1970s. Ben was refering to the saying of Ben Heh-Heh in the Mishna (Avot 5:26) – le-fum tza’ara agra (according to the effort comes the reward), specifically on the subject of walking to shul in bad weather.

Back there  in  a wet English winter, he wasn’t talking about the way I felt today as the rain pelted down. We had a total of 21mm of rain today and it is supposed to carry on into the night.

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Dust Storm

Horrible weather. This is what it looks like out the window of our offices. My office has a better view of the garden in the middle of the building, but this is on the other side of the building and you can see just how disgusting it is looking out there.

It is supposed to start raining again tonight, but then everything will just gwet washed down with dirty rainwater. Luckily it is going to rain for a couple of days, so it might get cleaned off.

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MRI Mind Reading

An article appears this morning in Technology Review about fMRI (that’s functional magnetic resonance imaging whatever that may be) being used to determine the contents of short term memory stored in people’s brains.

Subjects were shown one of two pictures and then using the fMRI, researchers attempted to determine which one they had seen. They isolated the the region of brain used for visual memory and successfully determined which picture the subject was remembering in 80% of cases.

Impressive, amazing, but kind of frightening. I was relieved to read the final paragraph in the article:

No need to worry yet about Big Brother reading your mind. For now, real-world applications remain limited, says Frank Tong, an associate professor of psychology and senior author on the study. The ability to reconstruct from scratch a complex memory or imagined scenario is a long way off. “We’re still just discriminating a simple binary state,” Tong says. “If you increase the number of options, this would get progressively more difficult.”

However science has a habit of progressing exponentially, ao I’m sure they”ll have solutions for that as well.

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In my previous post on the subject of R. Benjamin Hirsch Auerbach (BTW, also refered to in other sources as R. Zvi Binyamin Auerbach) I mentioned in passing the controversies in which he was involved and in particular the controversy over his publishing of an edition of the Sefer HaEshkol by R. Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne (c. 1110 – 1179).

I have since done some research into the material that has been published on R. Auerbach and the Sefer HaEshkol and I felt that it would certainly make a worthy subject for a post.


R. Benjamin Hirsch Auerbach was born in Neuweid on 21 June 1808 to a prominent rabbinic family. He studied under his father and then in the yeshivot of Krefeld and Worms. He then went on the University of Marburg where he studied Semitic languages and history (1831-1834). In 1835 he took the position in Darmstadt of Landesrabinner (chief rabbi) of the German state of Hesse. Here he seems to have spent much of his time and energies battling the Reform movement both on the ideological level as well as battling to retain his position against them. The Jews of Darmstadt were apparently of the Reform persuasion and gave him a hard time, whereas those in the smaller surrounding communities were Orthodox. He kept the position for 23 years and also published here a book of an educational sylabus for Jewish schools (“Lehrbuch der Israelitischen Religion,” 1839). He was involved in the publishing of the anti-reform polemic work “Torat HaKnaot” in 1844, together with other prominent Orthodox rabbis. Apart from that he established himself as a leading rabbi in Germany, among the first to preach and write in German.

In 1857 he was forced to resign his position and moved to Frankfurt Am Main where he devoted himself to writing while his wife supported the family. Apparently his financial position was not good and in 1863 he was convinced to take up the position of rabbi in Halberstadt (which did not have a reform movement).

In Halberstadt he developed close ties with the wealthy industrialist family Hirsch who owned a metal working business. Two of his children married Hirschs one of which was my great great grandmother Julia Auerbach who married Benjamin Hirsch.

Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Hirsch Auerbach died in Halberstadt on 30th September 1872.

The Eshkol Controversy

It was also in Halberstadt that he published in 1869 (with financing from the Hirsch family) a purported manuscript of the Sefer HaEshkol, an important halakhic work written in the early 12th century by R. Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne. The importance of this book is that it is the first work of codification of the halakha in southern France, which served as a model for all subsequent compilations. The work was accompanied by a commentary called the Nahal Eshkol written by R. Auerbach.

R. Auerbach published three volumes of the work in his lifetime and claimed to be in possession of a fourth volume that he did not complete before his death in 1878.

In 1909 the scholar R. Shalom Albeck raised doubts as to the authenticty of Auerbach’s manuscript and declared Auerbach’s work a fogery, basing himself on apparent unattributed quotation of sources in the text that post date the supposed date of authorship. Already in 1869 and 1880, such doubts had been raised, but the stature of R. Auerbach prevented these from having been taken seriously.

Following Albeck’s challenge, four prominent German rabbis (David Zvi Hoffmann, Abraham Berliner, Jacob Schor and Hanokh Ehrentreau) wrote a booklet published in Berlin in 1910 containing a defense of Auerbach named Tzidkat HaTzaddik – “the righteousness of the saint”. Albeck did leave this response unanswered and published a further booklet named Kofer HaEshkol – “denial/rebuttal of the Eshkol” (Warsaw, 1911), in which he explained his reasons for declaring the work a forgery.

Although a further defense of Auerbach was written as late as 1974 by Issachar Dov (Bernard) Bergman in an essay in the Joshua Finkel Festschrift (New York, 1974), it can be fairly said that Albeck’s arguments became accepted and the dubious nature of Auerbach’s Eshkol is now considered an established fact in academic circles as well as many rabbinic ones. Prof. Marc Shapira (see references below) brings examples of poskim who have obliviously used Auerbach’s Eshkol, including notably R. Ovadia Yosef. He also brings a couple of examples including notably the Teimani posek R. Yitzhak Ratsaby who rejects the Eshkol as a forgery and quotes and annecdotal evidence that this was also known to R. Moshe Feinstein (though he goes into detail of other sources mistakenly held to be forgeries by R. Feinstein on the basis of them containing dodgy views – an interseting subject in itself) as well as other leading rabbinic scholars.

Neither R. Auerbach or his heirs ever produced the original manuscript from which he worked to transcribe his Eshkol and no reasonable explanations have ever been given for the discrepancies in the work. Whether he worked from an original manuscript, but embellished it or whether he invented it entirely remains unknown to this day.

What is interesting are the places where no mention is made of the Eshkol controversy. The first and foremost of these is the Auerbach family tree (see below) which does not mention even in passing the existence of any such controversy. Seeing as the volume was published in 2002 and among its editors are academic scholars, this omission begs question. The second source where I found no mention was Wikipedia. This surprised me at first until I saw that its text is in fact copied (and credited) verbatim from the Jewish Encyclopedia which was published between 1901-1906(!) and thus pre-dated Albeck’s original aspersions. I am taking it on myself to update the Wikipedia article.

Later Publications of The Eshkol

In 1938 Hanoch Albeck (the son of R. Shalom Albeck) published what is accepted as being the authentic Eshkol. I have not found any material online that would suggest how he came into possession of the manuscript or the background to the publication. If any readers can fill me in on this, I would be indebted.

Unrelated, a purported fourth volume of Auerbach’s Eshkol was published in 1986 by Bergman (who wrote the defense of Auerbach in 1974), presumably from Auerbach’s original manuscript. Exactly where he claims to have got this manuscript from is totally unclear (and of course he doesn’t present it either) and it doesn’t appear that this volume is taken that seriously.

Post Script

When Rabbis Hoffmann, Berliner, Schor and Ehrentreau published their Tzidkat HaTzaddik in 1910 they argued that a person of the stature of R. Benjamin Hirsch Auerbach could not possibly be held to have forged the work. They brought the Rambam to their defense who states in his commentary on Avot 1:6 that a tzaddik, even if he does something dubious, should be given benefit of doubt and it must be assumed that there is a reasonable explanation, even if it is very far-fetched.

Whether you want to take Rambam here to his word or not, the question remains of why R. Auerbach would have created a forgery. It does not appear that the forgery was to forward some agenda. Neither does it appear that he needed to establish status or authority, because it would seem he already had that. My only guess could be that in his years in Frankfurt he came upon this plan to achieve fortune, even if he was not in need of fame.

It may be that a manuscript did exist and he had also convinced himself that his embelishments were what the Eshkol would have said and were somehow defensible. In any case, my knowledge of this interesting chapter in our family past is far from complete and my insight is very limited.


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Rafi G blogged today about an article on RabbiHorowitz.com – “Charedi Classic“.

Rabbi Horowitz seems to be a school principle and educational advisor and writer. The article in question describes how the education and values passed to him by the previous Haredi generation seem to him to be much more balanced and successful than those that he as part of the current Haredi generation are passing on to their children.

The Haredi Classic set of values were simple. “…be a mentch [an upstanding and honest person]. Learn and master our Torah. Farbreng nisht der tzeit [sic] — make the best use of every minute of every day. Make a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name by your good behavior] wherever you go – don’t ever forget that you are wearing a yarmulke. Get an education, be self-sufficient, and give something back to the community”.

The new Haredism is bogged down in stringencies, mixing custom with law and in superstition. It is frightened of the world around it and fraught with facades within.

I don’t want to gloat, but I think his Haredi Classic is called Modern Orthodox today. Unfortunately we don’t always know what we have going good and there are strong forces trying to send us in the Haredi direction. Let’s stick with Judaism Classic.

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