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December 8, 2016 / 8 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘New Haven’

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Golden Haggadah: A Unique Methodology
The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination
By Marc Michael Epstein,Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011

The Golden Haggadah was created in Catalonia, Spain sometime around 1320. So named because all the illustrations are placed against a patterned gold-leaf background, it is a ritual object of incredible luxury and expense. In light of Marc Michael Epstein’s analysis found in his recent book The Medieval Haggadah, this tiny masterpiece of Jewish art easily ranks among other towering works of complex narration including Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in Rome.

The text of the Haggadah is prefaced by 8 pages of double-sided illuminations, each side containing 4 narrative scenes. Since the 56 illuminations frequently depict more than one aspect of a biblical narrative, the overall scope of the illuminations is vast. The first 27 scenes are from Genesis starting with Adam naming the animals, the next 26 portray the Exodus itself and the final 3 scenes depict medieval domestic Passover scenes.

Golden Haggadah, fol. 4v, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Superficially, the selection of these particular biblical stories has no explicit relationship to the Haggadah text that follows, other than in the most general – the stories of Genesis lead up to the Exodus. Epstein therefore insists that more substantive significance will be revealed if we see the illuminations in the light of two medieval exegetical models. “The narrative sequence of the biblical text is expressed via the conventional progression of scenes, corresponding to pshat, contextual exegesis, in medieval biblical commentary. But the moral, theological, and political themes that were important to the authorship and that they wanted to stress are found in the chiasmic [diagonal across the page or pages] readings, corresponding to drash, homiletic exegesis.” What is especially fascinating is that Epstein is linking different sequences of seeing to specific conceptual exegetical models. To complicate matters, these links may be positive echoes or negative contrasts of meaning. This may very well be a totally unique procedure in the analysis of visual art.

Golden Haggadah, fol.5rv, (ca.1320-1330) illuminated manuscript, London, British Library. Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Epstein organizes the 56 illuminations on three levels: first the group of 4 found on one page, secondly the group of 8 seen on two facing pages and finally patterns he discerns throughout all the illuminations. In what he identifies as the Bifolium 2 (two pages facing one another), the narrative literally proceeds from upper right to upper left, then back down to lower right and finally to lower left, exactly as Hebrew is read. The subjects chronologically unfold as: Destruction of Sodom, Akeida, Jacob Steals Esav’s Blessing, and Jacob’s Ladder. On the facing page we see Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Joseph’s Dream, Joseph Sent to his Brothers and Joseph Encounters the Angel in the same zigzag pattern.

Epstein immediately observes the connection between the diagonal of Jacob’s Ladder that continues up through the ruins of Sodom. This chiasmic (diagonal) link contrasts the destruction of the evil city of Sodom with the eventual construction of the holy city of Jerusalem at the site of Jacob’s ladder. In a divergent manner the Akeidah operates as a typology (ma’aseh avot siman l’banim – the events of forefathers foretell the events of later generations) to Jacob’s stolen blessing, each confirming the Divine choice of which son was to carry forward the history of the Jewish people. Suddenly a simple Biblical progression of Lot, Abraham, Isaac to Jacob develops into a nuanced complex commentary about retribution, holiness and inherited divine mission.

Further nuances emerge as Epstein observes that in this page delineating the early Israelite family tree, the right side of each image is dominated by “negative” figures. Lot hastens off with his daughters who will produce Amon and Moab; Ishmael, forefather of the Arab peoples, stands next to the donkey at the Akeida, Esav, forefather of Rome (i.e. Christianity) rushes in on the right and finally at Jacob’s Ladder we see on the right the angel of Esav preparing to attack the sleeping Jacob.

The repetitive flow of angels across the two facing pages yields more insights into the unfolding narrative. On the left-hand page Jacob Wrestling with the Angel is diagonally mirrored by the (non-textual) angel Gabriel guiding Joseph; compositionally 2 figures on the right are placed in contrast to a group of 6 figures on the left. This again echoes ma’aseh avot siman l’banim to show that just as Jacob encountered an angel at a crucial juncture, so too his son Joseph’s fateful encounter with his brothers was precipitated by the direction of an angel.

Richard McBee

Bird’s Head Haggadah Revealed – The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Bird’s Head Haggadah Revealed
The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination
By Marc Michael Epstein, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2011

The Dura Europos synagogue murals (245 CE) evidenced the first great flowering of Jewish visual creativity, quickly followed by the creation of at least 17 synagogue mosaic floors in Palestine. The next efflorescence of Jewish art was found in illuminated manuscript production in Spain and Germany over 600 years later. In The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination (2011), Marc Michael Epstein explores four seminal medieval Haggadot as paradigms of the creative relationship between sacred text and the Jewish visual imagination. The four – the Bird’s Head Haggadah (Ashkenazi ca. 1300), the Golden Haggadah (Sephardi ca. 1320), the Ryland’s Haggadah (Sephardi ca.1340) and its ‘Brother’ Ryland’s Haggadah (Sephardi ca.1340) – were created at “a crucial historical moment for the development of Jewish visual culture…[that] developed a renewed interest in narrative painting coterminous with the emergence of Christian narrative art.” Here I shall consider only his analysis of the mysterious Bird’s Head Haggadah (Israel Museum, Jerusalem MS 180/57), the earliest illuminated Haggadah we have, because it sets the fundamental tone and context for his research and conclusions. In future reviews, I hope to address his fascinating exploration of these other medieval Haggadot.

Esav and Yakov, fol. 12r, (ca.1300) illuminated manuscript, Israel Museum Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

Epstein brilliantly deconstructs many assumptions and visual preconceptions we (and many earlier scholars) frequently bring to these medieval Haggadot in an analysis that returns us to their original social and religious contexts. He does this by insisting that we see the illuminations as an independent commentary to be understood in parallel with the Haggadah text, not subservient to it. Of course one of the greatest initial challenges he faces with the Bird’s Head Haggadah is the substitution of bird’s heads for almost all of the human heads in the manuscript. While other manuscripts around the turn of the 14th century, both Christian and Jewish, utilized this same motif, the vastly different contexts thwart a single understanding for all, and certainly not as a universal Jewish method of satisfying a halachic injunction against image making. Nonetheless here the visual affront is particularly difficult for modern eyes. Depicting Jews with bird’s heads is simply grotesque.

Many scholars see the use of bird’s heads in this southern German manuscript as indeed a negative pietistic concession to rabbinic censorship of Jewish image making. Only the Jews are depicted with bird’s heads while the non-Jewish faces (Pharaoh, angels, etc.) are depicted with no faces at all (any non-Jewish faces were later additions). Epstein identifies three halachic authorities in this region that provide the background for these distortions. Judah the Pious (1140-1217) is considered the founder of Chassidei Ashkenaz and strictly prohibited any image making. R. Meir of Rothenberg (1215 – 1293) disapproved of the practice as being a distraction from the text. Finally R. Ephraim of Ratisbon (Regensburg 1133 – 1200) prohibited only the human face but permitted depiction of animals and birds.

Moshe & Aaron & Akeidah, fol. 15v, (ca.1300) illuminated manuscript, Israel Museum Courtesy “The Medieval Haggadah” by Marc Michael Epstein. Yale University Press, 2011

In this context Epstein sees our Haggadah as a liberal approach to the issue of making human images. But then he notes that actually the heads depicted are composite creatures with many of the heads sporting strange mammalian ears! His conclusion is that what we have here is an extremely typical medieval composite creature found in many illuminated manuscripts: the griffin, a combination of the lion and an eagle. Naturally for Jews the composite creature of a lion (lion of Judah) and an eagle (on whose wings we will be redeemed from exile) would be a perfect choice. The griffin has an extensive iconography as a creature of honor and pride, Jewishly echoing the lions and eagles woven on the curtain on the Holy of Holies, those found on the divine Chariot of Ezekiel and even linked to the Ceruvim on the Ark of the Covenant. Far from a negative self-image, the griffin headed figures in this Haggadah are celebrations of Jewish identity, especially in contrast to the non-Jewish figures who literally have no substantive identity. The suitability of the griffin for the Jew’s heads in this manuscript, thought to have been created in the southern German city of Mainz, is further established by the text of a kinah for Tisha b’Av (Kinos; Rosenfeld, pg 133) by Kalonymus ben Judah (11th c Mainz) that mourns the destruction caused by the first crusade (1096); “For the noble ones of the esteemed congregation of Mainz who were swifter that eagles and stronger than lions.” Epstein’s analysis is breathtaking and convincing. The figures in the Bird’s Head Haggadah will never seem the same.

Richard McBee

Ezra Stiles And The Jews Of Newport

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Rev. Ezra Stiles was born on November 29, 1727 in Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1746. He then studied theology at Yale and was ordained in 1749. After working as a tutor at Yale for a year, he began some mission work among the Indians. In 1752 he was forced to give this up due to ill health. He turned to the study of law and in 1753 took the attorney’s oath. He practiced law in New Haven until 1755, whereupon he returned to the ministry, accepting the position of pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island, serving there from 1755 until 1777.

Stiles was an avid supporter of the American Revolution. Thus, when the British captured Newport in late 1776, he left the city and became pastor of the Congregational Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1777. The following year he became president of Yale, serving in this capacity until his death on May 12, 1795.

Hebrew Studies


After settling in Newport Stiles became interested in the Jews residing there as well as in the Hebrew language.

Proceeding in the study of the Scriptures and of divinity, he felt the necessity of the knowledge of the Hebrew. His frequent attendance at the Jews’ synagogue increased his wish to possess at least as much of it as to see a little into their books and service. On receiving a diploma from Edinburgh [March, 1765] his ambition was touched, or rather a sense of shame excited, that a Doctor of Divinity should not understand a language; so important and so easily acquired.1

In May, 1767, Dr. Stiles knew ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet; he therefore requested one of his Jewish friends to teach him the others. Unlike some modern students of that ancient tongue, he determined, before beginning to translate from it into English, to read the language fluently, and henceforth read ten pages of the Psalter every day before breakfast. On the last of January of the next year, he began to translate Genesis, and by May 12 had finished it and Exodus. By the end of the year he had read Ezra and some of the Chaldee in Daniel, reading one chapter of the Bible and a little Arabic daily except Sundays. Thus he finished the Bible in October, 1770.

He now continued his Hebrew studies and became so proficient that in 1773 – the year he met Rabbi Hayim Isaac Carigal – he wrote a Hebrew letter of 22 pages in 1774, he read Onkelos and Jonathan in the original, and in 1777, we find him, according to his biographer, reading “Chaldee and Targum with Eben Ezra and Ishaki.”2 In July 1778, when he was inducted into his office as President of Yale, he delivered a Hebrew oration.3

Despite all this, one should not make the mistake of thinking Dr. Stiles became an accomplished Hebraist. In a footnote to the quote above, the author writes, “This sounds very nice, to be sure, nevertheless we may doubt whether he understood everything he read in his ‘Ishaki.'” He then goes on to point out a number of translation errors that Stiles made in his notes to a siddur.

Interest In Newport Jewry


On January 1, 1769 Dr. Stiles began keeping a diary, making regular entries until shortly before his death.

One is struck at once upon taking up the Diary by the large number of references to Jews and to Jewish affairs, although they are almost all confined to the period of his residence at Newport. The first entry about the Jews occurs as early as March 16, 1769, which day, he tells us, he spent mostly with the “Jew priest,” Isaac de Abraham Touro, [chazzan of the Newport Synagogue] in a discussion on biblical prophecies. From that time until the outbreak of the Revolution, which, when it began, absorbed almost all his thoughts, scarcely a month passes without some entry referring either to conversations or to correspondence with Jews, or to discussions on religious questions with them, or to items of interest regarding Jews.4

On December 2, 1763 Dr. Stiles attended the dedication of what is today known as the Touro Synagogue, and among his papers there is an elaborate description of the services as well as of the building. He often attended services at the synagogue on special occasions such as Jewish holidays and describes in detail what he saw. These writings provide us with a fascinating description of the religious life of Newport Jewry during the middle of the 18th century.

Stiles was particularly interested in discussing theological and religious matters with the various rabbis who from time to time visited Newport. He writes that he met six rabbis: Rabbi Moses Malki in 1759, Rabbi Moses Bar David [Ashkenazi] in 1772, Rabbi Chaim Isaac Karigal [Carigal] in 1773, Rabbi Tobiah ben Jehudah in 1773, Rabbi Bosquila in either 1773 or 1774, and Rabbi Samuel Cohen in 1775.

Dr. Stiles found Rabbi Raphael Chaim Yitzchok Karigal by far the most interesting of his rabbinical acquaintances. Rabbi Karigal was a unique visitor to America in that he was a true talmid chacham who was ordained in 1750 at his birthplace, Hebron, and then went to Jerusalem to continue his studies. He was appointed a shliach of the Hebron community in 1754. In this capacity he became a world traveler visiting Jewish communities in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Italy, Germany, Prague, Vienna, London, and Amsterdam.

In 1762 the rabbi of the Sephardi Jewish Community of Cura?ao passed away. Since Cura?ao was a Dutch colony, the Jews of Cura?ao had close ties with the Amsterdam Jewish community. The leaders of the Jewish community of Amsterdam asked Rav Karigal to become the rabbi of Cura?ao Jewish community. He agreed and served in this capacity for two years, returning to Hebron in 1764.

In 1768 he again took up his travels going to France and then London. After visiting Jamaica, he set sail for North America, visiting Philadelphia and New York. On March 3, 1773 he arrived in Newport, where he stayed until July 21.5

When on March 5 the Rev. Stiles learned of Rabbi Karigal’s arrival in Newport, he wanted to meet him. And so on March 8 Stiles attended Purim night services at the Newport Synagogue because he knew the rabbi would be there. This led to numerous meetings between Rabbi Karigal and Dr. Stiles while the rabbi stayed in Newport.

In a diary entry dated April 8, Dr. Stiles provides us with a fascinating description of the appearance of Rabbi Karigal. Below is a direct quote that preserves his spelling, grammar and syntax.

The Rabbi’s Dress or Aparrel: Common English Shoes, black leather, Silver flowered Buckles, White Stockings. His general Habit was Turkish. A green Silk Vest or long under Garment reaching down more than half way the Legs or within 3 Inches of the Ankles, the ends of the Sleeves of this Vest appeared on the Wrists in a foliage Turn-up of 3 inches, & the Opening little larger than that the hand might pass freely. A Girdle or Sash of different Colors red and green girt the Vest around his Body. It appeared not to be open at the bottom but to come down like a petticoat; and no Breeches could be discovered. This Vest however had an opening above the Girdle – and he put in his Handkerchief, and Snuff-box, and Watch. Under this was an inner Vest of Calico, besides other Jewish Talismans. Upon the vest first mentioned was a scarlet outer Garment of Cloth, one side of it was Blue, the outside scarlet; it reached down about an Inch lower than the Vest, or near the Ankles. It was open before, no range of Buttons &c. along the Edge, but like a Scholars Gown in the Body but plain and without many gatherings at the Neck, the sleeves strait or narrow and slit open 4 or 5 Inches at the End, and turned up with a blue silk Quarter Cuff, higher up than at the End of the sleeve of the Vest. When he came into the Synoguge he put over all, the usual Alb or white Surplice, which was like that of other Jews, except that its Edge was striped with Blue straiks, and had more Fringe. He had a White Cravat round his Neck. He had a long black Beard, the upper Lip partly shaven-his Head shaved all over. On his Head a high Fur [Sable] Cap, exactly like a Woman’s Muff, and about 9 or 10 Inches high, the Aperture atop was closed with green cloth. He behaved modestly and reverently.6


Dr. Stiles was so taken with the personality and wisdom of this genuine talmid chacham that he commissioned the painting of his portrait.7


1 Ezra Stiles and the Jews, Selected Passages from his Literary Diary Concerning Jews and Judaism with Critical and Explanatory Notes, by George Alexander Kohut, Philip Cowen Publisher, New York 1902, page 14. This book may be downloaded from http://books.google.com at no cost.

2 From Willner (see next reference) it seems that Ishaki refers to a Sephardic siddur Stiles owned.

3 “Ezra Stiles and the Jews” by Reverend W. Willner, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1900; 8, AJHS Journal.

4 Ibid.

5 For more about the unusual career of Rabbi Karigal see “The Chacham for the Colonies” by Rabbi Shmuel Singer, available at www.tzemachdovid.org/gedolim/jo/tpersonality/rkarigal.html.

6 Kohut, pages 116-117.

7 See www.jewishencyclopedia.com/volume3/V03p592003.jpg.



Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

True Depravity

Last week’s bombings of Israeli armored personnel carriers in Gaza are to be expected during times of war. After the first attack, however, Palestinians paraded through the streets with body parts of the dead Israeli soldiers. Later, a video was broadcast throughout the Arab world displaying the decapitated head of one of the dead soldiers. This is not expected, even during times of war. What a coincidence that at the same time, terrorists in Iraq released a
horrific video of an innocent American being decapitated. Are not these acts at least as disgusting and deadly as the photos of naked men in prison wearing dog collars?

How should a parent react as the lifeless head of his/her child is broadcast by satellite to the world? How should the world react to the moral depravity exhibited by these terrorists of Islam?

Harry Grunstein
Hampstead, Canada

Israel’s Curious Democracy

In his column of April 30, Rabbi Rafael Grossman presents the opinion that American Jews should not challenge Prime Minister Sharon because such criticism is in opposition to principles of democracy. Phrases like “democratically elected officials of the government” and “the wishes of Israeli voters” recur throughout the piece. In Rabbi Grossman’s words, we should make aliyah and join the IDF if we want to change Israel’s official policy.

A better case can be made, based on the ideals of democracy, that we are in fact obligated to criticize. The voters in Israel after all did not cast direct votes for Sharon; they voted for the Likud party, whose platform opposes territorial concessions.

As Professor Paul Eidelberg has explained many times in The Jewish Press, the weakness of the Israeli system of parliamentary democracy gives the prime minister, because he is not directly answerable to the electorate, free reign to ignore its wishes and adopt the policy of the opposing party. The voters are rendered powerless by such a system.

Those of us who are against capitulation to terror should also press for reform of the Israeli system, which is not the true democracy implied by Rabbi Grossman. Readers wishing to gain
insight into the issue of democracy and modern Israel should visit the website of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy (www.foundation1.org).

Maury Lipson
Brooklyn, NY

Jews And Eugenics

The Jewish Press deserves an enormous amount of credit for publishing an article on eugenics (“Eugenics, Jews and History,” op-ed, May 14) that did not take the intellectually dishonest approach, so prevalent in academia and the media, of tarring an entire scientific discipline with the brush of Nazism. Dr. Glad masterfully laid out the historical facts and, while making no effort to airbrush the blemishes, presented a picture of eugenics and eugenicists that was both fair and enlightening.

Given the unthinking allegiance to political correctness and limp liberalism manifested on a weekly basis by other Jewish publications, I doubt we’ll ever see the day when your competitors carry this type of honest appraisal of an issue as controversial – and as
encrusted and overlaid with myth – as eugenics.

Gilbert Saperstein
(Via E-Mail)

Grim Situation

As usual, I found William Grim’s dispatch from Germany as educational as it was frightening (”The Strange Case of Horst Mahler,” front-page essay, May 14). In this article, as in his
previous pieces for the Jewish press, Mr. Grim reveals a side of present-day Germany that its apologists are trying their best to obscure.

It seems to me that, almost side by side with the German anti-Nazi legislation enacted in the decades since the end of World War II, there exists in Germany a nostalgia for the Nazi era, along with a very obvious defensiveness about what the fathers and grandfathers of today’s Germans did to the Jews.

That defensiveness can be attributed to a weariness with being seen as the descendants of uniquely evil people, and so perhaps it is understandable that there has been a steady diminution of whatever pro-Jewish and pro-Israel sentiment existed among Germans in the first decades after the Holocaust. After all, who relishes going through life bearing such an overwhelming burden of guilt?

As the years pass and the Holocaust recedes into the mists of history, the German people, I’m afraid, are not only shedding any feelings of remorse they may have had, but are actually
compensating for those now unwanted feelings by seeking to portray Israelis as the new Nazis and Palestinians as the new Jews.

Paul Heinreid
Brussels, Belgium

Instructive Difference

For students whose religious beliefs preclude them from taking the SAT’s on the regularly scheduled Saturday, an accommodation is provided in the form of Sunday testing. As an Orthodox Jew, I availed myself of this opportunity, and the test center to which I was assigned was the Jewish Educational Center, the well-known Orthodox day school in Elizabeth, New Jersey. An overwhelming majority of the test-takers were Orthodox Jews, but along with us
there were several Christians – and one Arab girl dressed in full Islamic attire.

Isn’t it amazing that an Arab girl can safely walk into a Jewish school, filled with religious Jews, and walk out completely unharmed, not even verbally assaulted? Could a Jew stroll into an
Islamic institution as comfortably, and be treated with the same amount of respect? We can’t even live safely in our homeland, in our own country; yet we provide protection and dignity for the rest of the world.

How praiseworthy Jews are that others can make bold religious statements, in Jewish institutions, without fear or trepidation. The Jewish people deserve recognition and accolades for their decency and tolerance, in a world in which these principles are rapidly disappearing.

Michael Friedman
Linden, NJ

Last Chance For Palestinian State

The recent turn of events in the Middle East does not bode well for those who hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Terror groups from the Euphrates to the
Mediterranean have mobilized the Arab street to join in the barbarism, either actively or, more often, passively.

Arab doves are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they are in hiding from those who would silence critics. But it is getting more and more difficult for us in the West to feel for the position of the
moderates among the Palestinian people. The only way to motivate them out of their current silence and lethargy is to make them realize that they, not the terrorists, are the ones who will foot the bill for the current deluge of savagery.

America and Israel must announce, jointly, that if the Palestinians continue on their current track, all hope for an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River will be gone
forever. There has been too much blood spilled already. It’s time for a nonviolent solution to this problem. Though this suggested course of policy could, if effective, lead to a Palestinian civil war, in the long run it would be the least violent outcome of all the options currently available. The end result would be a true partner in peace for Israel and true hope for the Palestinians.

As long as the dream of a Palestinian state is a guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the terrorism rainbow, there can be no real hope for peace. Paradoxically, a time limit – perhaps it could be called a blood limit – on Palestinian barbarism could hasten the formation of a Palestinian state. Israelis who care even a whit for the Palestinians must realize that the last chance for Palestinian liberty is at stake.

Alan Betsalel Friedlander
New York, NY

Converting Cards To Seforim

Reading the May 14 letter to the editor from Isaac Levy (“The Jewish Way?”), I was reminded of a childhood incident. I had a friend who saved up every last penny he had to buy baseball cards. By the time he turned 12, he’d amassed a collection of thousands of cards. I occasionally bought from him a few of his more expensive cards. When my friend turned bar mitzvah, he gave up all secular pursuits and left home for an out-of-town yeshiva. Before he left, I asked if I could buy off his whole collection of cards. He looked at me and said, “What cards?” He then explained that he had gotten hold of a blow torch and destroyed every last remaining card!

Hearing this unfortunate news, I could not help think of all the money he had just wasted. Similarly, if the yeshiva referred to in Mr. Levy’s letter wanted to send a message to its students regarding the worthlessness of baseball cards, it could have accomplished that goal in a much more useful manner. The yeshiva should have had the boys bring in all their cards, sell them to a card dealer, and use the proceeds from the sale for Torah books and the like.

Yossie Newfield
Brooklyn, NY

Isaac Levy, You’ve Been ‘Sterned’

Add Isaac Levy’s name to the growing list of malcontents who seek to blame the ills of contemporary Judaism on the yeshiva world. With a ridiculous and sickening display of hyperbole, Mr. Levy compares a yeshiva’s burning of its students’ sports card collections to the Nazi practice of incinerating thousands of our holy tomes.

Mr. Levy uses this incident as a pretext to launch a tirade against all yeshivas, accusing them of preaching hatred and intolerance for anything and anyone outside their sphere. In particular,
Mr. Levy argues that yeshiva students in the formative grades are brainwashed into believing that gentiles are essentially worthless. Mr. Levy, your comments are not only ill-advised, they are patently untrue. Most rabbis in the early grades relate stories of our Torah sages as a means of developing yiras shamayim (fear of Heaven) in their students. Pre-teenage boys tend to look for heroes, and the yeshivas are simply trying to impress upon their flocks that the
worship of sports stars should be left to the mainstream.

Are there rabbis who are so overzealous in preaching the virtues of Torah Jews that they minimize the virtues of non-Jews? Perhaps. But these rabbis are individuals. There is no concerted effort on the part of any yeshiva to defame the secular world.

There has been a wonderful marketing campaign aimed at curbing drug abuse. Its slogan reads “Parents: the anti-drug.” All parents must engage their children in meaningful conversation. In
short order, whatever misconceptions and biases exist will come to the fore and it is a rather simple matter in most cases to set one’s children straight.

Mr. Levy is correct in stating that Jewish tradition in no way belittles non-Jews. During my years at a secular college and dental school, I met a great many gentiles who were of the highest intellectual caliber. In addition, I maintain a “melting pot” dental practice and so have had the good fortune to meet and treat people of all backgrounds. From this perspective know that non-Jews can have exemplary middos.

I suspect that Mr. Levy had some negative experiences while in yeshiva and now he’s looking to vent. Listen it’s not a perfect world. The yeshivas face a very difficult task in trying to mold the next generation of Torah Jews. They need support for their work, not incendiary remarks which fan the flames of anti Semitism.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Early-20th Century American Yeshivas

In his front-page essay “Rabbi Avigdor Miller: His Early Years” (Jewish Press, April 30), Dr.
Yitzchok Levine inaccurately stated that during the 1920’s, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan was “the only yeshiva in America at that time with a beis medrash.”

The context of this statement is that Rabbi Avigdor Miller learned at Yeshivas Rabbeinu
Yitzchak Elchanan under Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik before moving on to study at the yeshiva in Slabodka, a transfer done at the request of Rabbi Isaac Sher, son-in-law of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the famed Alter of Slabodka.

William B. Helmreich in his monumental work The World of the Yeshiva describes the history of the formation of the advanced  yeshiva movement in the United States, listing Yeshivas
Etz Chaim, founded in 1896, which then merged with Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan in
1915, as the earliest still established advanced yeshiva in the United States. Helmreich then lists the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, started as a rabbinical seminary in 1922, as the second advanced yeshiva established in the United States.

Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and the Hebrew Theological College were not the only
two existing yeshivas with batei medrashos in the United States; in 1923, Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg founded the Bais Medrash LeRabbonim in New Haven, Connecticut. However, due to factors related to the Great Depression and internal dissension within the yeshiva, Rabbi Levenberg relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1928. While the Bais Medrash LeRabbonim ultimately closed in 1938, members of the yeshiva, led by Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, moved to Baltimore in 1933 where they established Yeshivas Ner Yisrael.

Other prominent students and faculty members of the Yeshiva of New Haven included Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (the 20th century’s foremost American halachic authority and rosh yeshiva of Manhattan’s Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem); Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin (rosh hayeshiva of RIETS and second president of Yeshiva University); Rabbi Baruch Kaplan (father of the Bais Yaakov movement in America); Rabbi Menachem Zvi Eichenstein (chief rabbi of St. Louis, Missouri); Rabbi Alexander Linchner (builder of Boys Town Jerusalem); Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (rosh yeshiva of Torah Or, and spiritual leader of Yerushalayim’s Mattesdorf
community); and Mr. Charles Batt (the late prominent and distinguished lay leader in the New
England Jewish community).

Another yeshiva of the time was Torah Vodaath, founded in 1917 as an elementary school.
In 1926, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz established a high school there, followed in 1929 by a beis medrash with Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz at its head. In fact, concerning the longstanding, and perhaps integral, relationship between Reb Mendlowitz’s Torah Vodaath and Rabbi Levenberg’s Yeshiva of New Haven, biographer Yonoson Rosenbaum wrote of a pioneer trip by Reb Mendlowitz to the Yeshiva of New Haven. “He wanted his students to experience a real Beis Medrash on the European model, so he took them on Lag Ba’Omer up to New
Haven, Connecticut where Rabbi Yehuda Heschel Levenberg, the rav of the city, had founded the first advanced yeshiva in America” (Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, p. 80).

Notwithstanding the memorable beginning of the Beis Medrash LeRabbonim, very little has been written in English regarding Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg and his Yeshiva of New Haven. Rabbi Ari Zivitofsky’s recent article in the Jewish Observer (December 2003) was quite informative in describing an oft-forgotten chapter in American Orthodoxy.

As an undergraduate student at both Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Yeshiva College who is fascinated with Jewish history, I take pride in the history of the yeshiva that I attend, as one should. I appreciate the effort The Jewish Press has demonstrated in presenting
the history of American-born gedolim. Rabbi Avigdor Miller truly was, as Dr. Yitzchok Levine
stated, “one of the foremost proponents of Orthodoxy in the United States.”

Menachem Butler
Jamaica Estates, NY

Dr. Yitzchok Levine Responds: My statement about Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok
Elchanan was based on the following sentence from “Remembering Rabbi Avigdor Miller,” an article, written by Rabbi Shmuel Brog, one of Rav Miller’s sons-in-law, that appeared in the November 2001 issue of the Jewish Observer (see www.shemayisrael.com/jewishobserver/archives/nov/rbrog.htm). In this article Rabbi Brog wrote, “His love of learning led him to a second galus. At age 17, after graduating high school, he left Baltimore for Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan in New York, the only yeshiva in America at that time with a beis midrash.”

I thank Menachem Butler for pointing this error out to me and your readers. I also thank him
for providing us all with some interesting history about the yeshivas that were in existence in the first part of the 20th century.

Letters to the Editor

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-64/2004/06/16/

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