For many, the pleasure of holding and acquiring an old book includes the ability to imagine the previous owners who owned the books and what they would have thought of the contents. Occasionally, we are lucky enough to have marginalia – handwritten notes on the margins of the books – that grant us some insight in to who owned the volume and their thoughts.
One such volume I recently acquired is a very fine copy of the responsa of the Noda Beyehuda. The title page sports the signature of a noted Frankfurt rabbi and dayan, Rabbi Moshe Meintz (1805-1886). R. Moshe Meintz was involved in bringing Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to serve as rabbi in Frankfurt, although they later differed on R. Hirsch’s approach when it came to seceding from the general Jewish Community to form a separate legal community for Orthodox Jews.
On the margins of one of the responsa in the volume, discussing the tumah (state of ritual impurity) of a non-living body, R. Moshe Meintz shared an interesting anecdote in the margins. He writes that R. Nosson Adler (1741–1800) once had a beggar come to his doorstep carrying with him an amputated limb (finger), which would render anyone sharing the roof with the beggar tameh (ritually impure). Since he was a Kohen and thus forbidden from becoming tameh, R. Adler proceeded to chase the beggar out of town, instructing him to remove the amputated finger to prevent himself and others from unknowingly encountering the amputated limb.