06 January 2016

More Victorian Jewish Miscellany: hats, secession, and Schone Aussicht

1. In high school, I searched earnestly online for the paintings of Moritz Oppenheim, and found only tiny, blurry reproductions.
Today I searched again and lo! Quite a number of them are on Wikipedia, in extremely high resolution – yay!

You know in vol. VIII, where a man in the train pokes fun at a young woman for having her hair covered? – I always wondered, How could he tell? – because in the pictures of Rav Hirsch's family all the women look (to my untrained eye) perfectly à la mode in their headdresses, such that a stranger would have a hard time telling whether a woman was covering her hair or not – well! here is the answer. You can see in the Oppenheim paintings that those beautiful frothy bonnets are worn over a sort of under-cap, which was not the case in the non-Jewish population.

this young lady is also standing under a tallis, at her chassuna.

2. Q. What did the rabbanim of the time have to say about the US Civil War?
A. IIRC somewhere in Rav Hirsch, after slavery ended in the South, he mentions its end with some relief.
Today I re-found a website that I misplaced years ago, which has --among a great many other curios -- lectures on the subject from American rabbis. Here, for one thing, is R' Illowy's lecture on States' Rights, which apparently pleased the secessionists of New Orleans so much when it was published that they invited him down to become rabbi of that city.


3. Schopenhauer lived in the same building as Rav Hirsch and at the same time, but apparently there is no evidence that the two ever met. I always thought that fascinating, wow, like a particle accelerator gone awry.
Anyway, because Schopenhauer also lived in that (now vanished) house on Schone Aussicht, it is a famous house and there are loads of pictures and a virtual tour of it online – here.

Some Favorite Moments from Samuel I, ch. 1

Occasionally I hit a moment when I just have to sit back and watch the movie. Here are a couple of them, and also some insights that turned up that are satisfying although not as cinematic.

(I'm using Mikraos Gedolos, Meam Loez, Daas Sofrim, the brown sefer entitled Torah SheBaal Peh, and Abarbanel on occasion. Who said what – ask me if you need to know; if I stop to look it up again now I'll never get this published.) Do not take my word for anything.

1:1 “...and his name was Elkana... an Ephratite.”
Q. Why is he called an Ephratite, from the tribe of Ephraim, since he was really a Levi?
A. The answer I always heard is that Ephrati is a generic term for a distinguished person, “a leader among his peers.”
Also, of course, he lived in the territory of Ephraim.
But this year I saw that one of the commentaries – I don't think I made this up – puts the two together: he lived in Ephraim, and he was a leader there. (You may have gathered this from that other Midrash that he used to take different routes up to the Mishkan every year, encouraging as many people as possible to come with him.)
In other words, he was such a great influence on Ephraim – which is what the Leviim were scattered around the country to be – that he is called an Ephrati, as if he were a member of the tribe himself.

1:3 This is the pasuk (verse) from which we learn that he would take those special routes up to the Mishkan to encourage people to come with him; and it concludes, “and there the two sons of Eli... were kohanim...” – dun dun dun – now we see why that extra encouragement was necessary.

1:6 “And her co-wife would anger her...”
Q. The Medrash tells us what Penina said to get Chana to daven (pray). It bothered me incessantly: in what tone of voice did Penina say this? I tried it over and over and the right tone of voice was just not in my repertoire. So, I called a rav, and asked him; and he read the Midrash, and all of a sudden it made sense. Moral of the story, if you need to know the tone of voice of something in Tanach, call a rabbi.

One theme of this perek seems to be how to get someone to do what you think they should do. Penina tries to get Chana to daven. Elkana tries to get Chana to cheer up. Eli tries to get Chana to sober up. And Chana tries to get Hashem to give her a child. Some are more effective than others. Discuss.

1:8, when Elkana is trying to cheer up Chana, someone says she understood from his words that he had reconciled himself to her childlessness; so she finally saw clearly that if anything was going to happen she was going to have to be the one to daven for it.

All these needlings finally add up to Chana going to daven after all.

1:14, Eli – explains someone – is suggesting that Chana go take a nap and come back later.

1:17, Eli's response to Chana is a play on words. Yiten has two meanings.
Sheila, spelt oddly as it is in this pasuk, also has two meanings: a request, or a child.
You can read Eli's words as a blessing: Hashem should give you the request that you have asked.
Or you can read them as a promise – Eli is having a flash of prophetic insight: Hashem will give you the child which you requested.

1:18, the very next verse, Chana hears Eli's bracha but she also hears the other meaning, the prophecy, and she lights up and the whole way home she can't stop smiling.
At least, that is how I read it; I don't have a source for that.

There is a Midrash – the kind that you read and say What? - that says that until now, Chana looked like a monkey; but after this encounter with Eli she didn't anymore. I think it is the Malbim who explains that what that means is that her intense sorrow was disfiguring; but now that she was happy she looked beautiful again.

The Midrash says Shmuel was a preemie.

Being an Orthodox Jewish Girl in a Non-Jewish School

I was talking to a friend of mine who is in this position at the moment and it reminded me of my own experiences as the same. I thought I'd stick some of our chatter online in case there are teenagers surfing the web and quaero mihi similes.

04 January 2016

“It is but a single step from the profound to the ridiculous.”

I found this line in Rav Hirsch a few months ago and was immensely pleased with it, finding it a clear expression of one of my biggest concerns in extra-curricular education; and I went round quoting it to anything that would stand still long enough.

And I would have kept citing it in the name of Rav Hirsch to every teacher, student, and doorpost, had it not shown up a couple of weeks ago in “an old School-boy's” memoirs of Dr. Arnold's influence at Rugby.


I could not get over the coincidence, and made a mental note to look up what common source Rav Hirsch and the “old School-boy” could possibly have been reading, and promptly forgot all about it...

...Until it showed up again last night in Edith Hamilton.


A guest kindly looked the quotation up for me and reported that the phrase first appeared in a late 18th century French philosophical work, and was subsequently publicized further by Thomas Paine and Napoleon, among others.

I'm going to guess that it was making the rounds of high society drawing-rooms by the mid-19th century. But it is tempting to sit here and speculate about what could have been on Rav Hirsch's reading list.

(...or not, unless the phrase itself is to serve as the single step it speaks of.)

I still like it.