The Image of the Idiot

The third and fourth son in the Haggadah, the simple one and the one who doesn’t know to ask, are Pesach characters.  But in my father’s youth, they were used by kids to chide each other year round. 

The One who deosn’t know to ask is depicted by Roedelheim as having his two arms out before him one higher and one lower. Perhaps he is grappling with things, or so young that he is learning by touch? 

Among my father’s friends, the gesture of extending the arms this way when joking around meant, “not too bright, ‘eh?” 

In  this   cute article, the author, Touro’s Avenue J campus dean Dr. Henry Abrahamson, explains that early editions of the Maxwell House Haggadah borrowed 17th century woodcuts from an heroic convert from Christianity. Among the artwork is that imbecilic child with his hands asunder.  

So, we have located the source and according to that article, the little son appears in the Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695, with the art engravings of Abraham bar Jacob, the convert. it is actually a borrowed image of King Saul as he appeared in Christian literature. Now, I don’t believe Saul was depicted by the Christians as an imbecile. Perhaps they were showing him as a child per a literal reading of (Samuel 1 13;1) “At age one Saul was king”. <Now this might be unlikely as modern day Christian Bibles have the text “At age thirty Saul was king”. I do not know which version 17th century Christian scholars followed….but some scholar out there might know?> 

(I removed a paragraph about a Hagadah that I thought preceded the Amsterdam Haggadah)  

Back to the Maxwell House Haggadah, I would venture that they didn’t borrow the illustrations straight from antiquity, but that their Haggados in the early years were copied from the Roedelheim. I always noted the one or two differences in the text that we are used to – were to be found in the Maxwell House as well. The post 1900 Roedelheim went with the Hebrew facing the translation on two columns of the same page, something Maxwell adopted too- and had these old woodcuts with the “Little Saul” character. A favorite of little boys in pre-war Basel. 

Good Yom Tov! 

Rav Hirsch’s Yahrzeit # 132?

I received two emails for the 132nd Yahrzeit of Rav Hirsch z’l. Now simple math would tell you that from 1888 until 2021 is 133 years. I almost was going to email both parties (Agudas Yisroel and Rabbi Eiseman in Passaic) about this miscalculation. 

Luckily, I reached out to Reb Sidney Yisroel S. about this first. His response: 

” The KAJN letter of which I am one of the proofreaders also said 132. 132 is correct. He was niftar on the 2nd 27 of Teves of 1888 (the one in 5649 not 5648).  Note that 1889 had no 27th of Teves.  5781 minus 5649 = 132.” 

I.e. The year 1888 had two 27th of Teveth in it. The first in January 1888. The second in December. It was a very early year that year- with part of Chanukah in November. Looking on Hebcal, I find that Rav Hirsch passed away on December 31st of 1888.  

This corroborates a well-known story (I found it in Professor Leo Levi’s article in Jewish Action magazine. It does not appear in E.M. Klugmann’s book as far as I can see) quoted below from that article: 

“He had many opponents, some of them quite virulent; but no one ever challenged his absolute integrity. On the first day of each quarter, his congregation paid his salary for that quarter. When he started feeling weak in his old age, he instructed his family that when he died they should return the overpayment for the remainder of the quarter. Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that Rabbi Hirsch passed away on December 31, 1888, the last day of the quarter.” 

Below is a description of Rav Hirsch’s levaya from  of Hermann Schwab’s “History of Orthodox Jewry in Germany” pg. 90: 

“On the 27th of Teveth 5649(December 31st, 1888) Samson Raphael Hirsch passed away. On the following day the present writer and his classmates were standing in a vast crowd before Hirsch’s house. They, the preparatory class at the grammar school of the Religiongesellschaft, were to take their places immediately behind the sons and the relatives. Before the carriage were to walk the senior pupils, carrying Hirsch’s works in their hands- “Thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the L-rd shall be thy reward”.  

The writer goes on to frame Rav Hirsch as a lover of peace, one who longed for peace, were it not for the need to save his people. He writes further: 

“And if the community which he founded in Frankfort and all the others built on its model have disappeared, and his literary legacy too is in danger of being lost to the world (published in 1950 ed.) the interpretation of Judaism which he gave to 19th century Germany is still a spiritualising force. Like a ray of light it travels over the earth and no one can detect it or divine its goal. But whoever crosses its path is shown the greatness of Judaism- “even one is enough, Israel’s cause is not lost.” 

A Blessing Upon Your Head

Among German Jews the custom of fathers blessing their children is taken very seriously. We do it Friday evening at home- or in shul as fathers bentsch their married sons who may not be joining them for the meal. Motzaei Shabbosos this is repeated.

When visiting my father z’l, on any given day of the week, we would ask to be bentched in case we would not see each other again before Shabbos.

My father would often say that when he bentches us he is giving us something which he received from his father- and his father received from his father- and on, through all the generations.

It really was his legacy. Because my grandfather died at age 57 from a wound he sustained in the first World War. He suddenly felt he couldn’t breathe one evening and summoned all the children into the living room. He then proceeded to bentsch them with his last breaths and expired.

This is a scene no less significant than the one depicted in this week’s sedrah. Yaakov departed from this world and gave of his last minutes to blessing his children. Blessing them and setting them straight. Perhaps this is why, from all the forefathers it is specifically Yaakov who bears the distinction of ” Our father Yaakov did not die” and as the Talmud goes on to explain, ” as long as his children live, he lives!”

He put his last hopes and efforts into seeing to their success and to the continuation of the family legacy.

As a child we would walk into each room of the apartment while singing “Sholom Aleichem”. As a guest of Rav Eliezer Dinner of Bnei Brak, we walked around the table as we sang this. The idea being that we are escorting the Sabbath “angels” in a proactive way. Anyone else have this (or a similar) minhag?

A few years ago a reader asked why we say the words “Sholom aleichem Malachei Hashareis” in the first stanza, but refer to the angels as “malachei Hashalom” in the subsequent verses. I had seen someone reference a sefer called “Tiferes Hashabos” (Rabbi Dovid Y. Rosenwald, Haifa 1969) for an answer. I picked up a copy of this book and the answer was a bit vague- but I believe his answer is as follows. The term “malachei hashareis” is a direct quote of the Talmud (Shabbos 119) that describes the angels as “malachei hashareis”. When these two angels find the home in order with candles lit, table set and beds made, the “good” angel blesses the family that it may be so the next week. At that point the “bad” angel must answer “Amein” to this bracha. Now, the two angels have a common cause in blessing the family and are therefore called “angels of peace.”

Sukkos Blogging

1) We just hit the hoshanos against the floor this morning.  My father always said that you can determine a person’s lack of intelligence by  the amount of force he uses in smacking the aravos. The harder they hit it, the less refined they are. This really bothered him. He saw the anger during the hoshanah strike as ignorance.  

The early protagonists of Refrom- or Liberal Judaism- were utterly embarrased by the banging at the mention of Haman in the Orthodox synagogues. They juxtaposed this wild revelry with the decorum held sacrosant at the Christian houses of worship and Judaism seemed primitive and folksy in comparison. Of course, history has mostly proven them wrong in their search for a sanitized religion. But there was a general need to improve our worship in the places where a lack of a good Jewish education left the masses to revel in pettiness. The answer, as it turned out, wasn’t to Christianize Judaism, but to Judaize it. It would take a century or two for that to really happen.  

Nevertheless, it is through my father’s disdain for wild engagement in ritual- WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING- that I see some of what bothered the discerning eyes of  those who left the shul for the “House of the Organ, and eventually for the Church itself. 

2) I cancelled my almost-annual trip to KAJ for Hoshanos this morning because I live in a hotspot, and, although I have been davening almost exclusively outdoors since Yom Kippur, my wife felt that my presence might make others uncomfortable. You’re welcome. 

3) Mr. Marc Breuer s’l (that is z’l in German vernacular and not my usual way of writing it except when I want to feel heimish) was a Jewish educator while fleeing the Nazi’s through Vichy France. His lectures from that period were published in his “La Tohrah Commentee” (I have a copy of my own!) and are available online in English. In this week’s sedrah (Vezos Haberachah) he has an explanation for the unusual order in which Moses blesses the tribes at his death. See here:  http://www.cojo.net/VezosHabracha.pdf 

The bulk of his thoughts are in the epilogue with a tidbit beforehand explaining why Shimon is not mentioned. An alternate – slightly similar idea is found on OU Torah, here:  https://outorah.org/p/37748

My father z’l as a young single entering a sukkah on a rooftop on Bennett Avenue. Possibly the Sukkah of Mr. Carl Stern z’l.

Refusing the Amud

I am in the year of mourning for my father – (H’KM). I daven in a shul where the various mourners are very respectful towards each other’s “chiyuv” to lead the davening. That said, I had the opportunity several times- so far- to refuse the amud- even as it was offered to me:

For instance, on a day that tachanun is not said- including the mincha just before Shabbos -is not a time that an aveil is an appropriate candidate for the amud according to our tradition. When offered the amud on the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah for part of the davening I declined for this reason- as well as the reason that the selichos chazan is meant to daven that day. The gabai was surprised that someone would refuse for these reasons.

I often tell people that “where I come from” at the beginning of one’s aveilus – bar minon- the “gabbaim” (read ‘ Synagogue committee member; vorstandt?) infrom the aveil that they might come to shul on some occassions and receive neither the amud nor the chance to say kaddish- if there are others with priority. Once one has come to accept that this is a possibility- they are less likely to “look for” an amud in circumstances that are not perfect.

By having limits and rules about when we daven, we come to appreciate the importance of our service. It is a service- and it is the generosity of the communtiy- that bring us to the amud. It is not a privilege.

A friend of mine who was raised in another community once complained to me that a gabai didn’t give him the amud (in a Brooklyn shtieble) on Chol Hamo’ed! I explained to him how inappropriate it is to send an aveil up at that time. He replied, “But what does he care if I go to the amud? ” I could not answer this misguided approach to the “chiyuv” of the amud.

In Devarim 18;14 וְאַתָּ֕ה לֹ֣א כֵ֔ן נָ֥תַן לְךָ ְד אֱלֹקֶֽיךָ

“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your G-d has not permitted you to do so”. The Chasidic reading of this is (Rabi Bunim MePeshischa brought in Lekutei b. lekutei):

“Hashem your G-d “lo kein nasan lecha” He has given you prohibitions! Do not engage in sorcery or idol worship in which the religion was created to the whim of the followers. We were given “לא” -things that we can’t do. It is these things that give importance and meaning to that which we “can do” .

Shana Tova and Good Tidings to all!

The Rav and the Rebbe?

(If someone here doesn’t know me personally- I lost my father, Mr. Manny Meyer, hareini kaporas mishkavo.)

As I sat shiva  many old family friends filed in (outdoors) – a close friend, a former supervisor in the kehilla’s shechita operation- visited. 

He told the following story about the kehilla hiring him despite his being a Lubavitcher chosid.

When the subject of his hiring was brought up, and Rav Breuer was told that the candidate belonged to Lubavitch, the supposed reply came, “I am okay with Lubavitch.”

The explanation dials back to a certain Mr. Phillip Wolf (father of Bella Caro) who was a host for the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Europe. (The Caro family say that it might have been for some 10 months!) (I am told Mr. Wolf may have been from Frankfurt.) According to my visitor it seems that Mr. Wolf might have acted together with the rebbe in building mikvaoth.

Anyhow, when the Rav came to America it is known that he set out to build a mikvah, a yeshiva, and a shul; in that order. He consulted Mr. Wolf for assistance because he had some experience (per this story). As they went along there was a budget shortfall of 8,000$. Mr. Wolf approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he assisted in closing the gap. 

This is the story as told to me. I have a great amount of skepticism for stories by chassidim about their rebbes. But I wanted to document the story as I heard it.

That said, quite the opposite story is told in the “”Rav Breuer; His Life and His Legacy” book. There it says that Rav Breuer indeed took a bus to Lakewood, New Jersey to visit the penultimate Lubavitcher rebbe, who had funds available for building mikvaoth. (The rebbe was vacationing there.) The rebbe told him to approach the wealthy German Jews in Manhattan, but gave him a donation of 25 dollars to kick-it-off. The meeting was arranged by Rabbi Mordechai Chodakov per the footnote (p. 141) and no mention of Mr. Phillip Wolf. (Mrs.Meta B. corroborates this as written.)

The Caro family are unaware of this. They did confirm their grandfather’s connection to the rebbe, though. They further added that Mr. and Mrs. Wolf were childless. Before the rebbe left from his stay they asked him for advice. He told them they need to move from their city and they will incur a loss of their wealth, but they would have children. They had six children.

For the sake of history, the plaque that hung in that original mikvah on Audubon Avenue is pictured below. (Screenshot from a vid on my channel.) Several benefactors are listed for having paid for the property: Messers. Jaques and Leon Schwalbe (the Rav’s son-in-law= Jacques), Mr. Ivan Salomon, Mr. Nathan Miller, and a once well-known philathropist Mr. Joseph Rosenzweig. Some more senior members have told me that it was common practice for men in the community to sit in the pizza shops of Amsterdam Avenue while their wives used the mikvah. Was there a special on the menu for husbands?Screenshot (17)

 

Some Dinner Stories

The story behind the picture.

 

At the annual dinner this week I showed the above photo to comrade Sidney G. and asked him if he remembers that dinner meeting celebrating the 200k mark.

 

Sidney says that he remembers that the ad that put them over the 200k was solicited by Sonja W. May she rest in peace.

events57

Another picture shows a woman addressing the dinner meeting. Sidney says she was the head of the Bais Medrash committee. Anyone?

 

Comrade Pinchas K. shared this: One year in the early 60s his grandfather, Manfred zl, was dinner chairman. Now, Mr. K. was a big admirer and supporter of Rav Shlomo Breuer. So…he was used to saying “Rav Breuer sichrono levrocho”. So he gets up to announce him the Rav, (Rabbi Joseph Breuer) and he calls him Rav Breuer Sichrono Levrocho”!!!

 

The Rav mounts the podium and jokes,” I don’t like to be rushed!”

 

Pinchas also remembers the first year he and his wife organized the car raffle. They draw the winner and Edwin says to his neighbor on the dais ” I have a funny feeling…” Sure enough the winner is Edwin zl, and this after Pinchas was praised extensively for “arranging” the raffle!

 

Rav Schwab at the Siyum

As I remember it Rav Schwab was among several speakers, each spoke about the Holocaust. The Siyum HaShas evokes this collective memory sharpest. He told a story that had the whole arena crying. I can’t even repeat it without shaking. (https://youtu.be/lcD2_Qz4qPY)

He also spoke about how he remembers learning a mishna  as a young boy, that tells of  a special bracha for the occasion of seeing 600 thousand Jews at once. He couldn’t fathom even seeing a few thousand Jews together. That night, the first time MSG was procured for the event, he felt a little closer to the dream.

Besides Rav Schwab several others spoke about the level of shechina that resides with 22,000 Jews. This is indicated in the verse (Numb, 10;36) ” Shuva Hashem, rivavos alfei Yisrael” “Return, Hashem, (upon) tens and thousands of Israel.”

I haven’t been to the Siyum since 1991. This year I plan to attend and look forward to it anxiously.

Here is an incredible story. My friend and Partners-in-Torah chavrusah began wearing a kippah a few years ago. Recently, his physician told him that he, too, is Jewish. He also told him that while he does not observe mitzvos at all, he studies Daf Yomi daily and will finish with tomorrow’s cycle! ( He uses the Korein Talmud.)

My friend asked him if he will attend. He said, “No way!”

This should be informative in the way of helping us understand how  much of a divide exists between us and our secular brethren.

The New Rav Schwab Book

There have been some murmurings by friends of mine in the greater Breuers community, both in and out of the Heights, about the newest addition to the Yekke bookshelf. I refer to Rabbi Dr. Chaim Ehrman’s recet work, “ My Rebbe Rav Schwab” (Menucha Publishers, 2019). 

 

The murmurings are over the inclusion of a section on “Minhagim of KAJ”. The book is written by someone who moved away over 40 years ago, and even when living in the Heights was not a regular at the main minyanim at 85-93. Further, there is no indication that anyone was consulted from within the small group of reliably careful people who have been reviewing and editing copy for the various kehilla publications, or for that matter anyone in the Schwab family.

 

Now, I have not contacted any Schwab representatives but if you buy the book you will quickly discover that he received a mandate from Rav Schwab z’l to publish his meticulous English notes and even received a nod of approval from the late JGB z’l.

 

Next, you will notice that the minhag section is light on details. It doesn’t tell you to switch the ma’aravos for the first night of Sukkos or where the chazan begins to read aloud at the end of az yashir. It is rather a loose collection of notes and background on some general guidance he has received regarding minhag and Halacha from the Heights.

 

Now, speaking as a guilty party myself- for if anyone has written, produced, disseminated, and cyber-ized vast amounts of information and history of our kehilla, without consulting the carefully circumspect inner-circle of auskim betzorchei tzibbur, those who are normally responsible for the veracity and tactful dissemination of kehilla documentation…IT IS I. GUILTY. GUILTY AM I.

 

So, I take my soiled finger and point at this work and add it to the voices from without. The unofficial biographers. The uncertified and the unauthorized…but the well meaning. We have a voice too. And, alas, we have spoken.

I don’t expect, nor would I want, my content to be treated as seriously as the serious volumes of literature produced by and through the Kehilla and its worthy representatives. The existence of one need not preclude the other, though.

 

In the spirit of unauthorized biographies, I am turning to my readers and asking them to submit their personal interactions and received Torah of Rav Schwab. I will add some of my own. In the spirit of friendly blogging, I will only publish positive interactions. So if you need to vent, please choose someone else’s platform.

 

Write away….

 

Jahres Yigdal of Moshe Schnerb

Every year, once a year, the jahres yigdal is sung on the festival of Simchas Torah. Jahres refers to the custom of incorporating all the tunes of the yearly cycle into the various tefillos of the day, often by the chazan masterfully switching between tunes of the holidays and such- 

 

There is a Yigdal sung on the eve of Simchas Torah in Breuer’s that  creatively and seamlessly switches between the tunes, subtly- weaving the motifs into a continuous melody. This jahres Yigdal was composed by the choir leader in Frankfurt, Moshe Schnerb. Moshe Schnerb was the son of Godschaeu or Chaim Gershon Schnerb the well known Chazan and choir leader  of Merzig, originally from Alsace. 

 

Moshe’s son – Dr. Godscheaux Schnerb was the first choir leader in the Breuer’s shul in New York, and his son Walter succeeded him in this task. 

 

When I was a young adult, I asked MR. Walter Schnerb if he could write out the list of tunes incorporated in the jahres Yigdal. Mr. Schnerb, a skilled bookbinder by profession, took the time to photocopy and cut out the lines of Yigdal from a Roedelheim siddur, and paste them to a paper and write the names of the melodies below each line. 

 

In the spirit of Jahres the tune flows in the order of the Jewish calendar from Simchas Torah, through the year, and back again to Simchas Torah. In the recorded version presented hereschnerbyigdal-2, the piano intro is taken from maoz tzur. I don’t know whose arrangement that was.