top of page
< Back

Three Letters of Anglo-Jewish Interest

Rabbi L. Rabinowitz

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Three Letters of Anglo-Jewish Interest By Rabbi L. Rabinowitz, M.A., Ph.D. In i813, R. Moses Sofer, known to Rabbinical scholars as the " Hatam Sofer " after his work of that name, took as his second wife Sara, daughter of the famous R. Akiba Eger, of Posen. Through this marriage the two families became connected, and established a dynasty of rabbis who flourished in Galicia and Hungary up to the present day and to whom, more than to anyone else is due the spirit of rigid and unflinching orthodoxy which flourished there. Their descendant, Rabbi Solomon Sofer, or Schreiber, Rabbi of Bergeszasz, published in 1929 under the title of Iggereth Sofrim (a punning allusion to the two family names) the correspondence of his predecessors.1 Among this voluminous and interesting correspondence are to be found three letters of special Anglo-Jewish interest, two of them letters of Rabbi Solomon Herschell, Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazim of London (1799-1842), to Moses Sofer and one of Solomon Eger, son of Akiba Eger, to his brother Abraham. The first two letters are dated 1835. In the middle of Ellul of that year there descended upon London a young man in his twenty-sixth year, of outstanding talents and attainments. He was a university graduate, an orientalist, and an accomplished rabbinical scholar, with some ten languages, including English, at his command. His name was Louis Loewe, and he shortly afterwards became lifelong secretary and confident to Moses Montefiore, accompanying him on all his travels, and a little later the first Principal of Jews' College, London. His arrival 1 Vienna, 1929. Schlesinger. 135</page><page sequence="2">136 elkan nathan adler : in memoriam filled Solomon Herschell with some concern, and Loewe on his part seems to have treated the Chief Rabbi with disdain, until under the pressure of his admirers he paid him a visit. But the seeds of mutual distrust had already been sown. The interview was far from a success, and caused Herschell to write the follow? ing letter to Moses Sofer. The letter is translated in full with the omission of the flowery adscription. London, Tuesday, Kislev 17 5596 (1836). " After the customary greeting due to those who fear the Lord and think of His Name 2?in truth I am become old,3 and many troubles encompass me from within and from without, from afar and from near, and everything is upon my shoulders, so that my correspondence is done for me by others. And especially would my weakness at the present moment prevent me from writing (in person) which is very difficult, but necessity is no disgrace, that I have to indite these words in person. " For the word of the Lord is from me to thee, O Prince " 4 and upon thee I place the responsibility of replying, and I trust to thee not to dissemble anything from me, that I may rely upon thy perfect truth. Thy reply will be jealously guarded by me and will not be revealed except to those that fear the Lord and who turn to his words 5. The matter is as follows :?There is to be found here a young man, according to his own statement 25 years of age 6 who arrived here some two and a half months ago. He conducts himself as one of outstanding piety. He knows, according to his words, some ten languages, and in truth he has a fluent knowledge of the vernacular 7 to translate a large number of Aggadoth, and he has a certain profi? ciency in English. He assumes a position of importance as a brilliant scholar, and according to his statement was at the head of the 2 Mal., iii, 16. 3 He was in his seventy-sixth year. 4 Except for this misquotation of Judges iii, 20, and II Kings ix, 5, the customary literary third person is used throughout the letter. I have naturally translated it in the second. * The Beth Din ? See second letter. 6 He was born at Zulz, Prussian Silesia, in 1809. 7 German, not English, as the next sentence shows.</page><page sequence="3">THREE LETTERS OF ANGLO-JEWISH INTEREST 137 list of candidates for such Rabbinical positions as Altona and Cassel.8 And in truth, from the time he came here in the middle of Ellul of last year (5595, 1835), unt^ about a fortnight ago, he visited me on a few occasions, but I had not the opportunity of discussing Halacha with him. But by accident, through his friends reproving him (saying) " Why dost thou stand at a distance and not visit the house of the Ab Beth Din who will delight in thee and thy learning ?", he came to me here about a fortnight ago, and handed me a pamphlet which he had composed concerning the question of a certain sage, the Rabbi of Devetscher, in Hungary, by name R. Aaron Zevi, who requested him to explain the Mishna of Sotah 28b.9 " On that day " R. Akiba expounded " And ye shall measure from without the city etc.,10 (which means) one thousand cubits of the suburb etc." ; on which R. Aaron Zevi asked, why especially " on that day " were the limits espounded, and why especially R. Akiba ? This question the above-named young man answered with a profound Pilpul, in order to explain the Rif and the Rambam (who say) that according to the Biblical commandment only garments of wool and flax are obliged to have fringes11 and why do they decide according to R. N(achman) 12 and not according to the Rabbis. He followed with a disquisition of Tractate Yebamoth on the word pp^S? 13 where the Talmud wishes to prove that a positive commandment overrides a negative from the example of fringes 14 and he continued this Pilpul at length for some three pages, after which he left it and dealt with another subject, viz., an explanation of the decision of Maimonides that where the punishment for the wilful transgression is " cutting off " the punishment for unwitting transgression is the bringing of a sin-offering, except for the three transgressions of blaspheming, neglect of Milan and of the Paschal sacrifice 15 and he descended to the depths of the Halacha to answer the question of Rashi in Tractate Kerithuth s.v. J?'"-)*!? 16 and of Tosaphoth Zebahim 106a s.v. *p3J3 milTX anc* he con? tinued this Pilpul at great length for some four pages written on 8 There was no vacant position at Altona then, Rabbi Akiba Wertheimer being Rabbi from 1823-1838, but it may mean Dayan. There was a vacancy at Cassel in 1836, which was filled by Dr. Ph. Rohmann. 9 Read 276. 10 Num. xxxv, 5 et seq. 11 Num. xv, 37. 12 Cf. Maimonides Yad. Laws of Zizith, III, 1. 13 Yeb. 3b top. 14 Ibid. 40 top. 15 Maim, mawfiota I, 2. 16 Her. za.</page><page sequence="4">138 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM both sides ; and when I essayed to discuss it with him, he did not answer a word, but excusing himself on the plea that he had a headache, he left me, and I have not seen him since. But from a pamphlet which he brought with him, a funeral oration which he had composed in honour of his father, R. Mordecai Levi who was Rabbi of Rosenberg (I notice that) his name is Eliezer, Dr. Loewe. He states that he studied with thee, and people say that he has a diploma of Morenu from thee. In any case this has led me to enquire of your honour, to find out what kind of a man is this visitor. Accor? ding to his own statement he was in Vienna for three years, and studied the sciences thoroughly. And as my master is aware what has occurred in these days 17 and we do not know what a day has in store, I therefore beg of thee to inform me everything about him, his family, his character, whether he was a proper pupil when he was with thee, and whether he is truly a " Sinai and uprooter of moun? tains " 18 or whether perhaps they (the pamphlets) were written from what his father left behind ; whether he can be trusted to be placed in a leading position and will not institute reforms.19 For here with us it is truly a matter for wonder in our eyes to see a young man such as he is, understanding both to speak and to write many tongues and conducting himself with such piety. A wise man, such as thou art, has his eyes in his head, and if thou dost not know every? thing clearly, it is a Mitzvah to inquire from God-fearing men. And thou art in a position to inquire into his conduct while he was there. I beg of thee not to withhold this favour, and to inform me of everything thoroughly and it will suffice (for me) for a righteous man such as thou art to answer clearly and explicitly at the earliest moment, and " the zealous perform their duties as early as possible."20 Incidentally, I remind myself that Dr. Pinner 21 was here and he did nothing (improper) and had my master refrained from persecuting him, it would have been better, as I wrote to thee. My master surely received my reply which I sent him via*Hamburg. I trust that thou wilt not be negligent in this matter, and I will gladly defray the cost of postage, to the last penny, if thou wilt let me know how much thou hast expended.22 17 A reference to the Reform Movement, then first gaining strength. 18 H?r. 14&amp;. Erudite and a dialectician. 19 mann 20 Sabb. 20a. 21 Ephraim Moses Pinner (1800-1880) : see later. 22 His offer to pay the postage gains force when we consider his appeal to the Government for relief from his excessive expenditure on postage in 1827. See Duschinsky " Rabbinate of the Great Synagogue ", p. 124.</page><page sequence="5">three letters of anglo-jewish interest 139 With these words, I greet thee a second time, thy servant devoted 23 to the servants of the Lord, greatly troubled, and awaiting the salvation of the Lord. Solomon b. Zevi Hirsch. A word about this Dr. Pinner may not be out of place, since the purpose of his visit to England was to gain support for his project to translate the Talmud into German. A full account both of him and of his project is given in the Jewish Encyclo? paedia.24 On the ioth of Tebeth, 5595 (1834) Zevi Hirsh Lehren, a prominent Dutch merchant and communal worker wrote at great length to Moses Sofer, urging him to use his influence to stop this " impious " attempt to render the sealed treasures of the Oral Law accessible to Gentiles, and since Dr. Pinner had letters of recommendation from various rabbis, to write to them not to give him testimonials.25 With regard to Solomon Herschell, however, he writes " To the Gaon, the Ab Beth Din of London, it is unnecessary to write since he goes to the utter extreme, in refusing to give his signature to anyone. Nevertheless I will transmit information on this matter to London, that it may reach his ears also ".26 From the above letter it appears, however, that Moses Sofer took such energetic steps to " persecute " Pinner, that he ignored the suggestion of Lehren with regard to Herschell, and did write to him, to which letter the latter replied. Incidentally, the attempt to translate the whole Talmud proved abortive, Berachoth alone appearing in 1837. Moses Sofer replied to Herscheirs letter re Dr. Loewe on the 23rd of Tebeth, reaching him on the 6th of Shebat. He appears to have replied in general terms to the effect that he had seen nothing wrong about Loewe, iii his public conduct. This reply did not satisfy Herschell and his sorry attempts, in his reply, to 23 pxu " bored ", Exod. xxxxi, 6. 24 X, 48. 35 Iggereth Sofrim, Part 2, pp. 73-8. 26 See the end of the next letter.</page><page sequence="6">140 elkan nathan adler : in memoriam read into the letter what was not there are as deplorable as his protesting overmuch at the uprightness of his motives is unconvincing. There seems no question but that Herschell was rather nervous of this brilliant young scholar, and that nothing would have pleased him more than to find something dis? creditable about him. But let the letter speak for itself. He lost no time in replying.27 Tuesday. Shebat 7TH, 5596 (1836), London. After the customary greetings ! When your letter of the 23rd of Tebeth reached me, I rejoiced, and also gladdened the hearts of the others who fear the Lord and whose heart was sad within them.23 But it appears to us that thou hast been reticent, and that out of pity thou didst refrain from giving the details of his actions, and to defend him, insofar as (you write that) " there was not seen any wrong from him openly." It seems to us that there is none worse than him who conceals (evil) within him, and shows himself to the world as though all his actions are in the name of Heaven, while he has " seven abominations " in his heart. But from Heaven it was revealed to us, and God was in it, for he was perforce obliged to show us letters which he had concealed for about two months, that he has Hattarath Hora-ah from many Geonim. And the majority of the members of our Congregation urged him, " Why dost thou conceal them and not show them to our master, the Ab Beth Din here ? He therefore came to me once to show me, as I wrote, the " crown of youth 2 which he obtained from thee some years and also an Hattarat Hora'ah in glowing terms from the late Gaon, the author of the " Magen David " 30 and the Rabbi of Lion (?) 31 wrote an addition to it, confirming and strengthening the words of the late Gaon. It is unbelievable that such a man should exist in our generation, one who has a thorough knowledge of Talmud and Poskim, and whose lips utter great things in the 27 Iggeret Sofrim, Part II, p. 82. 28 The Beth Din ? " " Attereh Bahurim ". An unmarried man was not allowed to become a Rabbi (see the interesting letters in Iggereth Sofrim, i, Letters 31-38), and therefore instead of a Rabbinical Diploma an " Attereth Bahurim " was given. 30 Not, of course, the " Taz 31 This is not Lyons, which had no Rabbi till 1850, and which Loewe did not visit before he came to England.</page><page sequence="7">THREE LETTERS OF ANGLO-JEWISH INTEREST 141 Zohar and Kabbalistic works ; and although I have no business with Kabbala I sought to know him from a pamphlet which he brought me, which he wrote to a scholar, and he wrote it here, and the title-page has the following words " Novellae on the Torah which God has graciously permitted me to compose, since I came here, London, in the year 5596." And when I asked him to explain his strictures against Maimonides in that he decides against Rabba, he did not answer a word, but fumbled here and there among the pages, without speaking a word. Instead, he made an excuse that he was not in the best of health, and up to the present he has neither answered nor spoken anything in questions of Torah. I would inquire of thee about such a man, who writes *WH DTlStf ana&lt; writes Elohim, not with a p, but as it is written (in the Torah), whether he is not guilty of taking the name of the Lord in vain. And now, blessed one of the Lord, do me a kindness and write me clearly of everything concerning, and what trouble he had with the police in Vienna. And fear not that I will repulse him with both hands, for I am not like that. And thanks to God, many are with me, both of the right and the left, and they will hearken to me in general matters ; at least they will believe my words, for there is no guile in me, God forbid ! And while I am writing, I would request your honour not to give a document to any man 32 unless thou hast " sifted him with thirteen sieves " for many years.33 And believe me in truth and probity that everyone wishes to know the contents of his heart, and they cannot under any circumstances tolerate a hypocrite?I have said enough ! I express my thanks to my master that he has judged me in the scale of merit, and has not judged me to be actuated, God forbid, by pride. I await thy reply at every moment. Greetings from thy devoted servant, who awaits the salvation of the Lord. Solomon b. Zevi Hirsch. The third letter is of an entirely different kind and concerns Herschell's far more illustrious successor, Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, the father of Elkan Adlef. It was written twelve years later, in 1847. While he was Chief Rabbi of Hanover, Nathan Marcus Adler 32 See letter of Lehren above. 33 Examined him carefully.</page><page sequence="8">142 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM was one of the seventy-seven signatories to the famous protest of the orthodox Rabbis of Germany and Hungary against the Brunswick Conference of 12th to 19th July, 1844.34 It is necessary, for the understanding of the following letter, to give a brief outline of the progress of the Reform Movement on the Continent. Following the above-mentioned Brunswick Conference a further conference was held at Frankfurt-on-Main in the following year, 15 th to 18th July, 1845. At this Conference the Reformers received a definite setback by the withdrawal of Zacharias Frankel, with his idea of " positive historical" Judaism. This withdrawal was hailed with delight by the Orthodox Rabbis as almost a Divine intervention. The Orthodox Rabbis were t&gt;y no means as apathetic as Graetz suggests. Moses Sofer worked energetically in the cause of orthodoxy, as did Solomon Eger, as the letter shows. Besides them there was an interesting trio, two of whom are mentioned in the letter. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were three students at W?rzburg University, where Adler was also educated, the two contemporaries Isaac Bernays and Jacob Ettlinger, and their younger contemporary, S. Enoch. In 1847 these three were again neighbours, Haham Isaac Bernays as Rabbi of Hamburg, and Ettlinger, Rabbi of the adjacent Altona, where Enoch was headmaster of the Jewish Secondary School. These three championed the cause of orthodoxy against the Reformers, Bernays being the leader of the attack while Enoch founded the orthodox fortnightly periodical Shomer Zion, or to give it its German title, Der Treue Zionsw?chter, at the beginning of 1845, to which Ettlinger contributed articles, mainly in defence of the practice of milah, which had been attacked by the Reformers. This letter reveals that Nathan Marcus Adler was regarded as being in a decisive position with regard to the steps to be taken. The letter was written by Solomon Eger, son of R. Akiba Eger, to his brother ?Abraham. It is undated, but internal evidence 84 See Jewish Chronicle for this year.</page><page sequence="9">three letters of anglo-jewish interest 143 proves without question that it was written after Tisha B'Aby 1847.35 The irrelevant portions are omitted :? Posen. . . . And now I will relate to you a little of what has happened to me in this matter. When a second letter came to me from the Rabbi of Altona, Rabbi J(acob) Ettlinger, urging me greatly to come to him speedily in the name of the Lord, and to answer him, I acceded to his request, and left here on the Sunday of Sidra Hukkath 33 and I tarried in Frankfurt and Berlin until the 16th of Tammuz, on which date I left Berlin by train, and on the self-same day, in the evening I arrived safely at Altona, where I was accorded great honour from the Rabbi and his family, who met me with joy and friendship in the house where I was staying. Before I arrived at the house of the Rabbi, the news (of my arrival) spread throughout the cities of Altona and Hamburg, and the Rabbis of the Bate Midrash of Altona and Hamburg all assembled and came to me, as well as distinguished laymen from these cities. And I saw that God had made me a sign for good, for, after it was there decided that I should travel to London, to the house of the Gaon, the Ab Beth Din R. Nathan Adler, who, according to their opinion is the very centre and headstone in this matter, in conjunction with the well-known philanthropist Moses Montefiore, who is so exceedingly good in the salvation of the bodies of Israel, as well as of their souls, in things of the Lord?suddenly I heard that it was written in the newspapers from London that R. Nathan Adler had already left London for his birthplace and the seat of his former Rabbinate, Hanover, to celebrate the 80th birthday of his aged mother 37; and when I heard this I rejoiced exceedingly and hurriedly journeyed to Hanover for the Sabbath " Massai "33 and there I saw all the honour which the Community accorded him and his mother, and there I spoke with him in private on our matter for more than two hours, until a letter came from Sir (Moses) Montefiore to him, which greatly terrified us. It was concerning the evil report of the Gentiles which had been revived in Damascus, with the false libel which occurred there previously, when the Christians uttered a 35 See letter. 36 June 20th. 37 I do not know which journal is referred to here. The Jewish Chronicle of July 23, 1847, has a description of the great reception accorded to Rabbi Nathan Adler in Hanover, on this interesting occasion, but no previous notice of his intended journey. 38 July 10th.</page><page sequence="10">144 ELKAN NATHAN ADLER : IN MEMORIAM malicious libel concerning the body of a murdered man recently found there, saying that the Jews, having need of the Christian blood in it, had murdered the Christian in accordance with their ancient custom. And now the city is in great distress, for the false libel of the previous occasion 3* has been revived, as though the slanderers had been right then. As a result of this fearful news, our conversation on the previous matter was abruptly terminated, the latter trouble obliterating the former. May the Lord hasten the redemption of His People from every trouble speedily! And now to return to my previous words. I realised that all my toil had borne no fruit of salvation, except to convince me not to turn to those Rabbis who hope for saviours in the present trouble. For after I showed them the documents of the decisions which our holy Torah has decreed against them, to separate them from Israel, that they be not regarded henceforth as Israelites in any matter : although they were obliged to admit the Halacha to be correct, they were reluctant to put it into practice. For the Rabbi of Altona, for all his piety, and taking into consideration all that has already been done by him to bring to contempt the actions of those rebels, in his writings of the " Shomer Zion" of Dr. Enoch, is nevertheless afraid to enforce it in action against the wicked men who rule over him for they still honour and exalt him, as is the custom in Germany. For although the majority of the leaders of the Congregation are men of arrogance, they will not " allow a youth to rule proudly over an old man "40 who has acquired the wisdom of the Torah and holds his position of old. They therefore do not introduce the slightest alterations in the Synagogues of Altona and Hamburg without the permission of the Rabbis. And I marvelled exceedingly at their ancient Minhagim, and their meticulous uttering of the prayers word for word, much more than in all the Synagogues of Poland. For this reason, the Rabbis of Germany fear to engage in open strife with their leaders, to publish such a decision against the heretics, lest they secede publicly to ways of evil, and cause a cessation of the goodly portion which still remains from within. And although I am not in agreement with them, as it is written, " Act according to the Din which is laid upon thee, and what have I to do with the hidden things of the Lord ? "41, nevertheless I know that 39 The reference is, of course, to the infamous Blood Libel at Damascus in 1840. Despite the efforts of Montefiore the libel was revived on various occasions between 1840 and i860 ; in 1847 it was revived not only in Damascus, as above stated, but also in Beyrout. See Jewish Chronicle, 21st May, 1847. 40 Is. iii, 5. 41 Berachoth 10a bott.</page><page sequence="11">three letters of anglo-jewish interest 145 our words to them will be of no avail to alter their opinion, and the Rabbi of Altona said so explicitly. And as for the Rabbi of London, I found him to be a wise man, of exceedingly great deliberation in his words, and after all the counsel which we took together, his final advice was that although the Din is as is written in my pamphlet, and approved by the great Rabbis of the district of Posen, neverthe? less it is impossible to rush, or take a definite decision in such a grave matter. Before a year or two has passed, perhaps God in His Mercy will be pleased to set these wicked men on another road, as He destroyed the Conference of Frankel, which inspired more fear, in those that fear the Lord, than all the previous assemblies of these wicked men who openly follow every evil. In brief, in him also I perceived that his opinion and idea is the same as that of the Rabbi of Altona, but in his great wisdom he keeps silent, lest he be regarded as a sycophant who is unwilling to enter into combat with wicked men who show themselves outwardly as sincere friends.42 . . . Although the Rabbi of London said in conclusion that now, after the conversations have been terminated on account of the news from Damascus, and he has no heart for this matter, he desires me to arrange my words to him at length, and he will again consider what best to do to bring the matter to a successful conclusion and he will inform me at length, and in order. He would not do this for any other Rabbi, to answer his words, since he has no time for it on account of his great preoccupation with Divorces, Halizoth, and other very necessary matters, most of them from Poland and Russia, that were he to abstain from eating and drinking and sleeping he could not answer them all. But, of course, he does whatever he can in the matters, but an answer 4J he does not write to a single one of them. Nevertheless he will answer me in a matter (such as tfrs) which concerns the whole of Israel. After his reply to me, I could say nothing more to him. I still hope for some benefit from his reply, and therefore for the moment I have broken off conversations with him, and why should I trouble him and myself in vain ! . . . I have still many details which I cannot reveal in this letter, since they were not given to be written, but to be spoken verbally to the faithful in spirit. . . . Solomon Eger. 42 This attitude of Nathan Marcus Adler is most interesting in view of the position in England. It is conceivable that he would have refused to ex? communicate the Burton St. Reformers, had he not been anticipated by Herschell. 43 Or Responsum (Teshubah).</page></plain_text>

bottom of page