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STOLEN WORDS Tells the Story of the Jewish Books Plundered by the Nazis and What Became of Them.

 

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Rabbi Mark Glickman delights once again with his latest book Stolen Words. This book recounts the saga of an overlooked group of survivors. The Jewish people are known as “People of the Book”. For millennia we have cherished the written word. Before the era of printing, scrolls were painstakingly compiled. Much love and care was put into the composition of documents. The generous contents of the Cairo Genizah indicate that Medieval Mediterranean Jews were often loathe to part with writings, even with those of a mundane nature.

Rabbi Glickman leads the reader into the saga of Jewish books that survived the savage Nazi onslaught by recounting his acquisition of a rare copy of the Laws of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi. Inside he discovered a strange marking which puzzled him. The stamp bore the legend “Jewish Cultural Reconstruction”. Some more digging opened up an entire portal into a story not often told, of post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Jewish people.

The Nazis, unlike their medieval Jew-hating predecessors, were determined to get their hands on all the literary treasures of the Jewish nation. If their Jew-hating forbears were in the habit of looting and burning the precious holy books of the Jews, the Nazis had other plans. In Glickman’s words “Nazi Germany worked hard NOT to destroy Jewish books but to save them”…They weren’t interested in editing or censoring..they wanted to study the volumes in their original form…they weren’t scared of Jewish books; they were fascinated by them…their efforts to preserve Jewish literature would have been utterly baffling to European leaders of the past..
The question, of course is, why? Why were the Nazis determined to preserve the Jewish literary riches?

Since the days of Luther, Goethe and Kant, the Germans were a bookish and book-loving people. For instance the Frankfurt Book Fair which began in the Middle Ages still continues going strong today.

By sequestering the Jewish books, the Nazis would not only accomplish the complete destruction of the flesh and blood Jew, but would also be in full control of everything that shaped his identity. In fact Glickman writes that the Nazis were even interested in the Yiddish language; a linguist named Franz Beranzek argued that Germans should “reclaim” the study of Yiddish, claiming that it was actually a dialect of German and it could reveal “the racial and unique cultural foundation of Jewry”.

A grandiose scheme was hatched whereas several different Nazi agencies under the directorships of Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler were to to collect all these items and eventually sort them and exhibit them in what was to become the Museum of the Extinct Jewish Nation.

Tons of books and precious ritual items were looted from both Municipal as well as private-owned libraries (such as the famed Vilna Strashun Library), from the centers of Ashkenazi Jewry to Salonika, Greece, known as “Jerusalem of the Balkans”, precious and priceless items such as incunabula and documents from the Cairo Genizah (pages from the ancient thought to be lost hebrew Book of ben Sira) that once belonged to the private library of Edmund Rothschild were shipped to various depots in Germany (Especially to the town of Offenbach) and Nazi-occupied eastern Europe.

The Nazis selected Jewish scholars to sort and organize what amounted to the detritus of a millennium of physical Jewish history of European Jewry. These Jews, scholars and librarians in their “former life, often risked their lives to hide and smuggle out their wares. A courageous Muslim curator at the Bosnian National Museum spirited the famed magnificent Sarajevo Haggada to safety.

The devastation of war resulted in the permanent disappearance of many of these items but there were tons of them still left once the smoke cleared.
Various organizations sent scholars to asses the items that were sitting in warehouses now under American military administration. Great Jewish historians and scholars like Salo Baron, Gershom Scholem, and Lucy Dawidowicz spent hours poring over books and manuscripts and sometimes resorted to subterfuge in order to spirit the documents out of the lands that have become so drenched with Jewish blood.

The book abounds with interesting facts and anecdotes. For instance:

*In 1559, partly to quell the rise of Protestant sedition, Pope Paul IV issued something called Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books). It included the Talmud as well as other Jewish books. Later Popes issued revised lists but as late as 1948 Pope Piux XII issued a final version which included large sections of the Talmud, and the writings of Maimonides. It was only in 1965 that Pope Paul VI abolished the list altogether.

*In Medieval times destruction of what was deemed objectionable Jewish material was also accomplished via less radical means than burning. In the late 13th century, King James I of Aragon introduced the Jewish book censor,history’s first official censor of Jewish books-Glickman informs us- was a Dominican priest by the name of Ramon Marti or Raymond Martini. Many documents that have come down from that period show instances where texts that were find offensive by the church were simply blacked out with ink or cut out.

It is worth noting a great irony of history here. By engaging in intense study of Jewish texts (in order to refute them but also often attempting to demonstrate the truth of the Christian faith from within them), the Dominican did the Jewish people and the world of scholarship a great favor by inadvertently leaving us a wealth of ancient Jewish material that was otherwise lost of censored into oblivion. According to Alexander Fidora in his THE LATIN TALMUD AND ITS INFLUENCE ON JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMIC, “Martini completed (in ca. 1280) his magisterial Pugio fidei (‘Dagger of Faith’) containing
innumerable citations from the Talmud and further rabbinical writings proving
that the Messiah had already come. Unlike his earlier work, the Capistrum Iudaeorum (‘Muzzle of the Jews’),where he also included Latin quotations from
the Talmud, here he first cites the texts in their original language and then provides Latin translations, which in their entirety constitute a considerable corpus
that is also deserving of our close attention”.
See here: http://pagines.uab.cat/…/pagines.uab.cat.l…/files/LATTAL.pdf

 

The last page of STOLEN WORDS features a photo which provides the story with a fitting bookend. It shows Rabbi Glickman with his edition of Alfasi-the one that propelled him on this journey- surrounded by curious Jewish youngsters. Words can never truly be stolen.

Did the Karaites and Hasidim Essentially Share a Mikveh in the Old City of Jerusalem?

From the Brill entry on the Anan Ben David Synagogue:

“The oldest known Karaite synagogue is the one in Jerusalem. …The northeastern room [of the Karaite Synagogue] served as a ritual bath and may have been connected underground to the ritual bath of the adjacent Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue”.

See my article here for more

 

Do Surnames Indicate Origins? The Case of the Skulener Rebbe.

“הרב פורטוגל (המשפחה נקראה כן בשל היות מוצאה מגולי פורטוגל אשר השתקעו ברוסיה

https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%97%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%93%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%A1%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%9C%D7%A2%D7%9F

 

Has anyone written an in depth study (utilizing primary source material) of the Sabbath Lamp controversy that hit the the Karaites in the 15th century?

The focus should be on the dynamic father-son duo Moses and Elijah Bashyatchi of Byzantium. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah_Bashyazi

While the Bashyatchis instituted many reforms, the lifting of the ban on Sabbath lamps is the most interesting and the most important. It was this prohibition that had the Karaites apart from their Rabbanite brethren for centuries.

The Bashyatzi reforms were not accepted without vigorous opposition (sometimes from their own close family members). The communities became fractured into two opposing camps: one was called מדליקים,literally “the lighters”, i.e. those who lit candles on the eve of the Sabbath and the מכבים, literally the extinguishers, i.e. those who made sure to put out all fires with the arrival of the Sabbath. Tracts like איגרת איסור נר שבת by Byzantine Hakham Abraham Bali (an unapologetic extinguisher) and other apologia that were composed by traditional old-line Karaites have never, to my knowledge, been properly studied.

It is also still unclear exactly which communities accepted this relaxation wholesale; made compromises in Synagogues but not in dwelling places; and who continues to adhere to the original Karaite interpretation of this prohibition to this day.
For instance, it is commonly perceived that this specific Bashyatzi reform was embraced in Asia minor, The Crimea, and Eastern Europe (although a friend informs me that his father once wandered into a dark cold Karaite Kenesa in Birzai, Lithuania on a Friday eve. Other anecdotal evidence points to such anti-reformist tendencies in the Crimea as well) while the deeply traditional Middle Eastern Karaites categorically rejected it. This is certainly no longer true as traditionally most Karaite synagogues in Israel not only light oil lamps on Friday eve but even sell this honor to the highest bidder. By the 1940s, the last Karaite Hakham of Egypt, Crimean-born Toviya Levi-Babovich daringly proclaimed from his Cairo pulpit that “our ancestors were mistaken in their well-meaning zeal to adhere to the literal interpretation of “thou shalt not light a fire in your dwelling places on the Sabbath”.

On the other hand, I have personally witnessed Egyptian Karaites in Israel who still sit in the dark on Friday eve (some even unplug all electrical appliances).
i should think that an exhaustive study of this phenomenon is a scholarly desideratum.

What Is The Provenance of This Painting?

 

 

 

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This purports to represent the excommunications of Karaites, by the Rabbis of the Geonic Academy on the Mount of Olives (as Marina Rustow shows in her Heresy and the Politics of the Community, this ceremony was initiated by a rogue group of Rabbanite zealots and was hardly sanctioned by the Academy of Eretz Yisrael) see my post here for more http://ha-historion.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-ban-decared-against-karaites-on.html

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi Offering Praise to a Karaite? (and by extension, to THE Karaites) Surprising?

בספר שירת חייו של ר’ יהודה הלוי ישנו שיר לכבוד חתן יהודי קראי, בו ריה”ל מגלה יחס חם לבני קהילת בני מקרא: ” יראי אל בני מקרא / בניכם שימעוני… לכן חזקו ואל ירפו ידיכם / ביען אין בכל העמים כמותכם”.

Judah Halevi sends his warm tidings, in the form of a poem, to a Karaite groom. The poem offers effusive praise of the Karaites as a whole. Surprising? somewhat, however cf. Yashar Delmedigo’s letter to the Karaite Hazzan Natan ben Yosef of Troki (the relevant excerpts are reproduced in my post here).

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It Is Rare To Come Across a Non-Truncated Representation of the Decalogue in Synagogues.

 

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I am not sure why that is (a simple space issue?), but I must say that it is precisely why I adore this non-truncated version. It comes from the Karaite Mosheh Al-Dari Synagogue in Cairo which has recently undergone some extensive restorations.

See more here