Annotations by Alan D. Corré to Synagoga Judaica
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Buxtorf refers to the synagogue as Schule, school,
because the Jews themselves usually called the synagogue school. Prayer was
only one function of the synagogue, engaged in at fixed times. Much of the
rest of the time, often until late in the night, it was used for religious
study. Right up to the present day, Jews use the Yiddish term "shul" to
refer to the synagogue, and I frequently render it thus in the translation.
Italian Jews likewise spoke of the scuola.
The comment of the Westminster Study Bible (New York and
Glasgow, 1965!) ad loc reads as follows: "The Israelites' willful
ignorance leads them to
cling to their legal system instead of believing in Christ who ended its claim to
control their lives." <
See Hertz, Joseph H. The Authorized Daily Prayer Book (New
1948) pp. 248-255. (Cf. also pp. 6-7. This ("Yigdal") is the poetical version by Daniel b.
Judah of Rome c. 1300.) The articles are based on the commentary of Moses Maimonides
to the Mishna, Sanhedrin 10.1.<
The correct date is 1204. His comment "as the Jews reckon" refers to the
Christian reckonings varied from the traditional Jewish calculations. The traditionally accepted
Christian chronology is by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) in his Annales
Veteris Testamenti 1659.<
The editio princeps of the Rabbinic Bible, published by Daniel Bomberg
(d. Venice, 1550) the famous printer of Hebrew books.<
Joseph Albo (c. 1380-1445) Spanish religious philosopher, participant in the religious
disputation of Tortosa (1413-1414). In his Sepher Ikkarim (Soncino, 1485.
Critical edition and English translation by Isaac Husik, Philadelphia 1929-1930) he reduces
Jewish belief to three root principles. His aim was to demonstrate the superiority of
Judaism, as Buxtorf notes.<
Yomtob Lipmann-Mülhausen. Flourished around 1400, Prague. His
Sepher Hanitzahon (Altdorf, 1644) attacks Christian and Karaite doctrines,
and provoked Christian counter-arguments.<
Sebastian Münster (1489-1552) German Hebraist, was appointed Professor of
Hebrew at Basel in 1527. He was the first to translate a book of the New Testament into Hebrew. Buxtorf quotes this presently.<
The term "jewished" is still in use among Yiddish speakers. The reference
here is to the
practice of epispasm, i.e. stretching what is left of the foreskin after circumcision to disguise
evidence of Jewishness. Later rabbinic enactments made the operation more radical in order
to render this practice impossible. Cf. I Maccabees 1.16.<
Yiddish creates many verbs by combining a Hebrew verb in the participle form with a
part of the verb "to be." Hence "to be matzil" = "to rescue." Buxtorf was clearly very familiar with Yiddish, which must have come from numerous conversations with Jews.<
Bahya ben Asher (c. 1260-1340) Spanish Bible scholar. His Kad hakemah
(Constantinople, 1515) is a series of homilies arranged alphabetically on various
Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 16b. "There will be three groups on the day of
judgment: those who are definitely righteous; those who are definitely wicked; and those in
between. The definitely righteous are inscribed and sealed immediately for eternal life; the
definitely wicked are inscribed and sealed immediately for Gehenna
Those who are
in between go down to Gehenna, shriek and come up again
" This is the view of the
stricter school of Shammai. The more lenient, and normally authoritative, school of Hillel feels
that those in between will be excused from Gehenna altogether. Note that the ambiguity of the Hebrew word tappil makes possible the interpretation of the verse in Isaiah which Buxtorf quotes. The normal translation is: "The earth shall cast forth the shades."<
David Kimhi (c. 1160-1235) Bible scholar and grammarian, compiler of a Bible
commentary, printed in all major Rabbinic bibles.<
Saadya ben Joseph (882-942) Head of the academy at Sura, Babylonia. His
Book of Beliefs and Opinions is a classic of Jewish religious philosophy.
Translated by Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, 1948)<
Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167) Spanish Bible scholar and poet. His Bible commentary
is printed in all major Rabbinic Bibles.<
i.e. Saadya, who was surnamed Gaon "outstanding scholar." <
According to Jewish legend the righteous will feast on Leviathan in the World to Come.
(See Ginzsberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1925)
pp. 43, 47, volume 5) The "life eternal where one neither eats nor drinks" is based on a
famous statement by Rab. "Rab often said: 'The World to Come is not like this world. In
the World to Come there is no eating and no drinking and no procreation; no business
affairs, no jealousy, no hatred and no contention; but the righteous sit with their crowns of
their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Divine Presence.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot
R. Solomon ben Isaac (1040-1105) possibly the most famous of the medieval
Hebrew Bible commentators, who distilled the vast Rabbinic tradition in a uniquely concise
manner. The surname Iarchi (="lunar") means "belonging to the city of Lunel" and was
applied to him through confusion with another R. Solomon of that city.<
Tanhuma. A midrash attributed to R. Tanhuma b. Abba. This is in the comment on Gen.
Rabbi i.e. Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (c. 135-217) Redactor of the Mishna.<
The number is actually 620; see infra.<
Brandspiegel. A Yiddish translation of Mara hasorephet by Moses
Henochs, sixteenth century Talmudist (Basel, 1602)<
On this notion, and its development in the Kabbala, cf. Scholem, G., On the
Kabbalah and its Symbolism (London, 1965) p. 128.<
Each Hebrew letter has a numerical value. This type of exposition is called
gematria. The letters mentioned represent respectively 20, 400, and 200.<
Buxtorf uses the Yiddish word "to expound," derived from the Hebrew
The usual translation is: If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not
appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth (not earth and heaven!); then will I cast away
the seed of Jacob.<
Cf. Matthew 23.29-36. According to legend Hur was murdered when he attempted to
prevent the worship of the golden calf (Midrash Exodus Rabba, 41.7) and Zechariah was
murdered when he preached against the people (II Chron. 24.19-22)<
Shiloh was the sanctuary city of ancient Israel cf. Jer. 7.12.<
Moses of Coucy (mikkotzi=from Coucy.) Thirteenth century French talmudist. He was a
participant in the Disputation of Paris, 1240, and author of the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol,
a compilation of laws which was first published, probably in Rome, around
The traditional text of the Hebrew Bible has various peculiarities of the kind mentioned,
e.g. the passage Num. 10.35-36 is preceded and followed by the Hebrew letter
"Concerning Secrets" the Latin translation (Basel, 1560) by Hans Jakob Wecker of a
work originally published in Italian under the title De Secreti (second
edition, Venice 1557). Written by Alessio Piemontese, a pseudonym for Girolamo
Ruscelli, an Italian anthologist and writer, died 1566. It is a book of recipes and medicines for
various ailments, and was translated into several languages, including English under the title
The Secretes of the reverende Alexis of Piemont (London, 1558).
"Concerning the Cabalistic Art" (Hagenau, 1517) by Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522).
Buxtorf makes fun of him by calling him "Rauchloch" (chimney) instead of Reuchlin. I have
tried to translate the pun. He was a Hebraist, greatly interested in the Cabala. He became
famous for his defense of Jewish writings. Münster was his pupil.<
This was a popular set of dialogues which supposedly took place between King
Solomon and Marcolphus Dyalogus Salomonis et Marcolfi
(Cologne?, 1473?) It was translated into English under the title The Dialogue or
Communing between the wise King Salomon and Marcholphus of which the
Bodleian Library in Oxford has a unique copy.<
Yiddish, "to bless" as a formal religious act e.g.to recite the Grace after Meals. The word
is romance in origin, derived from benedicere.<
Cf. Hertz pp. 130-160. Other blessings that he mentions may be found in Hertz 964-
979, 995, 991, 181 or passim in any Jewish prayer book.<
Various Roman emperors bore this name; it has not been demonstrated to which of
them the Talmud refers. See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Aboda Zara, 10b.<
"The Shoot of David" (Prague, 1592) a work of Jewish and general history by David
Gans (1541-1613) German historian and astronomer.<
Johanan (d. 279) was head of the academy at Tiberias, not Jerusalem. He was credited
with the compilation of the Jerusalem Talmud.<
The Talmud exists in two recensions, the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud, and the more
complete and authoritative Babylonian Talmud. On the first, see Louis Ginzberg
On Jewish Law and Lore (Philadelphia, 1955)<
Asse, usually called Ashi, lived from 352 to 427. He was head of the academy in Sura,
Babylonia. The traditional account, which Buxtorf repeats, would make him head of the
Academy at the age of fifteen. This may have been a popular exaggerations to make his
sixty years of activity correspond neatly to the six divisions of the Talmud, which he
compiled. The completion is now ascribed to Rabina in the year 499.<
Abraham ibn Ezra (1093-1167) was a Spanish poet and exegete. His commentary is
standard in most rabbinic Bibles.<
Amude Gola "Pillars topped by a capital" usually known as
Semaq an acronym of Sefer Mitzvot Qatan "The Little Book of
Commandments" by Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil, died 1280. The name cited by Buxtorf
refers to the fact that the author divided his book into seven "pillars" so that the book might
be completed in a week of daily readings. The second word may variously refer to the
decoration which tops a pillar, the diaspora, or even be a pun on the name of his city, which
could mean "basket." See II Chron. 4.12.<
Isaac Aboab was the writer of a perennially popular ethical work entitled
Menorat hama'or "The Candlestick for the Light" cf. Numbers 4.9. He probably lived in Spain around 1300, and is not identical with the Isaac Aboab who died in 1493. The book was first printed in Constantinople, 1514, and has been reprinted some seventy times, right up to the latter half of the twentieth century.<
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 30b. Actually, the preacher (Rabban Gamliel) cites the egg as an example of this phenomenon.<
Jeremiah 31.8. The usual translation is: "the woman with child, and her that travaileth with child together."<
The exegesis is based on a pun emunim "faith" and amen.<
Schem hamphorasch the rabbinic name for the ineffable divine name, the tetragrammaton. It is the title of a work by Martin Luther against the Jews, volume 32 of the Sämmtliche Werke Erlangen edition. Luther initially sympathised with the stubbornness of the Jews on account of the corruptions of the Church. He was not happy that they refused to recognize that he had redeemed it from its "Babylonish captivity."<
Porchetus Salvagus, the Latin name of Victor Porchetto de Salvatici (died around 1315). He was a Carthusian from Genoa who wrote a book published after his death (Paris, 1520) the full title of which in English is: The Victory over the impious Jews, in which the truth of the Catholic faith is demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures, as well as from the words of the Talmud and kabbalistic works, and all other authors whom the Jews accept.<
Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (1198-c.1270) was a leading Spanish talmudist and Bible commentator. He participated in the Disputation of Gerona, 1273.<
Shammai, and Hillel, mentioned later, were contemporaries in the first century B.C.E. Both were noted teachers, Shammai being the stricter of the two. Hillel was famous for his empathy and humility.<
Buxtorf presumably refers here to the book `En Ya`aqob "Jacob's Well" by Jacob ibn Habib (c. 1445-1515). This work is an anthology of the aggadic (homiletic) materials in the Talmud, along with a commentary. It was very popular, and there have been over one hundred reprints of the text.<
The "fence around the law" consists of "cautionary rules to
halt a man like a danger signal before he gets within breaking distance of
the divine statute itself." See George Foot Moore, Judaism
(Cambridge, 1927) volume 1, p. 259. An example might be observing the
Sabbath for a number of minutes before and after the true time, in order to
avoid inadvertent Sabbath breaking.<
"Having been admitted to the bedroom, can you restrain
laughter, my friends?" This is a Latin hexameter, a take off from Horace, Ars Poetica
The Hebrew word Adam is indifferent as to sex, so it
may be taken to imply that man was originally androgynous.
After excising the foreskin, the Mohel must split the
membrane which covers the glans, and he uses his nail for this purpose. This
procedure was initiated by the Rabbis, in order to prevent epispasm, i.e. the
pulling of what remained of the foreskin so as to appear uncircumcised. Some
Jews liked to participate in the Greek games, which were held naked, and did
not wish their Jewishness to be apparent. Buxtorf explains this presently.
Rabbi David Kimchi (c. 1160-1235) grammarian and Bible
commentator, highly regarded by Christian scholars.
Antoninus is one of two Roman emperors mentioned in the
rabbinic literature. Modern scholars have not identified them with certainty.
Schebhile emúnah, (The Ways of Faith) by Meir
ben Isaac Aldabi (c. 1310-1360) first published in Riva di Trento, 1518. The
book deals with religious philosophy and science. It is divided into ten
"paths" dealing with varied topics such as the creation of the world,
embryology and physiology.
There seems to be some confusion here. In the tractate
quoted, folio 121b, R. Eliezer Haggadol [=the great" or "the elder"]
declares that the power of the sun weakens from the fifteenth day of the
month Ab. It would seem that this rule should apply from this date until
Passover, when the nights are long. <
she weeps" this is a literal
translation of the Hebrew idiomatic use of a special form of the verbal
noun, the so-called infinitive absolute, to add emphasis to a verb. The
midrash takes the double verb to imply two acts of weeping.<
The Beginning of Wisdom, by the sixteenth century
moralist and kabbalist of Safed, Elijah de Vidas, is reckoned to be one of
the greatest books on morals in Judaism. Published during his lifetime in
Venice, 1579, it was reprinted numerous times. It was written in a popular
style, with chapters on topics such as fear, love and repentance. It gave
rise to several abbreviated versions on account of its length. <
Stink The New Oxford Bible renders: "lounge." <
This "button" or phylactery is actually placed on the
forehead at the hairline above the nose, as he explains later. Buxtorf is
poking fun by saying they wear it on the nose.
This Latin phrase ("it is proved") is usually used at the
end of a logical argument. Buxtorf is here drily drawing attention to the
illogical nature of the argument in his view.
This formulation "do not read [a certain word] but read
[another similar word]" is a common rabbinic way of inculcating a lesson, and
does not imply any emendation of the text.
The Hebrew word ruhot does indeed mean "winds" but
here means the four directions of the compass.
According to rabbinic tradition, there are a total of 613
commandments in the law of Moses. There is some dispute as to just how these
are reckoned. They are divided into negative and positive commands, 365
corresponds to the days of the solar year, and 248 corresponds to the reputed
number of constituent parts of the human body. One should, therefore, observe
the law every day, with every limb of your body. In the text the number 348
appears to be a misprint, and I have corrected it in the translation. The
number of words in all three sections of the Shema is made up to to 248 by
repeating the last two words, and adding the word "true" from the following
passage in the liturgy which begins with this word.
R. Alphes, now usually called Alfasi (=the one from Fez,
Morocco) or Rif (=Rabbi Isaac Fasi), lived from 1013 to 1103. He was born in
Algeria, spent much of his life in Fez, but had to flee to Spain and died in
Lucena. He wrote a book Sefer ha-Halakhot which extracts legal
material from the Babylonian Talmud, and is recognised as one of the
fundamental works of rabbinic jurisprudence. He wrote numerous legal opinions
(responsa) mostly in Arabic. He was one of the three authorities on whom Joseph
Caro relied in writing his Shulkhan Arukh.
The word minhagim means "customs" and refers here to books in Yiddish
summarizing rules of law for those who might be unable to read Hebrew fluently.
The "Prayer against Heretics" was added later to the Eighteen
Benedictions, so that the current number is actually nineteen, even though the
name has not changed. The prayer was
probably originally directed against Judeo-Christians, deliberately making it
uncomfortable for them to participate in public Jewish worship.
Sefer ha-Yuhasin by Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515),
famous astronomer and historian. The book was first published in
Constantinople, 1566 and discusses the history of the oral traditions of the
The reference is to the preeminent Bible commentator R. Solomon ben
Isaac, (1040-1105, born Troyes, France) usually called by the acronym Rashi.
The surname "Yarhi" is due to a confusion with another Solomon ben Isaac who
was from Lunel the word yarhi means "lunar" and is applied to
various personalities from Lunel.
Rashi's comment is based on an exposition in the Babylonian Talmud,
Shabbat 88b, by R. Joshua ben Levi, a famous haggadist. He reads there
mal'akhey angels, rather than malkhey kings, as in our text.
This could be a variant reading, or a midrashic interpretation, indicating that
the angels led back the Israelites when they started back in fear.
This prayer is most likely pre-Christian, and even if it was
composed later, the reference is not to Christians. For the issues involved,
see the discussion in Encyclopædia Judaica volume 2, column
557, especially the item on the censorship of the prayer by Christian
Very vigorous bodily movement during prayer is seen to
this day in ultra-orthodox synagogues, particularly on the part of the
individual leading the prayers.
Tanhuma is a midrash, first printed in Constantinople 1522, which
makes frequent mention of Rabbi Tanhuma. Many of the sections begin with the
formula "May our teacher instruct us
Benschen, derived ultimately from the Latin root benedicere, is the
Yiddish word for "bless", most often used currently in connection with the
Grace after Meals. Buxtorf gives here expressions in Hebrew, Yiddish and Latin.
This simple cryptogram, where letters of the Hebrew alphabet in
order are exchanged with letters of the Hebrew alphabet in reverse order,
occurs in the text of Hebrew scripture, Jeremiah 25.26, where Sheshach is used
The expression leshem shamayim means "for the
of heaven" i.e. without having an ulterior motive, altruistically.
leshem is effectively a preposition in its own right. It seems to
that Buxtorf misunderstands the phrase, explaining shem as a
replacement of the name of God, and rendering le- by the German
Seferle is the Hebrew word for "book" with a
diminutive ending. The word that he translates Tugend (virtue)
means "force" or "army," and the rendering "room to room" is ultimately
on the Targum, the Jewish Aramaic translation, which paraphrases "from the
Temple to the House of Study," apparently based on the idea that there are
armies of people in each place. In a marginal note, Buxtorf
explains that the seferle is the Sefer Hayir'ah of R. Moses Gerondi. R.
was a thirteenth century poet, but I am not sure what book he is referring
I have preserved the slightly different transliterations of
Hebrew for "their bread unclean" which Buxtorf uses. He gives the phrase in
Hebrew script in the margin.
The word minyan means "count," as Buxtorf points
out, and this means ten adult male Jews, which constitutes the quorum for a
full religious service. In this case the grace after meals is preceded by a
formula summoning the participants to bless, called zimun, which
mentions the divine name. If there are only three, the divine name is
omitted. One or two individuals bless for themselves, and do not use the
This is the "vain blessing" which is to be strictly avoided.
An old man told me once that he was called up to the Reading of the Torah,
and he became confused, and said the blessing over bread. They immediately
brought him some bread to eat, so that his blessing might not be in vain. If
however, one has only said the first three words of a blessing, (blessed be
you...) and realises that one should not have done so, one may complete it
in such a way that it becomes a simple quotation from Psalms 119.12.
This is truly a calumny on the part of Buxtorf, since
basar wadam means what it says, namely flesh and blood, and can
reference any human being, as opposed to God, who is the antithesis of flesh
and blood. It states simply that we should get mercies at the hands of God,
who gives them graciously, and not from human beings who so often begrudge or
have ulterior motives.
Buxtorf uses the word Abend to refer to the Afternoon
Service, which is read between approximately noon and nightfall,
and Nacht to refer to the Evening Service, read between nightfall
and, preferably, midnight, but, if necessary, until dawn.
The "complete Kaddish" the Doxology reads
in the translation of the Encyclopædia Judaica as
Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which
He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in
your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire
house of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
The half-Kaddish concludes with
spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
For further details on other varieties, see EJ s.v. Kaddish.
May His great name be blessed for ever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored
and lauded be the name of the Holy One blessed be He, beyond all
blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in
the world; and say, Amen.
May the prayers and supplications of the whole house of Israel be
accepted by their Father in heaven; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven and life, for us and for all
Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His high places, may He create peace for us and
for all Israel; and say, Amen.
Buxtorf uses the word Ethicam in the
accusative case because it is the object of his German sentence. It seems to
that Buxtorf is not being ironic in referring to this "ethic" as
beautiful. I shall give some quotations from chapter 240 of the Tur to
which he refers, and which contain frank advice on morality and health
in sexual matters. Buxtorf appears to approve of them, but does not feel
able to quote them directly.
If he is married, he should not
intercourse with his wife excessively. The rabbis say that scholars
should not be constantly with their wives like roosters, and this does
not apply only to scholars, but to every man. They used the term
"scholars" because typically scholars are abstemious, save for the
marital duty which is mentioned in the Torah. (Exodus 21.10) The appropriate
interval for gentlemen
of leisure, who have income without having to pay imposts, is nightly.
The interval for workmen who work in another city and come home every
night is weekly, and if they work in the same city, twice a week. The
interval for ass drivers is weekly, for camel drivers once in thirty
days, sailors once in six months, and the interval for a scholar is from
one Friday night to another. Every man must have intercourse with his
wife on the night that she purifies herself from her menstrual impurity,
and when he is about to go on a trip. When he is with her, he should not
intend his own pleasure, but be as one who pays a debt, because he is
obliged to have intercourse with her at the appropriate time, and fulfil
the command of his creator. His desire should be for children who occupy
themselves with the Torah, and fulfil the commandments
a man do that he might have children? He should do the desires of Heaven
and the desires of his wife. Doing the desires of Heaven means that he
should give generously to the poor. And the desires of his wife
R. Eliezer says, he should persuade his wife at the time of intercourse
(i.e. if she wants sex and he does not, he should not refuse roughly);
R. Joshua says: He should make her happy with something that is virtuous
(i.e. since he is supposed to do the desires of his wife, he should make
her rejoice in this way whenever she needs it.)
The Almighty hates it
when a couple have sex in front of any other living creature
physicians said: One person in a thousand dies from various possible diseases and
the rest from excessive sexual intercourse. Therefore a person should be
careful about this if he wants to stay well, and only have intercourse
if his body is strong and healthy. If a man gets spontaneous erections,
and the erection continues even if he diverts his attention to something
else, and he experiences heaviness in his loins and below, and he feels as if the
ducts of his testicles are swollen, and his flesh is hot, then he needs
to have intercourse, and it is healthy for him to do so. He should not
have sex if he has just had a meal, or is hungry, but he should wait
until his food is digested. He should check if he needs to answer the
call of nature, both before and after intercourse. He should not have
intercourse in a standing or sitting position
Antonius Margarita, otherwise Anton Margaritha, was the
author of a book called Der Gantze Jüdische Glaube (The
Entire Jewish Belief.) He lived around 1490. The book was published
originally in 1530, a reprint appeared in Leipzig, 1705.
Kol Bo "Everything is in it." This book, of unknown authorship,
was first published at the end of the fifteenth century in Naples, and is
hence one of the Hebrew incunabula. It deals with various topics of Jewish
law, arranged according to topic.
This is a variant of the myth of the primeval light,
which was created with the saying "Let there be light!" (Gen. 1.3.) This
occurred on the first day of creation, prior to the creation of the sun.
Hence this light was stowed away when man sinned, and will become available
again to the righteous in the world to come. It was, however, used by Moses
to see all the land of Israel prior to his death (Deut. 34.1),
something which could not be done with ordinary light. This light is called
or ganuz, hidden light.
Fluxum menstruum muliebrem the female
monthly flow. The Hebrew word weseth comes from the Greek word
ethos, meaning originally "way." It is therefore euphemistically
"the way of women." Cf. Gen. 31.35.
Buxtorf is giving an example of Yiddish here, characterized
by its admixture of purely Hebrew words, and its creation of verbs by
joining the German auxiliary sein, or, as he spells it,
seyn, to a Hebrew participle.
In some communities it was customary to recite the
prophetic reading from a scroll similar to the one used for reading
the Torah. Possibly Buxtorf witnessed this. These days it is usually
read from a regular book.
Jews do not observe this, but recite prayers for the dead on
Sabbath morning. Ashkenazic Jews compromise by reciting prayers for
the dead only at the Sabbath afternoon service, and do not read them
at all on festive days.
The implication is probably that the individual is
suffering from venereal disease.
This explosion by Buxtorf can only be understood in
the light of the Church reformers' insistence that the Church should
follow the text of scripture, and that every man had the right to read
it in his own language. Just a century before, in 1536, William
Tyndale had been executed, essentially for daring to produce a bible
in the English language. The reformers felt that keeping the Bible in
Latin, enabled priests to give the interpretations that they saw
fit. The midrash that was so prevalent in Jewish exposition of
scripture was similar in their minds to the perversion of the text, as
they saw it, that was fostered by the Catholic church.
Turnus Rophus, properly Tinneius Rufus, was the
Roman governor of Judea at the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba War in 132
C.E. According to Jewish sources, he had discussions with Rabbi Akiba,
the one about the sabbath being in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin,
Sambatyon was a legendary river which was supposed
to rest on the Jewish sabbath, as mentioned in the above passage in
the Talmud. A similar story is recounted by Pliny the Elder in his
Historia Naturalis, 31:24. According to Josephus, it
flowed only on the sabbath.
"Dumah" means "silence" and occurs in the
mysterious "Burden of Dumah" in Isaiah, 21.11 The Babylonian Talmud
(Sanhedrin, 94a) explains: Rabbi Johanan said: The angel in charge of
the souls [of the departed] is called Dumah. They assemble before him
and say: Watchman, what of the night, watchman, what of the night?
[i.e. the night of exile.]
Rab. Bechai is Bahya ibn Paquda (11th
century, C.E.) author of the famous work Duties of the
Hearts, a monument of pietistic literature which includes a
discussion of the ritual and ethical precepts of the Torah, including
the observance of the sabbath. (English translation by M. Hyamson,
1962.) The parscha is one of the lections specified for the
sabbaths of the year (Ex. chaps. 18-20.) The Latin version, after the
words "if you want to read more about this," gratuitously inserts the
words "awful nonsense," in accordance with its tendency to be abrasive
where the German version is quite neutral.
Rabbi Lipman, namely Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann
Mülhausen, one of the most prominent rabbis of his time in
Bohemia. His exact dates are not known, but the book to which Buxtorf
refers was written in 1390. There is a manuscript copy in the
Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, dated 1459. (There is an
illustration of this ms. in Encyclopaedia Judaica,
vol. 2, col. 737.) It was meant as a guide for unlearned Jews, to
combat Christian propaganda. It was circulated in manuscript, and
there was an express papal decree prohibiting its publication or
circulation. The author knew Latin, and was very familiar with the New
Testament and other Christian literature. The fame of the book was
such that it provoked many Christian refutations called
Sebastian Münster (1489-1552) was one of the
great Christian Hebraists of the sixteenth century, and a predecessor
of Buxtorf in his Hebrew chair at Basel. An enormously prolific
writer, he was originally a Franciscan friar, but became a
Protestant. In order to interest Jews in Christianity, he translated
the gospel of Matthew into Hebrew, so that it would be available to
them in a language they could understand. He was thus the first to
translate any part of the New Testament into Hebrew. Taking note of
the fact that Rabbi Mülhausen used Matthew 12.11 to attack the
veracity of the New Testament, he apparently omitted this section from
his translation to avoid the issue, thus raising the ire of other
Christian theologians, Buxtorf included. Marquette University in
Milwaukee has a copy of his remarkable edition of the Hebrew Bible,
with his new translation into Latin, not dependent on the Latin
Vulgate, and his introduction referring to the hebraica
veritas, the Hebrew truth. The Protestants preferred the text of
the Hebrew Bible over that of the Vulgate, which was officially
recognized by the Catholic church.
Buxtorf uses a two-pronged argument in this issue. One is an argument
from silence. If the Jews of the time disagreed with Jesus, then why
did they not say that what he was preaching was wrong? Secondly,
Buxtorf asserts that the Rabbis falsified there own teachings, by
changing what they had taught earlier, and to which Jesus referred, in
order to make it appear that he was a liar. It may be relevant to note
that Muslim theologians make a similar claim with respect to the
Jewish and Christian scriptures, namely that Jews and Christians
received a valid revelation from on high, but they deliberately
falsified it for their own nefarious purposes, and therefore God gave
his final and authoritative revelation to the prophet of Islam.
The Mishna, to which Buxtorf refers, was in fact codified around the
year 200 C.E., and the Gemara, the complement or completion of the
Mishna, which then constitutes the Talmud was concluded around 500
C.E. Buxtorf seems to believe that the main fabrications occurred
during the period of the Gemara. Essentially he is forced into this
position by his belief and assertion that Jesus, being Truth
incarnate, was incapable of saying anything at all that was
untrue. And he dislikes the approach of Münster who avoids the
issue for the practical reason of making Christian scripture more
readily acceptable to Jews who might be inclined to embrace
This famous comment, on the same page of the
Talmud, that God sits in heaven and feeds all creatures speaks of
God's providence over the world which reaches to brute creation. The
word re'em, which Buxtorf renders "rhinoceros" probably means
a wild ox. The horns are large and impressive, the eggs of vermin are
tiny, but both are made possible by a beneficent creator. The issue
here is the belief, common until quite recently, that certain
creatures, such as cheese maggots, are spontaneously generated by the
substance in which they breed, since they seem to come from nowhere,
an impression which has been refuted by modern science.
With his usual precision, Buxtorf cites chapter 338
of the law code Orah Hayyim as the basis of this. In the
Babylonian Talmud, 'Erubin 104a we read: Ulla once visited Rabbi
Manasseh on the sabbath, and a man came and knocked on the door. Who,
he exclaimed, is this person? May his body be desecrated, because he
desecrates the sabbath! Rabbah said to him: Only a musical sound is
The Mishna, Shabbat, chapter 7 lists the
thirty-nine main classes of work, which are based on the activities in
building the Temple, as follows:
- binding sheaves
- cleansing crops
making two loops
weaving two threads
separating two threads
tying [a knot]
loosening [a knot]
sewing two stitches
tearing in order to sew two stiches
hunting a gazelle
slaughtering a gazelle
flaying a gazelle
salting its skin
curing its skin
cutting it up
writing two letters
erasing in order to write two letters
putting out a fire
lighting a fire
striking with a hammer
taking something from one domain to another
Passover: The German has Osterfest. German uses
the loan from Hebrew Passah, or Oster, which is also used
for Easter. Modern Hebrew has coined the quasi-Aramaic form pasha
for Easter, compared with Hebrew pesah.
moon: Buxtorf uses the word Mond, moon, rather than Monat, month, because he wants us to understand that it is a lunar month, and not the arbitrary month which these days we equate to thirty days.
uncleanness: Leviticus 19.23-25 decrees that the fruit of trees shall not be eaten in their first three years. This is referred to by a Hebrew term which normally means uncircumcised.
trees: The fifteenth of the month of Kislev is celebrated as the New Year for Trees, i.e. according to the second opinion which Buxtorf quotes. It is currently recognized by eating various kinds of fruits on that day.
schächten: Buxtorf uses here the Yiddish word,
derived from Hebrew, meaning to slaughter ritually. In this chapter he also
uses the word chaschubh which is Hebrew, but also used in Yiddish.
Yiddish is flooded with Hebrew loanwords, especially such as have religious
connotations, and it must have been easy for him
to understand Yiddish, since he knew well both Hebrew and German. As I
mention elsewhere, Yiddish forms many verbs by combining the verb "to be" with
a Hebrew active participle.
The eve of Passover: Buxtorf observed the original custom of baking the unleavened bread immediately before the Passover, unlike the current way of purchasing the packaged product in the store weeks before!
eggs: Matzah made with eggs is known as enriched matzah, and these days is prohibited by the Ashkenazic authorities, except for children and sick people.
Orach Chajim is the first section of the standard
Jewish law code by Joseph Caro, (born 1488 in Spain) known in its totality
as the Shulhan Arukh. Buxtorf cites sections 495-630.
This strange wind is referred to in the Babylonian Talmud,
Shabbat, 129b. "The eve of Pentecost is dangerous, and the Rabbis laid an
interdict [to draw blood] upon the eve of every Festival on account of the
Pentecost, when there issues a wind called Taboah, and had not the Israelites
accepted the Torah, it would have destroyed their flesh and blood."
There is undoubtedly a basis for this charge. The feast of
foliage-huts, as he calls the feast of Tabernacles, has attracted Hebrew
poets to compose lengthy, complex, poetic compositions for the occasion.
Since orthodox Judaism rarely abandons any accretions to the liturgy, these
are frequently read at high speed in order to keep the length of the service
within reasonable bounds. Whether these utterances are from the heart,
however, is known only to the worshipper, and his or her maker.
Ramban, Rakanat, Bechai -- Ramban is Rabbi Moses ben
Nahman, known as Nahmanides (1194-1270) Spanish rabbi and scholar, author of
numerous works on Talmud and Kabbala. Rakanat is Menahem Recanati (late
thirteenth to early fourteenth century) Italian kabbalist and halakhic
scholar. He wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, published in 1523. Bechai,
as previously mentioned, is the famed Spanish philosopher Bahya ibn Pakuda
(late eleventh century) author of the classic "Duties of the Heart." This is
yet another indication of Buxtorf's astonishing familiarity with the vast,
rabbinic literature. It is remarkable that he was able to stay uncorrupted
by his constant reading of the books of the unbelievers.
The evening meal is taken in the hut because there is a
question whether the hut should be used on the eighth day which is regarded
as a separate holiday in its own right, and although it concludes the Feast
of Tabernacles, it is not strictly part of it. The compromise is to use the
hut, but not recite a blessing thereon, and on the next day, which is the
second day of the last holiday observed only on account of the doubt as to
the date previously mentioned, the hut is not used at all.
This holiday is called in Hebrew "Atseret" which is
usually translated "closing festival." The word is derived from a root
meaning "to stop" and Buxtorf, in accordance with Jewish tradition, explains that it
is the feast when the host delays his departing guest -- the High Holy Days
are ending -- since he does not wish to part with him. The Rabbis declare
that God tells Israel: Your departure is difficult for me!
Citrons are currently cultivated purely to fill the Jewish
ritual market, as they have no other commercial use. They remain expensive
as a result, around thirty American dollars each in the year 2000, the price
depending on the perfection of the product. When the festival is over, the
price drops to zero. California and Israel are the main producers. Buxtorf,
of course, believes that the
Jewish use of the species in ritual procession is a misunderstanding of the
text; the intention was that these species (not including the citron!) were
to be used as building materials for the huts. He finds substantial support
for his interpretation in the passage from Nehemiah which he quotes.
Jacob Elbaum in his excellent discussion of Midrash
Tehillim (alternative name: Shoher Tov) in Encyclopædia Judaica declares:
Despite the lack of uniformity in this Midrash
retained many fine qualities and is one of the most beautiful in aggadic
literature: it has exalted language and colorful themes, cites many stories
and parables, and makes extensive and tasteful use of the hermeneutics of
aggadic interpretation. The German text reads shochad
which is incorrect, and probably a misprint, because the name is taken from
Proverbs 11.27. Perhaps though it is a deliberate oxymoron, the word meaning
This refers to the time before the calendar was fixed, when
the sighting of the new moon was declared to be valid by the court. The
religious authorities also determined when the year was to be intercalated
on the basis of the observation of natural phenomena associated with spring.
Such decisions may have repercussions in heaven, which are dealt with here.
This is not a casual statement. The rabbis believed that once the Torah was
given, it was down on earth once for all, and heaven could no longer
interfere with it. This particularly applied to charismatic individuals, who
might call on heaven to reveal that their verdict was the true one, against
the will of the majority. Such things were to be decided by a majority
verdict of competent individuals on earth, and in no other manner. It really
is the spirit of democracy, the rule of law, and the sense that the ruler,
even the divine ruler, is under the rule of law.
This was memorized in its King James version by
generations of students as a classical hexameter: God is gone up with a
shout, the Lord with the sound of trumpet.
This rabbinic exposition, which seems to fly in the face of
the clear meaning of the text, is typical, and Buxtorf finds nothing strange
about it, although his readers may well do so. Since the Rabbis held to the
literal inspiration of Scripture, which applies not only to the words but
also to the letters (literal!) and even the tagin, the decorations
on the letters, it was considered quite valid to expound a word apart from
its context, ending the the first part of the exposition abruptly at the
word "book," and expounding separately the word "hayyim" which is linked to
Buxtorf writes the word "kabalam" in the Latin
accusative. When he writes a foreign word which can comfortably be treated as
Latin, he is accustomed to use the Latin case corresponding to its
place in the German sentence.
The phrase "poor, deluded Jews" (die armen verblendten Juden) is not
strong without reason, because the crucial difference between Judaism and
Christianity, as Buxtorf well understands, is not that Christians eat pork
and Jews do not, but that Jews believe, and more importantly act, as if
works, i.e. good deeds and observance of the Mosaic law, bring
about salvation, while the Christian finds salvation by believing in, and
relying on, Jesus Christ. The true Christian will do good deeds
because he is saved, but they will not secure salvation for him or
her. Luther came to feel that the Catholic Church of his day in reality believed
in works, like the Jews, and the Pope had no business to be involved in
indulgences, which usurped the authority of the redeemer.
Midrash Vayosha was first published in
Constantinople, 1519. The name is taken from Exodus 14.30, and it deals with
the crossing of the Red Sea. There is an obvious parallel between the crossing
of the Red Sea, and this legend about Abraham. It is a late aggadic work,
belonging perhaps to the eleventh century, C.E.
The day after the New Year holiday, i.e. Tishri 3, is a
dawn to dusk fast, unlike the Day of Atonement itself which lasts for
twenty-five hours. Buxtorf quotes the Orah Hayyim which declares that on the
other penitential days, "individuals fast" i.e. it is a good thing to fast
but it is not required; and on the Sabbath between the New Year and the Day
of Atonement it is prohibited to fast.
The four deaths are the four modes of execution
recognised in rabbinic law, namely burning, stoning, beheading, and
strangulation, and the symbolic manipulations while holding the bird were
meant to represent these various forms of death. The rabbis modified these
penalties to make them less horrific, and closer to instantaneous. In
particular the penalty of stoning, an extremely painful death, was replaced
by casting the individual from a high place, and in the unlikely event he
survived, he was crushed with a large stone. This is why the bird is thrown on
the ground. It should be pointed out that although the rabbis could not
abolish penalties that were prescribed by Scripture, they made the
application of the death penalty rare by requiring credible eye witnesses,
and a previous warning that the contemplated act could lead to the death
penalty. They declared that the death penalty prescribed for the rebellious
son (Deut. 21.18) had, in fact, never been applied, and merely stood as a
solemn warning not to lead a riotous life.
The procedure involving the
slaughter of fowl was opposed by the great jurist Joseph Caro, who declared
it to be a "foolish custom." But even his unequalled authority could not
release the grip that this habit had on the popular imagination, and it has
continued in traditional circles until the present day.
Shevet Yehudah by Solomon ibn Verga is
considered to be one of the outstanding works of the Hebrew literature of
the Renaissance, dealing with the persecutions of the Jews. The work was
first published in Turkey in 1554.The name means "The Tribe of Judah," a
reasonable name in view of its subject, but has a double pun, since the word
shevet can also mean "rod" and, in particular, the rod of God's
wrath (Lamentations 3.1) and the author's name also implies "rod" in Latin
(virga.) Ibn Verga left Spain in 1492, and settled in Portugal, but
eventually found a home in Italy. He is a radical thinker, well schooled in
the humanistic literature of his time.
Buxtorf is being a little unkind in using this as proof
of the unreliability of a Jewish promise, since there is clearly no
intention in this procedure to make all vows null, but rather provide an out
for those who have rashly made promises that they cannot possibly fulfil,
and thus they can pray for forgiveness like those who have made no oaths.
The rabbis condemn Jephthah who carried out his rash oath, which involved
the sacrifice of his daughter (Judges 11.35.) Ecclesiastes 5.4 declares: It
is better that you should not vow, than vow and not pay. In the Babylonian
Talmud, Nedarim 9a, Rabbi Meir comments on this: Better than both is not to
vow at all. Rabbi Judah said: Better than both is to vow and to repay. In
Midrash Genesis Rabba,
60.3, a dispute is recorded between Rabbi Jochanan and Resh Lakish. Rabbi
Jochanan declared that Jephthah should have given an assessed monetary
equivalent instead of his daughter; Resh Lakish held that his vow was null
and void in any case, because she was not appropriate for a sacrifice.
This prayer repeated seven times is the declaration of
divine sovereignty from I Kings 18.39, "The Lord indeed is God." It is a
point of high emotion in the service, when the people are weak from a
twenty-five hour abstinence from food and water. Buxtorf appears to be moved
by this, and remarks on its beauty, without any of his usual caveats and
mit einem schönen Nigun, und lieblicher
Melodey / wie sie dann lustig singen können / alß jederman
weiß / der sie gehöret hat."
Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer is an eighth century C.E. aggadic
(homiletic) work, first published in Constantinople, 1514. It consists of 54
chapters, narrating events from the Creation until the wanderings of the
Children of Israel in the desert. It is believed that the Book of Jubilees
influenced the book, which has been reprinted many times.
Kaftor va-Ferah derives its name from a phrase in
Exodus, 25.33, but was used by the author Estori ha-Parhi to refer to his
name. Perah (ferah) means flower, and the family name comes from Florenza
(flor: flower) in Spain. The book was completed in 1322, C.E., and published
in Venice, 1549. It deals with the topography of the Holy Land, and many of
its observations are considered correct even today. It contains many
observations of value based on the actual experience of the author.
Buxtorf uses the word Ampt, (Amt) which normally
means "office." I prefer to translate "honors" because this is the word
normally used today, and "office" implies a more permanent, formal or
This characterization of the Jews: Kein feindseliger
/ neidiger und unversülicher Volck ist under der Sonnen alß die
Juden seind must surely be considered a classic of racial stereotyping.
Eight candles is the actual number, one for each night,
plus one extra to prevent the use of the candle for secular purposes, since
it can be argued that any profane use was by this solitary candle. This
seems to be a confusion with the candlestick in the original Temple, which
had indeed seven branches.
Buxtorf has a pun here on "Festtage" (feast-days) and
"Freßtage" (eat-days.) The German verb fressen is usually
applied to eating by animals, and is pejorative when applied to humans.
Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau of Austria wrote a book setting down
Jewish customs, and his views were widely adopted in Austria and Hungary.
His book was first printed in Venice, 1566, and frequently reprinted. A
German translation also appeared. There is a story, of uncertain
historicity, that a member of the Hungarian royal house fell in love with
the daughter of the Rabbi, and secretly married her. When this was
discovered he was executed.
Buxtorf gives here a quote that purports to be from
Hosea 2.7 which he renders "Jetzt wird der Monat ihr theil treffen." This
does not seem to connect with this verse at all, and I have not translated it.
There is a mention of
"month" in verse 13, but this does not help. It should be noted that Bibles
based on the Vulgate have a differing numbering here, so it is not clear to
me if he means 2.7 or 2.9 in the Hebrew. Such references are occasionally
wrong in any case. The reference to Jeremiah does make sense. Rashi, in
expounding Jeremiah's simile of the wild ass, declares that she may not
usually be trapped, but in the month of Ab she sleeps all the time, and so
may be caught. Similarly the month of Ab was appointed from the time of the
spies in the wilderness, who came back in that month, as a month of sorrows
for the Jews.
Linseed is mostly used these days as animal feed, and its
oil has commercial applications. However, in ancient times it was widely
used as human food, and is now coming back into favor, since it contains
omega-3 oils which are not common in present-day diet, and yet are
considered essential to proper nutrition.
Three times namely in Exodus 23.19, Exodus 34.26
and Deuteronomy 14.21. The wording is identical. Since the Rabbis held that
there are no duplications in the Torah, they saw in this triple occurrence
three separate prohibitions, namely the cooking of (potentially permissible)
meat and milk together, the consumption of such a mixture, and the
derivation of any benefit from such a mixture. While eating uncooked meat
and milk together or in succession is not a direct contravention of these
rules, it is forbidden, to avoid even getting close to the biblical
interdiction ("a fence around the Law.")
The Sefer Hasidim ("Book of the Pious") is an important
ethical work first published in Bologna, 1538, and a different version
exists in manuscript in Parma which was first published in Berlin, 1891-94.
It is attributed to Rabbi Judah the Pious of Regensburg, who died in 1217.
It explains the ethical meanings of biblical verses and talmudic sayings.
It was believed that the light parts of the body of the
foetus were formed from the male semen, and the dark parts from the
menstrual blood, which constituted the "semen muliebre" (female seed.)
The Talmud explains that in the sea-towns the Aramaic
word binyatha is used to mean "nets", such as fishermen use, and
they connect this with joining together of hair in braids.
"Poor little creature" is my translation of the
German "Wormbs," perhaps an orphan or other unfortunate. The earthen
vessel would reflect her closeness to the ground, like a worm. On the
issue of a different glass for a widow and a virgin, cf. Philip and
Hanna Goodman, The Jewish Marriage Anthology,
(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1971) p. 130. It is
interesting to compare this entire passage, based on a fifteenth
century text, with Buxtorf's account, since it comes from the same
area, namely the environs of the city of Mainz (Mentz, Mayence.) <
Buxtorf is at pains to point out that the Christian
prohibition of divorce is the natural state of affairs, and the Christian
who might suspect that sometimes divorce is not such a bad idea, should be
aware that divorce was permitted by Moses to the Jews as a concession to
their hard hearts, and it is not truly the will of God.
I find no basis for Buxtorf's assertion that the
brother-in-law must be unmarried. These laws date to a polygamous society,
and the marital status of the brother-in-law was not relevant to the
levirate marriage. Of course, in Christian countries where polygamy was
proscribed for all, in accordance with Christian principles, such a marriage
would be impossible unless the brother-in-law were single. In any case, the
Rabbis were concerned that a levirate marriage should be contracted only to
satisfy the requirements of the Law, and not because the brother-in-law
openly or secretly desired it, so they came to prefer the rejection ceremony
in all cases, although originally it was clearly the discouraged option.
"In a special way" the old Portuguese synagogue in
Philadelphia, Congregation Mikveh Israel, possesses in its archives such a
specially made sandal.
"Pharisees" is incorrect here. The Pharisees, like
Christians, believed in a future existence, and were not troubled by
questions of this type. The New Testament refers here to Sadducees, who did
not believe in a world to come. It may be pointed out that the Sadducees
were the upper class party, who had life so good on this planet that they
probably saw no need for a future reward. Buxtorf was probably confused by
the fact that the Pharisees are mentioned in the section immediately
preceding this one.
This divine name consists of three
Hebrew letters, the shin, which is like a three pronged fork, the dalet,
which is a right angle, and the yod which is the smallest letter of the
Hebrew alphabet. The little, ring and middle fingers constitute the shin.
The forefinger flexed over the thumb constitutes the dalet, and the upper
part of the thumb constitutes the yod. The same name is inscribed on the
Mezuzah which is nailed on the doorpost, with the same prophylactic intent.
Kallah is one of the so-called
minor tractates of the Babylonian Talmud, dealing with matters relating to
marriage. An English translation of the minor tractates was issued by the
Soncino Press in 1965.
Elijah Levita was born in Neustadt
in 1468, spent most of his life in Italy, and died in 1549. He wrote books
on Hebrew language and grammar, and taught many Christian Hebraists. His
book Tishbi translates each Hebrew root into German.
The Jewish Messianic hope is discussed in a document
issued by the Vatican under the signature of Cardinal Ratzinger, [now Pope
Benedict XVI, elected 2005] and
discussed in an article in the New York Times, 1/2002 by Melinda
The Vatican recently issued
an important document that explicitly
says, "The Jewish messianic wait is not in vain."
The document says Jews and Christians in fact share their wait for the
Messiah, although Jews are waiting for the first coming, and
Christians for the second.
"The difference consists in the fact that for us, he who will come
will have the same traits of that Jesus who has already
"The expectancy of the Messiah was in the Old Testament" [Joaquin
Navarro-Valls, the Pope's spokesman] went on, "and if the Old
Testament keeps its value, then it keeps that as a value, too. It says
you cannot just say all the Jews are wrong and we are right
would be wrong for a Catholic to wait for the Messiah, but not for a
Note. The obscure verse in the
Song of Songs 7.5 contains a word rehitim the root of which appears
to be connected with a word meaning to run. From this Buxtorf gets his
rendering "in den Lauf oder Spatzier-gängen". It is usually translated
"tresses." These materials with respect to the advent of the Messiah are
from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 98a. Inter alia, it is
recorded there that R. Joshua ben Levi met Elijah (the folklore figure who
appears to pious men, and give them useful information.) The rabbi asked
Elijah when the Messiah would come. Elijah said he could ask him himself. He
sits "at the entrance" presumably of Rome, where he binds up his leprous
sores one at a time, so that he can be ready for the call to reveal himself.
The rabbi then asks the Messiah when he will come and he replies: "Today."
When the rabbi complains to Elijah that he did not do as he said, Elijah
quotes Psalm 95.7b, now translated "O that today you would listen to his
voice" but can equally well mean "today if you listen to his voice,"
i.e. the coming of the Messiah is imminent, provided that the people repent
and behave themselves. This legend that the Messiah has already been born
was used in the medieval disputations between Christians and Jews organized
by the Church to prove that the Jews knew in their hearts that Jesus is the
Messiah. Rabbi Nahmanides retorted to this that this is pure Midrash, and
Jews are not required to believe such tales.
Avkat Rokhel is the name of a small book
ascribed to one Machir, probably a nom-de-plume. The title is taken from
Song of Songs, 3.6, and usually taken to mean "the fragrant powders of the
merchant." Fanciful titles like this are common. The book was published in
Constantinople, 1515, and reprinted
several times in other cities. A Yiddish version appeared in New York City
in 1956. The Yiddish version reads on the title page: "osos umofsim vos
velen geshehn az moshiach vet komen
" "signs and wonders which will
occur when the Messiah comes, and how one can be rescued from the travails
of the Messianic age, also several matters related to the future punishment
of Hell, and eternal reward
" More information on this curious work can
be found in the Dictionary Catalog of the Klau Library, Cincinnati, volume
32, page 24. This is one last indication of Buxtorf's very wide reading in
Armillus, usually spelled Armilus, is in Jewish legend a bizarre and
monstrous enemy, who will oppress the Jews and ultimately be defeated by the
Messiah. The name is probably a corruption of Romulus, the name of the
reputed founder of Rome.
Aben Ezra is Abraham ibn Ezra, (1089-1164) one of the
best medieval Jewish Bible commentators, whose comments often foreshadow
modern biblical criticism in cryptic terms. He was also a grammarian and a
poet, although his poetry does not match up to the great Moses ibn Ezra.
Rabbah bar bar Hana (Buxtorf incorrectly omits one
"bar") was a Talmudic teacher (Amora) who lived in the second half of the
third century C.E. He is famous for his tall tales, mostly told in the place
in the Talmud which Buxtorf cites. He relates, for example,
his experiences at the place where the followers of Korah (Numbers 16.23)
were swallowed up. It is possible that his stories of enormous creatures
preserve memories of prehistoric monsters which do in fact exist, albeit
exaggerated. The remarkably talented anthropologist Professor Sereno of the
University of Chicago has discovered
the remains of many incredible prehistoric creatures in Africa on the basis of
information culled from local people who had noticed the remains of such
creatures. He recently (2001) announced the finding of a crocodile the size
of a city bus. 50% of its skeleton has been preserved.
Rabbi David Kimchi (c. 1160-1235) grammarian and Bible
commentator, highly regarded by Christian scholars.
The place that Buxtorf calls "Ela" is actually Be-Ilai, which
is explained by Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Talmud Babli
etc. as "the mountains of interior Asia" in his gloss on the word
tigros or tigres. It seems to me that Buxtorf does not get the point of the
Emperor's question quite right. He does not ask whether the God of the Jews
could kill a lion, but rather points out that hunters regularly kill lions,
so why is it such a big deal that God would be compared to a lion in Amos
3.8. The rabbi declares that no one could kill the lion of Be-Ila'i, and it
is to this lion that God is compared in the prophet.
"Mile" is Buxtorf's translation, but "league" would be
a better rendering, since this mile is the Persian parasang, which
is slightly more than three statute miles. So the first roar of the lion was
at a distance of about 650 kilometers.
According to the Psalmist, God created Leviathan "to
sport therein" i.e. in the primeval sea, but the translation that God liked
to sport with Leviathan is possible according to Hebrew grammar.
Rambam is Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides,
(1135-1204) perhaps the greatest scholar in Jewish history, who wrote a code
of Jewish law in beautiful Hebrew, wrote the philosophical work Guide
for the Perplexed in Arabic, and numerous significant medical works.
Bible readers had perforce to explain how it came about
that Adam and Eve were clearly monotheists, yet later polytheism was rampant
in the world with no overt explanation as to how this occurred. Moses
Maimonides explains that in the time of Enoch (see Genesis 5.18) certain men
suggested that since the sun and moon were the servants of God, and provided
light to the world they should be respected and venerated. This developed,
at the hands of corrupt priests, into the assertion that they were deities.
With this decline in humankind, their previously long lifetimes were
shortened. The messianic age will thus restore the original situation.
Buxtorf's final jab at Jewish belief is not essentially
different from the way he would regard Catholic Christianity, namely an
originally pure faith that was corrupted by priests and scholars who paid
more attention to later accretions than to the Hebraica veritas,
the Hebrew truth to be found in the Biblical text, free of self-appointed
interpreters whether Jews or Papists. On one occasion I remarked in a class
that in effect evangelical Christians regard Catholics as secret Jews. One
student became very excited, jumped to his feet and shouted: "That's it!
That's it!" It is worth noting that Buxtorf describes the Jews as the
recipients of God's everlasting disfavor, demonstrated by their wretched
condition in the world, providing thereby a good example
for Christians. This is in contradiction to his earlier comment that the Jews
live at ease, while Christians sweat. It is quite characteristic of
stereotyping to hold simultaneously contradictory views; Jews in the past
were commonly held up by antisemites as being effete and impotent, yet on
the other hand they longed to rape and degrade Christian women. The article
on Antisemitism in Encyclopaedia Judaica is quite informative
on these issues, and the cartoons it shows are particularly instructive.
End of Notes
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Alan D. Corré