Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jews Accused of "Negrophobia" in an Op-Ed from 1882

The Christian Recorder was an African American Newspaper. The following was published in an Op-Ed, on June 1, 1882. It's a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of African Americans and their first cautious steps in a volatile post-slavery America. It is especially interesting how the tiny Jewish community was perceived by the African American intellegensia of the time. 


We have no desire to put a straw in the way of the most cordial reception to the Jewish exiles immigrating to our country. On the contrary, they command the sincerest sympathy of our nature, as do any outraged peoples. Having felt the fire ourselves, we know somewhat of the hurt. And yet we cannot refrain from criticising the spirit that actuates, possibly, a majority of the Jews in our country - the spirit that leads them to seek alliance with the very class of men who are the terror of their trans-atlantic brethren. Like the majority of the Irish coming among us, they seem instinctively to take to democracy and the spirit of negrophobia in general. While slavery lasted, they were among the meanest of those who engaged in it. And when the South rebelled in the interest of the peculiar institution, Jewish brain in the purpose of Judah Benjamin, lent its chief force. Nor have they greatly changed since. Chief of those in Congress who railed against the Chinese, were Belmont, of New York, and Jonas of Louisiana, both Jews . Nor are these to be looked upon in the light of exceptions. Read the following, from the Hebrew Leader, of May 19, which though only a straw, still shows which way the current runs: “The press has ventilated the terrible condition of these persecuted people, but the usual generosity of the American in responding to the cry for succor has not followed, and the reason must be traced to a certain stupid prejudice against the class of Jews who came from Russia. But it would be extraordinary if these poor people were cultured and attractive. They are what centuries of oppression have made them. Similar causes produce similar effects on all men of the Caucasian race.” Our first remark on the above is that whatever be the prejudice of the American people to Jews , it is general and not particular, as the Leader says. Americans could have no prejudice to Russian Jews , because these have not come to us in sufficient numbers to make themselves specially known. Indeed the average American does not know whether the Jew he meets is Spanish, German Polish or Russian. He only knows him as a Jew . And if he be prejudiced at all, it is against the race and not the nation. Our second remark relates to the statement: “Similar causes produce similar effects on all men of the Caucasian race.” The question whether the Jews are to be ranked with the Caucasian race, seems to be clearer to the mind of the Leader than it does to some other people. The “American Cyclopaedia,” for instance, under the head, Caucasian Race, says: --- To it belong all the ancient and modern Europeans, excepting the Finish tribes, the Indians, Persians, Phoenicians, HEBREWS, Arabs and other tribes of West Asia.” But supposing they do belong to the Caucasian race, is not the statement of this Jew an exceedingly narrow one, and does it not indicate a narrowness of soul that does not befit an American citizen, even though he be a member of a race that has been kicked and cuffed through all time; and is today, in more quarters of the globe than one, the subject of this same kicking and cuffing process? Does he not know that similar causes produce similar effects on all races; and not especially on the Caucasian? Take almost any of the African nations of today, at whom the Leader indirectly points its dart. When the Jew was in his prime, were not these also? Did not their great Solomon take to himself a Pharaonic wife? And is it not more than tradition that his descendents today rule Abysinia? Like the Jew in Russia, the peoples of both these once powerful and cultured nations, are what “centuries of oppression have made them.” In conclusion, we say to the American Jew what we say to the American Irish, if you wish American help, you must stop giving aid and sympathy to oppression at home, while pleading to be freed from it abroad. THE editor of the Missouri Republican - republican by name but democratic by profession - asks the following questions, giving them, of course, negative answers: “If the five million colored people in this country were given a fair and ample domain in the extreme South - any Florida, Louisiana, Texas, or a strip along the gulf embracing parts of all these states and of Alabama and Mississippi, as a field to make the experiment of self-government in - what would be the result? Would the black man in that favoring climate and under the most kindly influences that could be extended to him, do what the white man has done with such signal success in the North, in the East, South and the West? Would he found a powerful and enlightened state like Massachusetts, or Michigan, or the equal of Georgia and Mississippi, studded with temples, seminaries, school houses, mills, factories and work-shops, and yielding hundreds of millions in value of varied products as a contribution to the world's commerce? No long array of facts or argument is needed to silence such “quaker guns,” as these questions are. Have the white people in possession of “Florida, Louisiana, Texas, or the strip along the Gulf, embracing parts of all these states and of Alabama and Mississippi” - have these white people, we say, accomplished what he demands the colored people to accomplish? Have they done what has been done in the North? This we say: Let the black men of that region be the upper rail as long as the white men have been, and if they do not make Louisiana, and Mississippi, and all the region alluded to as nearly like the great North and West, as have done the white man, then we will admit that they are no more their equals.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That Time When The Pope Wanted All his Jewish Subjects to Wear Sisit

Did you hear the one about the Pope who championed the Mitzvah of sisit for his Jewish subjects? No it's not a joke. It really happened.
Lateran Council IV, Canon 68: "On Jews and Muslims" (1215)
In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37–41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them.<<
From: H. J. Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils: Text, Translation and Commentary (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1937)
Here is the passage in question:
Numbers 15
37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. 40 Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’”

Could this be taken as a tacit admittan by the Pope that the Jews are still bound by The Old Testament code?
This landmark ruling marked the first time that European Jews were decreed to wear distinctive garb. 
Ironically, sisit and tefillin were often not clung to with zeal by medieval Ashkenazic Jews (מצוה זו רפויה בידם French tosafist Rabbi Moses of Coucy (c. 1240,), author of a compendium of commandments writes)


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More on Karaites and Simchat Torah

From Harav Ha-dayyan Susu Elgamil's book of plagiery and other delights.

When a Girl Recited the Kaddish Prayer in the Chafetz Chaim's Presence

From Eishshishok by Yaffa Eliach

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Only Rabbinic Holiday Celebrated by Karaite Jews

I find it interesting that virtually every Karaite calendar, since the first one was printed in 1835, lists the extra-biblical holiday of Simchat Torah

See this clip starting at the 35:36 mark

See also my article on the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews)  and Simchat Torah here.

This is a calendar from the Karaite community, dated Oct. 1959

Apparently this has been true since the 15th century

From Harav Ha-dayan Yosef ("susu") Elgamil's adaptation of Mourad El-Kodsi's english book:

Karaites With Payos

 In a series of rulings for the Karaim of Halicz in Galicia, Firkovich slams those who imitate the common Rabbanite custom of growing sidelocks as well as shaving the hair of brides.

It is interesting that among the Crimean Jews, the Karaites were referred to as the 'Jews without sidelocks' in contradistinction to the Krymchak Ranbanite natives ago were referred to as 'Jews with sidelocks'. See here

Monday, July 21, 2014

Anan ben David and his Descendants (and the mysterious Karaites from Al-Hit), Part II

For Part I of this series see here

מתוך ספרו של פירקוביץ "מסה ומריבה"

Notice the interesting characters who provided funding for Firkovich's work.

מתוך "תולדות היהדות הקראית" אלגמיל, יוסף ,ח"א

Elgamil mentions that the Karaite Jews of Al-Hit were traditionally descended from Anan ben David himself.
More on Hit later.

Here is some additional information on some Anan ben David's immediate descendants from Brill:

David ben Boaz (421 words)

David ben Boaz, known in Arabic as Abū Saʿīd, was a fifth-generation descendant of Anan benDavid, and is thus rarely mentioned without the title ha-Nasi (and sometimes by that alone) or its Arabic equivalent, al-ra’īs. Hs lived in Jerusalem and, together with his brother Josiah ha-Nasi, is supposed to have supported Saʿadya Gaon in his conflict (ca. 930–937) with the Babylonian exilarch David ben Zakkay I, perhaps due to the strong enmity between the Karaite nesiʾim and the Palestinian geonim of the Ben Me’ir family, whose head at that time, Aaron ben Me’ir, lent his support to David ben Zakkay. According to Ibn al-Hītī, David ben Boaz was still alive in 993, when he composed a commentary on Ecclesiastes. He was succeeded by his son Solomon, who was serving as Nasi by at least 1016.
In his writings, notably but certainly not atypically among Karaites of the Karaite “Golden Age” (9th–11th centuries), David cites both tannaitic and amoraic sources. He was well regarded as a scholar and was often cited as an authority by both contemporary and later Karaite writers. According to his son Solomon, moreover, he was the first Karaite to oppose his sect’s rikkuv, or catenary, theory of forbidden marriages.
Among David’s known and more or less extant works are fragments of Arabic commentaries (tafāsīr), with translation (tarājim), on the Pentateuch (Mss. Brit. Lib. Or. 2403 [§304], 2494 [§318], fols. 1r–30v, 2495 [§306], 2561 [§305], fols. 1r–74v, 2562 [§307]; JTSA 8916; RNL Yevr.-Arab. I 4803; T-S Ar.21.133), Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations (both in Ms. Brit. Lib. Or. 2552 [§299], fols. 90r–141v). Not extant are an Arabic commentary, probably with translation, on Psalms (an abridgement by ʿAlī ben Sulaymān is extant in fragments) and, according to Ibn al-Hītī, a work entitled Kitāb al-Uṣūl (The Book of Roots/Fundamentals), the topic of which is unclear.
Michael G. Wechsler


Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, vol. 2: Karaitica(Philadelphia: Hebrew Press and Jewish Publication Society, 1935).
Pinsker, Simcha. Liqquṭe qadmoniyyot (Zur Geschichte des Karaismus und der karäischen Literatur) (Vienna: Adalbert della Torre, 1860).
Polliack, Meira (ed.). Karaite Judaism: A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung, Nahe und der Mittlere Osten 73 ( Leiden: Brill, 2003).
Poznański, Samuel. The Karaite Literary Opponents of Saadiah Gaon (London: Luzac,1908; repr. from Jewish Quarterly Review, o.s. 18 [1906]: 209–250; 19 [1907]: 59–83; 20 [1908]: 74–85, 216–231.
Steinschneider, Moritz. Die arabische Literatur der Juden (Frankfurt a.M.: J. Kauffmann, 1902; repr., Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1986).
Cite this page
Michael G. Wechsler. "David ben Boaz." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. National Library of Israel. 10 October 2013 <>


Daniel ben Saul ben Anan (1,029 words)

Daniel ben Saul (fl. 9th century) was the grandson of ʿAnan ben David, said to have founded the proto-Karaite Ananite sect in the eighth century. The Jacobite Syrian historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), basing himself on earlier Syriac chronicles, recounts that in 825 a battle over the office of exilarch in Baghdad broke out between Daniel and David ben Judah. Bar Hebraeus asserts that Daniel was an adherent of the Ananite heresy. Since this conflict had repercussions for Christians in the Abbasid caliphate, it attracted the attention of Christian chroniclers. According to their accounts, the dispute was brought before the caliph al-Ma'mūn (r. 813–833), and he ruled that every group of ten people among the ahl al-dhimma had the right to form their own sect. The Epistle of Sherira Gaon states that the power of the exilarchs declined during the exilarchate of David ben Judah, an assertion repeated by the gaon of the Baghdad yeshiva,Samuel ben Eli. Both geonim may have been referring to the dramatic outcome of the struggle between the two figures who according to the Syrian chronicles were contending for the position of exilarch.
Sherira Gaon was interested in the struggle over the exilarchate because it caused a split in the Pumbedita yeshiva. By his account, the conflict broke out during Abraham ben Sherira’s incumbency as gaon of Pumbedita (816–828). A competitor for the exilarchate appointed theav bet din (chief judge) of the academy to the post of gaon as a quid pro quo for the av bet din’s support; this gave rise to a situation in which two geonim were serving simultaneously. Sherira failed to mention who it was that the av bet din had backed. As for the rival candidates for the exilarchate, Sherira merely gave the name Daniel (without patronymic) as the rival ofDavid ben Judah. The responsa of the gaon of Sura, Naṭronay bar Hilay (853–861), preserved in the siddur (prayerbook) of Rav Amram Gaon (861–872), note that Anan ben David had a grandson named Daniel.
That a grandson of Anan ben David could have received support from one of the gaonic academies in a contest for the exilarchate caused scholars to question the identity of David benJudah’s rival.  Jacob Mann claimed that this Daniel could not have been the grandson of the man who according to early Karaite sources had founded the Ananite movement. He found it inconceivable that a member of this family would have had supporters in the bastion of the Babylonian Rabbanite establishment. With respect to the assertion of Bar Hebraeus, Mann maintained that he had conflated two notables who were both active at that time, one of them being Daniel the exilarch, a Rabbanite, and therefore supported by members of the Rabbanite camp, and the other Daniel ben Saul, the grandson of Anan, who was obviously in the Karaite camp.
A recently discovered document from the Cairo Geniza indicates that the Daniel who was striving to become exilarch was indeed the grandson of Anan and was supported by a faction in the Sura yeshiva. No less surprising, another Geniza document, dealing with the history of the Palestinian gaonate, reveals that Anan’s great-grandson, Ṣemaḥ ben Josiah ben Saul benAnan ben David (the son of Daniel’s brother), served as head of the Palestinian yeshiva for thirty-one years, till about 893. Ṣemaḥ was apparently not the only gaon from the House ofAnan in the Palestinian yeshiva. According to Moshe Gil, an anonymous letter written by a Babylonian exilarch indicates that there was an alliance between the Palestinian yeshiva headed by the House of Anan and Daniel the exilarch. This letter, which Gil ascribes to Daniel, deals with the calendrical arrangements for the year 835, and in it the exilarch declares that the sages of Palestine support him on issues related to the calendar. It should be noted that scholars are still divided about the identity of this exilarch.
The Muslim historian al-Bīrūnī (d. after 1050) states that Daniel ben Saul’s son, whose name was Anan, was the person who founded the Ananite movement in about 890. According to Gil, the exilarchic branch of the House of Anan only joined the Karaites and became their leaders in the second half of the ninth century, the period when Daniel and his son Anan (Anan II) were active. In Gil’s opinion, the fact that both Daniel and Ṣemaḥ held leadership positions in the Rabbanite establishment demonstrates that it was only in a later period that Anan ben Davidcould have been credited with establishing the Ananite movement. André Paul assumed, even before Gil, that the Rabbanite source recounting that Anan ben David managed to get out of prison during his struggle over the exilarchate with his brother, the exilarch Ḥananiah, by claiming that he was not rebelling against him but rather establishing a new Jewish sect, fits the period of al-Ma'mūn, during whose reign Daniel was trying to attain the exilarchate. Thus the story should not be attributed to the era of al-Manṣūr’s caliphate, when Anan ben David was active.
In summary, the sources indicate that Daniel, Anan’s grandson, was the person who engaged in a struggle over the office of exilarch around the year 825. The outcome was significant for all the dhimmī communities in the Abbasid caliphate. The support Daniel received from factions in the Rabbanite establishment and the fact that his nephew Ṣemaḥ served as the head of the Palestinian yeshiva have posed difficult questions about the origins of the Karaite movement. A final verdict is not yet possible. As for Anan II, Daniel’s son, there is only uncorroborated evidence from a single Muslim source that credits him with founding the Ananite movement. His descendants, if there were any, disappeared from the historical arena.
Yoram Erder


Abramson, Sheraga. In the Centers and in the Diaspora (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 9–20 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe. Jews in Islamic Countries in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 105–111, 221-223.
Mann, Jacob. Texts and Studies, vol. 2 (New York: Ktav, 1972), pp. 128–131.
Paul, André. Ecrits de Qumran et sectes juives aux premiers siècles de lʿIslam (Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1969), pp. 15-24.
Cite this page
Yoram Erder. "Daniel ben Saul ben Anan." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. National Library of Israel. 10 October 2013 <>

The Mysterious Community in Al-Hit

We know very little about the community there. Here are some sources I have come across.

Rabbi Yosef Shwartz in his study of the holy land and its environs mentions Al-Hit in passing, referring to it as 'the dwelling place of Sadduccees (a common euphemism for Karaites) and adding that no 'sons of Israel' reside there.

Jewish Virtual Library:

HIT, town on the Euphrates, approximately 90 mi. (144 km.) W. of Baghdad; site of the Mesopotamian city of Is. An old *Karaite community, dating back to the 10th century at least, existed in Hit. Persecution and ill-treatment by the authorities brought about a gradual reduction of its size and by the middle of the 19th century it numbered only 20 families. The community was headed by the Muʿallim ("teacher, sage") whose home also served as the religious school and house of prayer (after the decrepit synagogue that had existed in the town was abandoned in the second half of the 19th century). The community went to Israel shortly after the establishment of the State, settling in Beersheba.


A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), 318–20.
[Abraham Haim]


While reading Dan Shapira’s “Avrham Firkowicz in Istanbul”, the following passage caught my eye (p. 18): He (Firkowich) also wished to visit Hit in Iraq, the home of an old Qaraite community that preserved ancient traditions (including daily ablutions in the Tigris). In the comment there (n. 36), Shapir further writes: at that time, communities of Mandeans, Yazidis, and Nestorian Christians also inhabited Hit.
Now while there is a relative abundance of material on the mandaeans, yazidis and Nestorian Christians of the area, I have been unable to find anything on the unique community of Karaites mentioned. Aside from a genetic study, which sheds little light on the history and daily life of the community here 

The daily ablutions in the Tigris (although Hit is located on the shores of the Euphrates[indeed Mikahil Kizilov claim that the Karaites of Hit immersed in the Euphrates twice daily, before each prayer see here]) are of particular interest. I would have expected that more from their Mandean neighbors; followers of John the Baptist, but very interesting nonetheless.
Here is an interesting excerpt from the NYT, that indicates that some Mandaeans, have kept this tradition even under difficult conditions.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Want To Attract Money? Try Hanging This Painting in Your Home or Office

This is probably one of the most hilarious listings I have ever seen on Ebay. Its hilarious to me mostly because the seller seems to be dead serious. 

We all know how to keep rodents away from our places of residence (hang a portrait of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir of course see). So now that your apartment or office is nice and rodent free, how do you start attracting money?

Apparently this is how. According to seller 2_bee_pollen_123 "Many people from europe said that you can attract money if you have a picture of a jewish man counting gold coins in your home or office."


Ashkenazic Worry Beads?

Jews counting money sounds like it plays right into ancient anti-semitic stereotypes but this is not exaclty so.
I came across something interesting recently in David Assaf's biography of Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin:

מנהג מניית מטבעות זהב, כאמצעי לריכוז ולהפגת מתח, מיוחס גם לרבינו תם "כשהיה רוצה ללמוד תמצית מהלכה חמורה היה נותן לפניו תל של זהובים לשמוח בהן ונתרחב לבו ולמד בכח (שו"ת מהרי"ל, לקוטים, דפוס צילום: ירושלים, תשלח עמ' 87), על תפלה ולמוד בנחת "כמונה מעות", ראה המקורות שהביא בן מנחם בשערי ספר, עמוד 92

אסף, "דרך המלכות" עמוד 235 הערה 30

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Ever Fascinating and Eccentric Karaite Sage, Avraham Firkovich.

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