Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yes! Immigrants davened and wore tzitzis and tefillin on board ship en route to America! And without throwing them overboard afterward either!

In the early 1900's, in a period of massive immigration to the United States of America, a journalist by the name of Edward Alfred Steiner wrote a very informative book about the travelers, entitled On the trail of the immigrant. Part of the preparation for it was playing the part of an immigrant himself and sailing with them.

The book has been digitized and is available free of charge online.

On page forty five of the book, the following is stated "No morning, no matter how tumultuous the waves, but the Russian Jews will put on their phylacteries, and kissing the sacred fringes which they wear upon their breasts, will turn towards the East, and the rising Sun, to where their holy temple stood." Keep in mind, that at that time, Litvishe areas such as Lithuania and Belarus (White Russia) were also Russian, in the sense that they were under Russian rule, being part of the Russian empire pre WWI. And that people could get pretty seasick during a long journey through the ocean, especially in poor conditions in steerage. But they they still davened every morning religiously.

(Source via a presentation by Professor Gur Alroey of the University of Haifa)

And then some people go around slandering the early immigrants, spreading the notion that they threw their tefillin overboard when they saw the statue of liberty in New York harbor (I await a reliable, contemporary source for such a claim by the way), and abandoned Yiddishkeit with glee? The author, a keen observer of life aboard ship, doesn't mention such a thing. And it doesn't exactly fit in with people davening religiously aboard ship, even in stormy weather on the high seas (ocean liners over a hundred years ago were not as advanced as today's cruise ships, which are not perfect either, by the way).

Those who slander such holy Jews en masse, by claiming or implying that they typically engaged in such acts of desecration of the holy and open rebellion against Hashem and their faith, commit a serious aveira, a great sin.

Hassidic attitude to dance expressed in song lyrics

א רקידה'לע, (a dance), a song by singer Beri Weber, on his Beezras Hashem Yisbarach release, a piece of which can be heard by going to the linked page (fourth clip), includes the following among its lyrics

כשבן אדם מרקד, מגביה למעלה, משפיע למטה, נחת און השפעות ברענגט

translation - when a person dances, he lifts himself upward (heavenward), and creates good influence below (on earth), bringing nachas and hashpaos (נחת and good influences), as well as, in Yiddish,

די כח איז זייער גרויס. מיט יעדען טאנץ און יעדען שפרינג, נחת און השפעות ברענגט

translation - The power (of dance) is very great. Every dance and every jump brings nachas and hashpaos (נחת and good influences).  

Anyone know where the lyrics are from?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

יומא דהילולא דקדישא של - מרן החזו"א זצוק"ל? Hassidic terminology at a Litvishe minyan

On a recent Shabbos afternoon, I saw a sign at a nusach Ashkenaz, 'Yeshivishe' minyan advertising a special shiur on the occasion of יומא דהילולא דקדישא של - מרן החזו"א זצוק"ל (sic).

A good illustration of the confusion that has afflicted some people recently.

They want to mark the yahrzeit of the Chazon Ish in a Litvishe way - by having a special shiur. A nice idea. But at the same time they use Hassidic terminology, by using the expression יומא דהילולא דקדישא (actually should really be, leshitasam, קדישא, not דקדישא) instead of the Litvishe/Ashkenaz expression of יאהרצייט. This is not a Hassidic minyan, nor was the Chazon Ish Hassidic. So why the Hassidic terminology?

And it is not merely an issue of different words that mean the same thing. There is a difference between the Ashkenaz/Litvish approach to a death-anniversary, called a yahrzeit, and the Hassidic one to the same occasion, which they refer to as hillulah, which the different terminology reflects.

The Ashkenaz conception is that yahrzeit is a solemn occasion, a time for introspection and fasting. As brought down in Shulchan Aruch, מנהג אשכנז is to fast on a יאהרצייט. By contrast, the conception of הילולא (wedding/celebration), used by Hassidim, is that the day is a holiday, a time for celebration. Therefore Hassidim make a festive meal and celebrate on their Rebbe's יאהרצייט. By contrast, Litvaks give a special shiur on the יאהרצייט of the ראש ישיבה, and they use the old Ashkenaz term of יאהרצייט.

Bottom line -  הילולא and Litvish don't go together. Let's keep terms and traditions consistent.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lipkowitz or Lefkowitz? How a Litvak is transformed into a Hungarian

One of the venerable ראשי ישיבה in ארץ ישראל is הרב מיכל יהודה ליפקוביץ שליט"א

A real Litvak, from the town of Volozhin I believe.

However, it is common to see his surname rendered in English as Lefkowitz, which to my knowledge is a Hungarian Jewish surname.

How did this happen? How did a Litvak become Hungarian in his later years?

I believe that the people doing the transliterating were not familiar with the Litvishe surname Lipkowitz/Lifkowitz, which is not so common, so they confused it with the more well-known to them Hungarian name Lefkowitz.

Should we let this conversion stand?

Thanks to a friend from New England for pointing this out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Geffen = gezund, parnosso, nachas?

Once again, I have encountered the גפן = געזונד, פרנסה, נחת vertel.

Lipa Schmeltzer was singing it in a 'niggun simcha' in his le'eila ule'eila release playing on an internet radio station.

I had encountered it a number of years ago, in the dinner journal of a supposedly Litvishe Yeshiva. In a message from one of the roshei Yeshiva, he blessed the Yeshiva supporters, with 'birkas gefen', gezund, parnosso, nachas. It appeared stranger to me at the time. I was surprised that a Litvishe Rosh Yeshiva would say that. Something seemed wrong to me. But I couldn't fully articulate what about it bothered me. Now I think I can do a better job at it though, so here goes, בעזרת השם.

1) gezund (health) is a Yiddish word, while parnossoh and nachas are not. So it is sort of weird to have a roshei teivos with a Hebrew word allegedly standing for words in more than one language.

2) Why is a Litvishe Rosh Yeshiva using such a Chassidishe type vertel? Does he have not have any substantive Torah thought to share?

Does anyone know where the vertel comes from?