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.

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