DRBR 27: Captions Sought

Right, yo. Click the image to see bigger. I’ve got nothing at all on this one; as I recall, it hasn’t been catalogued yet. No artist, no location, no date, nothing.

So. What are they saying? Bring on the yeshiva jokes.


DRBR 26: In which the Mikveh is Someone Else’s Problem

Today we have:

An Open Letter to the Jewish Married Women Who Are Employed in The Millinery Center, and Also in The Garment and Fur Centers.

The flyer isn’t dated. I assume it’s sometime in the 30s when lots of Jews were working in these areas, being ministered to by our Nathan Wolf, amongst others.

[The original is in ALL CAPS. I’m going to type it in lowercase to spare your eyes.]

Due to the fact that there are many Jewish married women who are employed in the above centers, and many of these Jewish women observe the laws of Jewish family purity such as “Niddah–Mikvah–Tvillah!”…

[I never did that mitzvah with an exclamation mark, perhaps that’s why it never vibed for me?]

…also whereas many of these women, after a day’s hard labor at the office or factory, probably had to travel several miles to a modern kosher public mikvah to perform the ritual ceremony of immersion, because there was no such mikvah in the vicinity where they reside, therefore, it would be desirable and convenient to many of these women, if a modern kosher mikvah would be built in a good location on the West Side between West 14th Street and West 42nd Street, New York City.

Due to the fact that there is a very large basement in the synagogue of West 34th Street between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue, as a matter of suggestion, this particular basement of the synagogue, would be a good location to build a modern kosher mikvah there.

(This propaganda campaign about the construction of such a mikvah–has been made possible by a young American Grand Rabbi of the Lower East Side of New York City. It can also be much better if such a modern kosher mikvah can be constructed in a separate building by itself, thus assuring more privacy to the women who come to such a mikvah, than it can be done in this synagogue, because this particular synagogue usually has many worshippers during the evening services, but as the expense of building a separate building would probably be very large, therefore if the mikvah shall have to be built in the above located synagogue, it would be advisable also to build a special entrance to the basement, thus at least assuring some privacy.

You have to admire the chutzpah of this, don’t you? Someone from the LES (i.e. nowhere near 34th St) is merrily suggesting that the 34th St shul undertake a major building project because it has a nice big basement. Don’t know about then, but now that basement is a function space, and I should imagine the basement was used for meetings and suchlike then as well. It’s a bit like dispatch 7, in which another flyer was very happy to boss us about; mikveh-building campaigns are all very well, but do people have to be so bossy?

I also wonder, just a bit, whether many of these women really were travelling several miles after work to a mikveh. I had the impression that immigrant Jews were more interested in theatre and labour unions and other preoccupations of the emancipated than in mikvaot, but I readily admit that my knowledge of New York’s Jews in this period is patchy at best.

On the subject, have any of you ever heard that some women believed that touching a Torah scroll was a substitute for going to the mikveh? One Rabbi Steinberg mentioned it to me casually the other week, but didn’t have more to say than that, and I’d like to hear more about that. It makes sense, in a way, if you think that Torah scrolls are ultimately pure and holy and that that is transmitted by touch. Anyone got anything more about that?

Anyway, the 34th St shul is still there and functioning, and I happen to know the rabbi (hi, Jason!), so I called him just to see if he’d ever heard anything about this mikveh project, but he said as far as he knew there’d never been a mikveh there. Which doesn’t surprise me! I thought maybe I might go and try digging through the shul archives and seeing if the idea was ever raised at board meetings, but decided I have other things to do with my time. However, if any readers are ever interning there and don’t know what to do with themselves, they should go have a dig and see. (Talking of bossing people about. Be glad I’m not telling you to go build a mikveh.)


DRBR 25: In which Fatherly Advice is given and Ladies are Invited

Possibly the best rabbinical business card ever; the rabbi “Gives Fatherly Advice to All,” and on the back, makes sure that you know “Ladies Invited.”

Text of front:

Tel. CHickering 4-2316 [that’s when you still had to call the exchange, and there were actual live people manning a switchboard]
בית מדרש הדגול
TIMES SQUARE SYNAGOGUE
556-7th Avenue, N.Y.C.
Cor. 40th St
ALWAYS OPEN

Dr. N. Wolf, Chief Rabbi
GIVES FATHERLY ADVICE TO ALL

The back of the card is in Yiddish, reproduced below. In sum, it says if you have kaddish, yahrzeit or yizkor, you should come to a real Yiddischer schule, with a real grosser rov. A beit midrash that’s always open where you can learn and daven. The rabbi, Dr N. Wolf shlit”a, has his credentials listed, with the promise of lovely sermons. He also has an open door for family troubles, divorces, marriages and so on. It also mentions that the destitute can come to the shul and get a meal and a suit of clothes.

קדיש? יאהרצייט? יזכור?
קומט איו אן אמת׳ר ידישער שוהל
מיט אן אמת׳ן גרויסען רב
א בית מדרש תמיד עפאן
מ׳לערנט מ׳דאבינט דארט כסדר

הרב הגאון דר. נ. וואלף שליט״א
(דער יונגער געלערטער און מחבר
פון שו׳ת און אוצר החנים ומועדים)
איז אימער אין פלייס און ברענגט
אן עולם מיט זיינע זיסע דרשות.

בעראט זיך מיט איהם וועגען אללעס,
שלום קאורט אין פעמילי טראבעלס
בית דין אפפיס גט׳ן, קדושין ריידעס.

אפפיס פון התאחדות הרבנים.
בית ועד למשכילים ולומדים
דא איז ניט קיין שוהל וואו מען
שפייט אויס און מען געהט אוועק
נור דיא האוז פון אברהם אבינו
פון תורה עבודה וגמילות חסדים
ווא ארימע לייט עססען און טרינקען
און בעקומען איוך א מלבוש

There isn’t a synagogue there now. The building there presently was completed in 1923, so it’s about the right period, but it’s presently offices (it’s here on google maps, and go to street view).

Museum of Family History lists it as an ex-synagogue of Manhattan, with Dr Wolf being rabbi in 1948.

So what was he up to before that?

In 1934, the New York Times describes Rabbi Wolf on voting day: Rabbi Wolf is the lone voter in his precinct, and he votes about 11am, posing for pictures, but the election officials have to sit around until polls close at 6, whereupon they have to count the vote. Here his shul is the Times Square Temple at 240 West 38th St. By 1938, the Palm Beach Post has a similar story “…Rabbi Nathan Wolf of the Times Square Synagogue, the only person in his industrialized district eligible to vote, cast his ballot in a barbershop. Four election officials, two policemen and about 100 spectators watched the proceeding…” but he’s now in the 42nd Precinct, not the 40th, from which we deduce that they were in the 7th Ave building by then.

He was apparently a bit creative when it came to raising a minyan: In a 1936 issue of the Jewish Floridian: “Midtown New York is being treated to the sight of a sandwich man advertising Yiskor and Kaddish services at the Temple and Centre of Times Square…The rabbi of the Temple is Dr. Nathan Wolf…” Context: this is the Garment District in the 1930s, an area crammed full of Jewish immigrants working in garment manufacture. There were quite a lot of shuls in the area servicing the workers; I imagine that R’ Wolf’s “Always Open” temple was quite attractive to shift workers and so on who were trying to cram a bit of communal Judaism into their lives. Best guess is that his shul, like many others of the area, declined as the area ceased to be full of Jewish immigrants.

In 1939, he put out an encyclopedia of festivals and holidays, which is available at hebrewbooks, and if someone wants to read the introduction and tell me why he felt the need to write it, go ahead. He seems not to have got further than volume 1, Rosh haShana, and possibly volume 2, but that might be an English-language version of volume 1. Couldn’t see.

He was way into shidduchim, being the Secretary of the Shatchonim Association (shidduchim, that is–someone who arranges dates). Shadchan gets five percent of the dowry, how about that? There’s a fabulous article in the Milwaukee Journal of 1936, Tinted Toes Help Girls Get Higher Quality Husbands:

The Marriage Brokers’ association its business booming–reported Friday that tinted toe and fingernails are getting girls more and better husbands…”Every year there is more business,” announced Rabbi Nathan Wolf, secretary…”For example, the girls say ‘Do men like painted nails?’ I say ‘Listen, they want to marry a lady, a pretty one. So make yourself beautiful. Ruby, rose–they look nice. Color your nails if you want to. Even your toenails. It will be a surprise for him.’…The association believes a girl should be beautiful, young in comparison to the man’s age, well educated and have a dowry of some kind…

Plus ca change, that is to say. You should read the whole thing. By 1946 he was president of the association.

Apparently German refugee ladies were popular in the marriage brokering market, because they weren’t picky (I lost the link; you can find it on google). I do wonder what he did during the war, and after, and when he died, and suchlike, but I need to go slay orcs with my boyfriend on the computer now.

Anyway, it really is the best business card.


Using reCAPTCHA now

I’ve been getting too much spam here lately, so I’ve installed a little widget that will ask you for input to prove that you’re not a robot. It asks you to type in a word from a picture; the word is from archives which are being digitised, so you make a small contribution to advancing machine-readable knowledge.

As far as I know, it’s designed to be accessible by those with nonstandard comprehension and input methods. If that proves not to be the case, do email me and tell me about it. Don’t want to be excluding people.

Hopefully regular commenters will only have to do it once. It’s got some sort of setup where it remembers who you are.


DRBR 24: In which Newspapers are Handwritten

Click to see bigger

This caught my eye because it’s just weird to print a newspaper by lithography from a handwritten original. So I went a-searching, and discovered that this was the first Yiddish-language newspaper produced in America. Now the lithography makes much more sense; to produce a Yiddish newspaper you need a newspaper press and a set of Yiddish type. I think Yiddish books were being printed in New York at the time (based on a sort of general impression of an existing and literate community), but not periodicals, so it would make sense that the producer just didn’t have access to a newspaper press which could set Yiddish type.

They were also backed by Tammany Hall, which at this period was a rather unpleasant organisation controlling local politics, heavily Irish-immigrant, with violence and corruption, so perhaps Yiddish printers (in a nascent immigrant community) didn’t want to get involved?

Here are some sources from the internets:

The first entry in what would become a crowd of Yiddish newspapers in America, Di Yidishe Tsaytung first appeared on March 1, 1870, a self-described “weekly paper of politics, religion, history, science and art” with the English title, “The New York Hebrew Times,” emblazoned above the Yiddish logotype. Its publisher was I. K. Buchner, like so many of the first Yiddish editors a Lithuanian Jew devoted to the subjects of the New Enlightenment. It took its editorial material from German and other European Jewish periodicals, and was quickly scorned by English-language Jewish publications. The uptown Jewish Times said, “Buchner’s Yidishe Tsaytung is a weekly publication written in the Jewish and German-Polish jargon, and its contents are as laughable as its language. It provides reading material entirely suited to the recently imported Russian Jews, and is a shining example of Middle Ages superstitions and naivete.” The paper, produced by lithography, cost six cents, and loyally followed the party line of Tammany Hall. It finally expired in 1877.

–from Live and be Well, Richard F. Shepard, page 186.

The first Yiddish periodical published in America, Di yidishe tsaytung, was founded in 1870 by J.K. Buchner. He generally published his paper, which was subsidized by Tammany Hall, prior to election time or when a sensational story promised high sales…Its masthead identified it variously as a monthly and a weekly, but as few as fifteen issues appeared in a period of seven years; at most three issues are recorded extant today. The first commercially viable Yiddish dailies were published in the 1890s and in 1917 New York City alone had five dailies with a combined circulation of 600,000.

From the Jewish Theological Seminary’s exhibition catalogue People of Faith, Land of Promise.

And that bit about “three issues are recorded extant today”…this is one of the perks of doing volunteer work in a rare book room…


DRBR 23: In which the Genoese community is Appreciative

This is DR9 R30, but there’s nothing much in the catalogue about it, which is too bad. It’s a token of appreciation for someone from his co-religionists, in Italian, dated Genoa 1956 (click image to see bigger). We’re looking at it because it has a pretty border, more or less; nothing particularly innovative or unusual I think, a modern presentation of a mediaeval style, but it’s a nice example of how you can use very simple techniques to make a very dramatic document.

If you look closely, you can see that the three-dimensional effect is achieved with two shades of a colour, applied fairly arbitrarily, and white highlights. But it’s boldly done, and with vivid colours, so it fools you into thinking that it’s a lot more intricate than it really is.

This is a principle many of you would do well to absorb ;) Simple techniques done with confidence mean striking work.


More Tefillin Barbies

Presenting the latest iteration of Tefillin Barbie.

I’d keep making them like the original ones, but the ones with the long denim skirts are more or less impossible to find for a reasonable price now. I think this one’s quite cute; it’s the sort of outfit bat mitzvah girls wear.

She’s available here. Now with free shipping.


DRBR 22: In which Ink Creeps

A clip from a testimonial,* signed by appreciative members of an Italian community in 1956. In the subsequent sixty years, note how one of the substances in the black ink has spread out around the signature, giving it a sort of halo. Ink can be funny like that. It’s one of the reasons artists use “archival-quality” materials–the idea is that they aren’t going to do this. Not sure how they know.

* Before you start grumbling: you’ll see the whole thing next time, so hang in there.


DRBR 21: In which the Cardinals are Supplied

Drawer 9 has a lot of pretty things like this:

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see bigger.

They’re mostly in Italian or Latin, and they have the most lovely illuminated borders, with coats of arms of cardinals.

What they are are testimonials. When you supplied things such as furniture to cardinals’ households in seventeenth-century Rome, they might give you a testimonial, which you could use to secure business from other households. JTS has lots of these from a family named Ambron, who were merchants supplying a lot of things to a lot of people.

The testimonial might also give the holder permissions and privileges for other things. You might be allowed to be treated as a member of the cardinal’s household (“don’t mess with this person or I the cardinal will mess with you”), or to live in a fancy district outside the Jewish ghetto, or to travel freely and trade within the Holy Roman Empire. All things that regular Jews couldn’t necessarily expect. The Ambrons supplied the Vatican’s army, as well as the cardinals at home and abroad, so after a time they were guaranteed a market as well.

I admit that my eye was caught mostly by the prettiness of these, but they are also very interesting. This family, the Ambrons, eventually built up a whole network of merchant trading across Europe, part of the Jew-as-trader narrative.

I don’t know what happened to them eventually. There’s one testimonial issued in 1804 “during the Napoleonic occupation of Tuscany,” saying that they have the job of supplying the military there. I suppose that when Napoleon broke the power of the Pope and emancipated everyone including the Jews, Jews who relied on papal preference didn’t fare too well. And then when the papacy’s power came back I suppose they were much more anti-Jew than before, even if the Ambrons had been in a position to supply them with stuff, but war doesn’t always treat networks of merchants kindly.

Other pretty elements from various testimonials, which I’d like to adopt into calligraphy pieces sometime or other:


DRBR 20: In which we are Confirmed in Sweden

I thought this picture looked familiar when I saw it in the drawer. It’s the inside of the Great Synagogue at Stockholm, which still has organ at its Shabbat services, and is most particular about employing a non-Jewish organist to play.

So what is this? An old-school Reform confirmation certificate, from 1939. (Click image at left to see bigger.)

First it has space for the name and birth-date of the confirmand, and it goes on, in Swedish, “has been confirmed with official religious studies according to Mosaic law on [date]”

Then a bunch of pesukim. First couple of lines of the Shema, you shall love your neighbour as yourself, do justice love mercy and walk humbly from Micah, and a slightly random bit from Kohelet: the dust shall return to the earth it came from, yet the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

And a space for the signature of “rabbi of the Mosaic community”

It’s also endorsed along the side saying “only valid as proof of confirmation”. I wonder what else they thought people might try to use it for. Proof of Jewishness, for marriage?

With the date as 1939 I wondered if they might be worried about Nazis; I knew Sweden was neutral in the war, but apparently they weren’t clear on to what extent they’d be able to maintain that, and according to Wikipedia Sweden let the Germans use their rail network. They also ended up taking in lots of Jewish refugees, including all the Jews of Denmark–I had no idea about that. But thinking about it, I don’t suppose the Nazis cared especially if you had a confirmation certificate or not. I don’t know. Anyone have information on that one?

[Thanks to Anonymous Friend for translation from Swedish.]