How a 400-Year-Old Commentary on the Book of Ruth Became a 19th-Century Bestseller

In 1891, a commentary on the book of Ruth titled Shoresh Yishai (“The Root of Jesse”) was published in Sighet—the birthplace of Elie Wiesel and a major ḥasidic center in what is now Romania, and was then Hapsburg Hungary. Elli Fischer describes the work:

Shoresh Yishai was composed by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, best known as the author of [the Friday night hymn] L’khah Dodi, and first published in Constantinople in 1561, during the author’s lifetime. The commentary is quite extensive; despite the extreme brevity of the book of Ruth, the first edition of Shoresh Yishai is 191 pages. Alkabetz discusses a wide range of topics, many of which are tangential to the text. Shoresh Yishai was republished in Lublin a few decades later. . . . In the late 1800s, a young man named David Shmuel Katz of Felsöneresznicze, Hungary (now Novoselytsya, Ukraine) decided to reissue the book.

At the time, it was common for publishers and authors to receive orders for a book in advance, known as prenumeranten, to fund its publication. Through careful study Fischer and his colleagues were able to determine some 400 locales—all in the vicinity of the author’s hometown, in what is now the intersection of Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Ukraine—from which the prenumeranten originated. The entire list of subscribers takes up a full 30 pages, far more than what could be expected for such a book:

The typesetter . . . writes in a colophon that David Shmuel Katz died before he could complete the work, leaving his wife, Nisl Gitl, a widow, and his four young children orphans. He explains that they have nothing and pleads with “our brothers, the children of Israel” to perform an “act of kindness” and purchase the book. Then there is a letter from the widow, Nisl Gitl.

After her husband’s death, it was her brother, Tzvi Elimelekh Naiman, who undertook to travel . . . to every one-horse town in the countryside . . . to sell his brother-in-law’s book in support of his sister and her four young children. [But the widow’s letter doesn’t] capture the extraordinary response of the thousands of people who transformed this book into a bestseller out of compassion for a widow and four orphans.

It is fitting, Fischer concludes, that the Shoresh Yishai is a commentary on the book of Ruth—traditionally read on the holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown this evening—since, according to the Talmud, it was included in the Bible because it is a tale of deeds of lovingkindness.

Read more at Hamapah

More about: Book of Ruth, Books, Hungarian Jewry, Shavuot


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy