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

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy