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


The Assassination of a Nuclear Scientist Is a Reminder That Iran Has Been Breaking the Rules for Years

Nov. 30 2020

On Friday, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the chief scientist behind the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weapons program, was killed in what appears to have been a carefully planned and executed operation—widely thought to have been Israel’s doing. In 2011, Fakhrizadeh was given a new position as head of the Organization for Defensive Innovation and Research (known by its Persian acronym SPND), which was a front for Tehran’s illegal nuclear activities. Richard Goldberg explains:

Last year, the State Department revealed that SPND has employed as many as 1,500 individuals, including nuclear-weapons scientists [who] “continue to carry out dual-use research and development activities, of which aspects are potentially useful for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-delivery systems.”

How could Fakhrizadeh and SPND continue to operate during the 2015 Iran nuclear deal when the deal was premised on Iran’s commitment to an exclusively peaceful nuclear program? Indeed, the existence of SPND and the discovery of Iran’s nuclear archive [by the Mossad in 2018] paints a picture of regime that never truly halted its nuclear-weapons program—but instead separated its pieces, keeping its personnel fresh and ready for a time of Iran’s choosing.

That reality was deliberately obfuscated to sell the Iran nuclear deal. Iran-deal supporters wanted the world to believe that the ayatollahs had left their nuclear ambitions in the past. . . . We now know Iran lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency, [which is charged with policing Tehran’s compliance], and to the participants of the nuclear deal. Today, the IAEA is again investigating Iran’s concealment of undeclared nuclear material, activities, and sites.

President-elect Joe Biden can no longer pretend that the Iran deal prevented the Islamic Republic’s nuclear advancement. It did not. Nor can Biden’s incoming secretary of state or national security adviser—both of whom were instrumental players in putting the deal together—pretend that Iran can return to compliance with that flawed deal without addressing all outstanding questions about the archive, SPND, and its undeclared activities.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy