Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
68
by a consideration merely of its biographical and bibliographical
aspects. The book also abounds in numerous by-paths and odd-
ities. Indeed, it is this penchant for the piquant, this fascination for
the exotic that, among other things, distinguishes Azulai from his
contemporaries. The foundations of a book on Jewish literary
curiosities are already present in
Shem ha-Gedolim.
I t is a veritable
mine of folklore acquired by Azulai from his omnivorous reading
and from his extensive travels. Just as he was drawn to the
neglected phases of Jewish literature — his commentaries on the
Minor Tractates and his interest in the Palestinian Talmud — so
was his interest fired by awesome tales of the occult, the extra-
ordinary act of ascetism, the woman who could quote the Talmud,
and the like.
Under the heading
Rahbanit
(rabbi’s wife), Azulai cites ref-
erences in Halakhic literature to women who were at home in the
Talmud and in the Codes. One of the most unusual was the wife
of R. Joshua Falk, a noted eighteenth century scholar. Her son,
R. Josepha Falk, quotes two of her legal opinions as authoritative.
A contemporary attacked the rabbi for accepting a woman’s legal
opinion as valid on grounds of the Talmudic statement that “ the
only wisdom of a woman is in the spinning wheel.” Thereupon,
Azulai launched into a discussion of the learned women mentioned
in the Talmud. He defends the citation of a woman’s Halakhic
opinion on two counts: first, the disparaging statement in the
Talmud applies to most but not to all women; secondly, in this
particular case, the decision quoted by R. Josepha Falk was not
only his mother’s, but was also his own.
Azulai is intrigued by names. “ I found written in a manuscript
that there was no
Tanna
or
Amora
who bore the name of Moses.
Therein lies a remarkable secret. And that is the meaning of the
popular saying that ‘from Moses to Moses there arose none like
Moses;’ that is to say, no
Tanna
or
Amora
was ever called Moses.”
In this category of the folklore of names, one may place Azulai’s
four-page discussion of the titles of books. The arguments in favor
of an author attaching his name to his published work are carefully
marshalled and weighed. Azulai explains why such works as the
medieval
Kol Bo
and
Sepher ha-Hinukh
do not bear their authors’
names, and how the practice arose, in post-Geonic times, for
authors to append their names to their literary work. The practice
of giving a book a title that contains some part of, or an allusion to,
the author’s name is an attempt to satisfy the two opposing points
of view: one favoring complete anonymity and the other ad-
vocating the inclusion of the writer’s name in the title. This
compromise practice, incidentally, is one that Azulai himself
sedulously follows. Each of the fifty odd books he authored bears