Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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S h a p i ro
S o u rc e o f Jew is h H i s t o r y
in English; for example: “Bet Midrash on the Sand,” “Minyan
on the Hill,” “Klaus at the Station,” “Glaziers’ Congregation,”
among numerous others.
Most of the lists are found in rabbinic works; the number of
haskalah works are probably not even one percent of the total.
The great success in obtaining subscriptions derived from the fact
that these books were not in the genre of entertainment or of
light reading. Being largely related to the Shulhan Arukh, their
publication was regarded as promoting the observance of the
Jewish law, and thereby strengthening the Jewish way of life
in the towns of Eastern and Central Europe. To print the book
was like spreading the Torah, and therefore a mitzvah. The sub­
scribers were categorized not as “benefactors” or “purchasers,”
but as “supporters of the Torah” (tomkhei d’ureita) , assured they
would earn a mitzvah to memorialize their names in a book of
There were marked differences in fund-raising potentials be­
tween various Jewish settlements. Authors from Lithuania were
generally not adept in soliciting subscribers for their works. The
number of towns they visited was invariably few, and the extent
of their travels was limited. A Lithuanian Gaon, Rabbi J. J. Rei-
nes, lamented about himself, “I am not blessed with the talents
or the faults that are necessary for this purpose.”
Among Galician Jews, however, the record is much better. Their
books often list thousands of subscribers from numerous towns
and villages. The greatest success was achieved by Hungarian Jews,
whose publications contain as many as 5,000 names from over
500 different localities. Much folklore and wit, both favorable
and unfavorable, are directed in these collections towards the
authors and the donors. In the period under discussion, the
average author sold more copies of his books through such sub­
scriptions than modern authors of a Yiddish or Hebrew work sell
in the United States today.
Identification of Place Names
One of Mr. Kagan’s most difficult and complicated problems
was to identify the place names in the lists and volumes. Where
most of the books had appeared, the official names of the towns
were considerably Judaized. Their spelling was phonetic—as the
Jews heard and spoke the names, rather than according to the
established spelling in the language of the country. For example,
the Polish town of Rzeszow became “Reisha” for the Jews; Bielaya
Cerkov in Russian, meaning “white cloister,” was changed to
“Sadeh Lavan,” or white field. There were also many instances of