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A Jewish Boswell. 139 


There is a remarkable saying in the Talmud " Nothing exists 
of which there is not some indication in the Torah." These 
words are often quoted, and some modern authors have 
pressed them so far as to find even the discoveries of Colum- 
bus and the inventions of Watt and Stephenson indicated in 
the Torah. This is certainly misapplied ingenuity. But it 
is hardly an exaggeration to maintain that there is no noble 
manifestation of real religion, no expression of real piety, 
reverence and devotion, to which Jewish literature would 
not offer a fair parallel. 

Thus it will hardly be astonishing to hear that Jewish litera- 
ture has its Boswell to show more than three centuries before 
the Scotch gentleman came to London to admire his John- 
son, and more than four centuries before the Sage of Chelsea 
delivered his lectures on Hero Worship. And this Jewish 
Boswell was only guided by the motives suggested to him in 
the old Rabbinic literature. In this literature the reverence 
of the great man, and the absorption of one's whole self in 
him, went so far that one Rabbi declared that the whole world 
was only created to serve such a man as company (Sabbath 

Again, the fact, that, in the language of the Rabbis, the term 
for studying the Law and discussing it is " to attend " or 
rather " to serve the disciples of the Wise " (rf'n ttna^) may 
also have led people to the important truth that the great 
man is not a lecturing machine, but a sort of living Law him- 
self. " When the man," said one Rabbi, " has wholly devoted 
himself to the Torah, and thoroughly identified himself with 
it, it becomes almost his own Torah." Thus people have not 
only to listen to his words but to observe his whole life, and 
to profit from all his actions and movements. 

This was what the Jewish Boswell sought to do. His name 
was Rabbi Solomon, of St. Goar, a small town on the Rhine, 
whilst the name of the master whom he served was R. Jacob, 
the Levite, better known by his initials Maharil, who filled 
the office of Chief Rabbi in Mayence and Worms succes- 
sively. The main activity of Maharil falls in the first three 

140 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

decades of the fifteenth century. Those were troublous times 
for a Rabbi. For the preceding century with its persecution 
and sufferings — one has only to think of the Black Death 
and its terrible consequences for the Jews — led to the destruc- 
tion of the Yeshiboth, the decay of the study of the Law, and 
to the dissolution of many congregations. Those which re- 
mained lost all touch with each other, so that almost every 
larger Jewish community had its own Minhag or ritual 
custom. (See Giidemann, III. i.) 

It was Maharil who bi'ought some order into this chaos, 
and in the course of time his influence asserted itself so 
strongly that the rules observed by him in the performing of 
religious ceremonies, were accepted by the great majority of 
the Jewish communities. Thus the personality of Maharil 
himself became a standing Minhag, suppressing all the other 

But there must have been something very strong and very 
great about the personality of the man who could succeed in 
such an arduous task. For we must not forget that the Min- 
hag or custom in its decay degenerates into a kind of religious 
fashion, the worst disease to which religion is liable, and the 
most difficult to cure. It is therefore an irreparable loss both 
for Jewish literature and Jewish history, that the greatest 
part of Maharil's posthumous writings are no longer extant, 
so that our knowledge about him is very small. But the 
little we know of him we owe chiefly to the communicative- 
ness of his servant, the Solomon of St. Goar whom I 
mentioned above. 

Solomon not only gave us the Minhagim of his master, but 
also observed him closely in all his movements, and con- 
scientiously wrote down all that he saw and heard, under the 
name of D^tslp 1 ?, Collectanea. It seems that the bulk of these 
Collectanea was also lost. But in the fragments that we still 
possess we are informed, among other things, how Maharil 
addressed his wife, how he treated his pupils, how careful he 
was in the use of his books, and even how clean his linen 
was. Is this not out-Boswelling Boswell ? 

The most striking point of agreement between the Boswell 
of the fifteenth and him of the eighteenth century, is that 
they both use the same passage from the Talmud to excuse 
the interest in trifles which their labours of love betrayed. 
Thus Solomon prefaces his Collectanea with the following 
words : " It is written, His leaf shall not wither. These words 
were explained by our teachers to mean that even the idle 
talk of the disciples of the wise deserves a study. Upon this 
interpretation I have relied. In my love to R. Jacob th& 

A Jewish Bosicett. 141 

Levite, I collected every thing about him. I did not refuse 
even small things, though many derided me. Everything I 
wrote down, for such was the desire of my heart." 

Thus far Solomon. Now, if we turn to the introduction to 
Bos well's Life of Johnson, we read the following sentence : 
" For this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very 
old and venerable authority quoted by our great modern 
prelate, Seeker, in whose tenth sermon there is the following 
passage : " Rabbi Kimchi, a noted Jewish commentator who 
lived about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in 
the first Psalm, 'His leaf also shall not wither' from Rabbins 
yet older than himself, that even the idle talk, so he expressed 
it, of a good man ought to be regarded." 

Croker's note to this passage sounds rather strange. This 
editor says : " Kimchi was a Spanish rabbi, who died in 1240. 
One wonders that Seeker's good sense should have conde- 
scended to quote this far-fetched and futile interpretation of 
the simple and beautiful metaphor, by which the Psalmist 
illustrates the prosperity of the righteous man." Now Kimchi 
died at least five years earlier than Croker states, but dates, 
we know from Macaulay's essay on the subject, were not 
Croker's strongest point. But this lack of sympathy one can 
hardly forgive to the editor of Boswell. Had he known what 
strong affinity there was between his most Christian author 
and the humble Jew Solomon, he would have less resented 
this condescension of Archbishop Seeker. 

As to the Jewish Boswell himself, we know very little 
about him. The only place in which he speaks about his 
own person is that in which he derives his pedigree from R. 
Eleazar ben Samuel ha-Levi (died 1357), and says that he was 
generally called " Der gute Rabbi Salman." He well deserved 
this appellation. In his Will we find the following injunc- 
tion to his children : " Be honest, and conscientious in your 
dealing with men, with Jews as well as Gentiles, be kind and 
obliging to them ; do not speak what is superfluous." And 
wisdom is surely rare enough to render inappropriate a charge 
of superfluousness against the work of those who in bygone 
times spent their energies in gathering the crumbs that fell 
from the tables of the wise.