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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Of Christian Origin.
Primarily, a favorable opinion given by rabbis or scholars as recommendation for a book composed wholly or partly in the Hebrew language. The Approbation is not of Jewish origin any more than the censorship. Blau correctly remarks: "Neither the Bible nor the Talmud nor the medieval Jewish literature knows of approbations. No prophet ever asked for the consent of any authority to his promulgations, nor any doctor of the Talmud to his opinion, nor any philosopher to his system. Even in the Middle Ages, when the Jewish religion, influenced by its surroundings, assumed more than ever the character of an authoritative religion, it did not, as far as I know, ever occur that any author had the excellence of his halakic work 'approved' by a recognized authority. Every literary production had to find the recognition which it merited by its own intrinsic worth. There was no previous approbation, just as little as there was no previous censure" ("Jew. Quart. Rev.," 1897, p. 175). It was the Christian clergy, anxious concerning the influence which might be exerted by certain thoughts and ideas over the multitude, who called both Approbation and censure into existence. Examples are to be found as early as the fourth century of certain books designated by the Church as being forbidden to the faithful for perusal.
The invention of printing materially helped the spread of bad books as well as of good ones, and therefore caused a still closer scrutiny by the Catholic Church of all publications. Alexander VI. (1501) decreed that a license for theological books appearing in any diocese in Germany must be secured from the respective bishop; and in 1515, at the fifth Lateran Synod, Leo X. extended the same rule to all Catholic countries with the threat of heavy penalties for non-compliance. But even these early papal bulls had been preceded by regulations concerning publications in Cologne, Mayence, and other German cities, also in Spain and in Venice. In 1480 a "Nosce te ipsum" with four approbations was published in Venice, and a book, with an Approbation by the patriarch of Venice, at Heidelberg (Reusch, "Der Index der Verbotenen Bücher," 1:56, Bonn, 1883-85). It is about this time that Jewish approbations (haskamot) first appeared. They are of three classes, embodying (1) Commendation; (2) Privilege; (3) License.
(1) Commendation: Commendatory haskamot are original approbations serving merely to describe the merits of the work, a purpose frequently attained by ordinary eulogies. In them it was sought to direct the attention of Jewish readers to the book. Of this kind are the haskamot to Jacob Landau's "Agur" (ed. Naples, 1487-92), by Judah Messer Leon, Jacob b. David Provenzalo, Ben Zion ben Raphael , Isaac ben Samuel Ḥayyim, Solomon Ḥayyim ben Jehiel Raphael ha-Kohen, and Nethanel ben Levi of Jerusalem. Leon's haskamah is as follows:
("I have examined the work submitted to me by the Reverend Jacob Landau, who has produced, under the title 'Agur,' a collection of the laws touching the daily ritual and that of the festivals and all that is permitted or prohibited thereon, together with all matters belonging thereunto. It is a work which 'giveth pleasant words' concerning the customs and observances and the decisions upon them by expert scholars; and therefore have I set my signature unto 'these droppings of the honeycomb,' these words of beauty. "JUDAH (3), surnamed Messir Leon.")
(De Rossi, "Annales Hebræo-Typographici," § 15:147; Steinschneider, in Ersch and Gruber, "Allg. Encyklopädie," 28:31, note 41; idem, "Cat. Bodl." No. 5564; Wiener, "Friedländiana," pp. 142, 143.) Rosenthal's statement in "Yodea' Sefer," No. 1249, that the haskamah in "Sefer ha-MekaḦ weha-Mimkar," is the first Approbation, as well as the suppositions of Perles, "Beiträge zur Gesch. der Hebr. und Aram. Studien," p. 202, note 1, and Kaufmann, in "Jew. Quart. Rev." 10:383, "that Elijah Levita's 'BaḦur,' the first edition of which appeared at Rome in 1518, contained the first approbation to be found in Jewish books," is therefore shown to be erroneous.
These approbations very soon attained considerable importance in the internal relations of the Jews; for they not only served to lay stress upon the excellencies of the works to which they referred, but were also the only protection against piracy which the Jewish printers of that age possessed. They thus came to be, in the second place, a species of privilege.
(2) Privilege: Of this class is the haskamah in Elijah Levita's "BaḦur," ed. Rome, 1518, which Perles (c.) has reprinted. "It commences with an appreciation of the value of these books, dwells on the expense incurred in the printing, and then threatens with excommunication any one who should dare to reprint them within the next ten years." From this time the threat of excommunication became a standing formula in the haskamot furnished by reputable rabbis to literary productions. They strove to secure to the author or publisher all his rights in the book, under penalty of either the "greater" or "lesser" excommunication, for a term of five, ten, or fifteen years.
Publication Without Approbation Forbidden.
(3) License: Approbations of this class have their origin in the censorship. The outbreaks of persecution that arose in Venice in the middle of the sixteenth century, and were directed against the Talmud and other Jewish books, necessitated a censorship, which occupied itself not only with manuscripts and books about to be printed for the first time, but also with books which had already been printed and published. It was in the interest of the Jews themselves to remove all such anti-Christian expressions as might fan into flame the continuously glowing ashes of bigotry. Pope Julius III. decreed (Aug. 12, 1553), at the suggestion of the inquisitorgeneral, the confiscation and burning of all copies ofthe Talmud belonging to Jews. On the first day of the New-Year festival 5314, in order that the sorrow for their holy books might be made the keener, these autos da fé of the books began (Perles, p. 221, note 1; Steinschneider, in Ersch and Gruber, "Allg. Encykl. p. 30; Zunz, "S. P.," p. 336; Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 9:336). On June 21, 1554 (Tammuz 21, 5314, as may be calculated from the Hebrew chronogram ), a convention of Italian rabbis was held at Ferrara, presided over by R. Meïr Katzenellenbogen of Padua. They resolved, among other matters, that thereafter no Hebrew book, not then printed, should be published without the written approval of three rabbis and the president of the congregation, and that all Jewish purchasers of books printed without such Approbation should be liable to a fine of 25 gold scudi ($24.25), which was to be turned into the Jewish poor-box. (These resolutions, accompanied by notes by Levi and Halberstamm, were published in Brody in 1879 as a reprint from the journal "Ibri Anokhi." They were also published in "PaḦad YiẓḦaḳ," p. 158, Berlin, 1888, edited by the Mekiẓe Nirdamim Society.) From this period the congregational authorities and rabbis were invested with the power to grant and to refuse permission to print in the chief cities where publishing-houses existed (Steinschneider, c. p. 30; Popper "Censorship of Hebrew Books," pp. 94 et seq.).
Paragraph 12 of the resolutions of the Frankfort Rabbinical Synod of 1603 prohibited the publication of any book in Basel or anywhere in Germany without permission of three rabbis (Horowitz, "Die Frankfurter Rabbinerversammlung vom Jahre 1603," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1897; appended to the invitation issued by the Israel. Religionsschule). Paragraph 37 of the regulations of the Portuguese Talmud Torah community in Amsterdam reads: "No Jew shall print books in Amsterdam in a foreign or in the Hebrew language without permission of the 'Mahamad,' under penalty of the confiscation of the books" (Castro, "De Synagoge der Port. Israel. Gemeente te Amsterdam," appendix B, p. 40, The Hague, 1875). The manuscript, in Spanish, of these regulations is in the Rosenthal Library, Amsterdam. In the same way, several governments—for instance, in the case of books printed in Prague —decreed that the rabbinate of the country should be responsible through its Approbation for every Hebrew book published (Kaufmann, in "Jew. Quart. Rev." 10:384).
That the enemies of the Jews did not approve of the right to give or withhold haskamot thus conferred upon the rabbis and presidents of the congregations appears from the following passage in Schudt ("Jüd. Merkwürdigkeiten," 4:206): "More harmful yet and more evil is it that the Jewish rabbis and presidents of their communities not only censor and approve the books printed or published for or by them, but also grant prohibitions preventing others from printing them, and place their haskamah or consent in front of the book; which certainly is a grievous and illegal encroachment upon the rights of the magistrates and the privileges of the sovereign." Wagenseil in his book "Prolegom. ad Tela Ignea Satani," p. 26, styles it sheer impudence on their part, and says, "It is an intolerable and shameful crime," attempting to show its unreasonableness, and the injury it works to the authorities, in most emphatic words.
Not Welcomed by the Jews.
In spite of all these regulations, the custom of asking for approbations from rabbis and congregational authorities did not at first secure much foothold among Jews, especially among the Jews of Italy. Regarded as a Christian custom, it was never welcomed. Thus, in spite of the solemn Ferrara resolutions, Shem-Ṭob b. Shem-Ṭob's "Sefer ha-Emunot" appeared in Ferrara itself in 1557 without any Approbation, and the editio princeps of Menahem Zion ben Meïr's commentary on the Pentateuch was published in 1559 by Vicenti Conti in Cremona, also without the requisite haskamah. But in the second half of the seventeenth century, owing to the excitement and tension induced by the appearance of the false Messiah, Shabbethai Ẓebi, there began to be quite a lively demand for approbations; and in the eighteenth century, with the exception of a few prayer-books and Judæo-German productions, there was scarcely a work published without a rabbinical haskamah. Faithful Jews would not read a book which lacked one. The fact that Moses Mendelssohn dared to publish his translation of the Pentateuch without a rabbinical Approbation appears to have been one of the reasons for its proscription by the rabbis in many places, and for its being publicly burned, as at Posen (Mendelssohn, "Schriften," 6:447).
The examination of books submitted for Approbation was often a very superficial one. The bitter results of such carelessness are shown by the history of that sly rascal, Ḥayyun (see Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 10:315, and Kaufmann, in "Rev. Et. Juives," 36:256). Cautious rabbis, who looked with disfavor upon the popular mania for writing, avoided, as far as possible, issuing these licenses for new works. Thus in Poland the rabbis of "The Four Lands" agreed to grant them formally and only in exceptional cases, instead of giving them, as had hitherto been the case, at their casual meetings at fairs and annual markets, where large numbers of Jews came together (compare Steinschneider, in Ersch and Gruber, c. p. 31; and Dembitzer, "Abhandlung über die Synode der Vier Länder in Polen und Lithauen," Cracow, 1891; London, "Abne Zikkaron," in "Ha-Modia' la-Ḥodashim").
Of Historical Value.
Since approbations were frequently sought by traveling scholars, who depended for their livelihood upon the publication of their works, many a book is found to contain ten, twelve, and even more approbations by the various rabbis whom the author visited upon his travels. These haskamot, therefore, afford valuable contributions to the history of Jewish congregations and of particular rabbis. Many names of rabbis and presidents of the seventeenth century may be said to emerge from obscurity mainly through these printed approbations. Moritz Pinner was the first (Berlin, 1861)to register the names of signers of haskamot in his uncompleted catalogue of 389 manuscripts and publications. Zuckermann followed Pinner with his catalogue of the Seminary Library in Breslau (Breslau, 1870), giving the abodes as well as the names of signers. Meyer Roest, in his catalogue of the Rosenthal Library, sets down not only the names and abodes, but also the Hebrew day, month, and year of issue of the approbations, thus contributing a real service to Jewish literature. It is a pity that Samuel Wiener, in his description of the Friedland Library, felt compelled to limit himself and did not follow Roest's example entirely. An index to approbations, which would be of great service to Jewish scholars, can be successfully accomplished only by the extension in this direction of Wiener's catalogue.
Specimen of a Haskamah (Permit of the Rabbis).
Whereas, there have appeared before us the wise, the perfect one, etc., Isaac Gershon, and his worthy associate, Menahem Jacob Ashkenazi, and have testified that they have gone to much labor and trouble, have expended great sums, and have spared no expense, all in order that they may bring to light, in as beautiful and excellent an edition as possible, the secrets of a work of great worth, through which the public good will be advanced, viz., the book called "Sefer Bedeḳ ha-Bayit," by that sage, that wonder of his generation, our master and teacher, Joseph Caro of blessed memory;
And whereas, the work is to be completed, as a service to God, with the utmost beauty and perfection;
And whereas, they fear lest they sow and another reap, doing all their work in vain, and lest they make all their expenditures only "to leave to others their wealth";
Therefore they have sought and have been granted aid from the city through the uttering of a ban, and the publishing of a rabbinic notice to the effect that no injury or harm shall come to them through any man.
And whereas, permission has likewise been granted them by the nobles, the Cattaveri (may their majesties be exalted!), that their desire and wish should be fulfilled;
Now, therefore, we decree, under threat of excommunication, ban, and anathema through all the curses written in the Bible, that no Israelite, man or woman, great or small, be he who he may, shall purpose to publish this work, or to aid any one else in publishing it, in this or any other city within ten years, except it be by the will and permission of the associates above mentioned;
And let it be likewise understood that by this decree no Israelite is allowed to receive any copy of the book mentioned from any man, Jew or Christian, be he who he may, through any manner of deceit, trickery, or deception, but only from the above-mentioned Menahem Jacob Ashkenazi. For thus it is desired by the scholar, etc., mentioned above, that all copies of the above-mentioned book shall be published and sold by Menahem Jacob.
Upon any one who may transgress against this our decree—may there come against him "serpents for whose bite there is no charm," and may he be infected "with the bitter venom of asps"; may God not grant peace to him, etc.
But he that obeys—may he dwell in safety and peace like the green olive-tree and rest at night under the shadow of the Almighty; may all that he attempts prosper; may the early rain shower with blessings his people and the sheep of his pasture.
"And ye who have clung to the Lord your God are all of you alive this day."
Thus sayeth Zion Sarphati, and thus sayeth Leb Sarvil, Baruch ben Samuel.
On the 17th day of Nisan, 1600, I published this ban, by command of the associates mentioned above, in every synagogue in the community of Venice.
Eliezer Levi, Beadle of the Community.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Approbation'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/approbation.html. 1901.