At the Association of Jewish Libraries’ latest New York Metropolitan Area meeting, I gave a presentation regarding a few items of Rabbinic literature that are commonly found in Judaic collections and have had questions raised regarding their authenticity. The intention was to familiarize Judaic librarians with the basic facts of the controversies. I am here presenting a very basic summary of the history of these items together with citations to various sources that discuss the issues involved.
She’elot u-Teshuvot Besamim Rosh
In 1793 a book entitled She’elot u-Teshuvot Besamim Rosh was published by Rabbi Shaul Berlin, who was rabbi of Frankfurt-am-Oder and a son of the av bet din of Berlin. This work purported to be a collection of responsa written by various Rishonim, but mainly Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel (the ROSH). According to the title-page, the responsa were gathered together by a Rabbi Yitshak de Molina who had lived in the 1400s or 1500s. According to Rabbi Shaul Berlin’s introduction, Rabbi de Molina found these responsa in a volume in Alexandria and copied them from there. Rabbi Berlin claimed to have found Rabbi de Molina’s copy in Italy, a number of years previously, and copied it. Rabbi Berlin was now publishing the work from his own copy and including his own notes on the work under the title Kasa de-Harsena. The She’elot u-Teshuvot Besamim Rosh quickly aroused accusations of being fraudulent due to some strange opinions found in it, which seemed to conform more to the sensibilities of the early maskilim (with whom Rabbi Berlin was in sympathy) than to the known opinions of ROSH; see Jacobs and Zinberg for some of the statements found in the Besamim Rosh that aroused suspicion. It does seem likely that the work is indeed forged and a document admitting such has been found in the hands of one of Berlin’s friends.
1. Two examples: Responsum 251 puts forth the idea that if the situation would arise that the continued observance of the mitsvot was bringing evil onto the Jewish nation or even merely not contributing any benefit whatsoever – the mitsvot would no longer need to be observed. Responsum 375 involves a situation where the caravan that an important person is traveling with is leaving the city they have encamped in on Shabbat. The person needs to ride a horse on Shabbat in order not to be left behind by his caravan. Once left behind he would need to be supported by charity. To save him from this disgrace the responsum permits him to ride a horse on Shabbat. (This latter responsum is found in the 1793 edition of the work, but has been excised from the 1881 edition).
2. Zinberg, p.198, note 66: “In the copy of Ketav Yosher that is preserved in [Saul Berlin's friend and collaborator, David] Friedlander’s library is the inscription in Friedlander’s own hand: “This satirical document is from Rabbi Saul of blessed memory, the son of the rabbi, the president of the rabbinic court, our teacher and master, Rabbi Tzevi Hirsch of Berlin, written on the occasion of the persecution of Rabbi Herz Wessely. He is also the author of Besamim Rosh, which he gave out as the work of an ancient gaon.”
“Forging Jewish memory : “Besamim Rosh” and the invention of pre-emancipation Jewish culture” in Jewish History and Jewish Memory [Hanover, N.H. : University Press of New England, 1998], p.70-88
Theology in the Responsa [Boston : Routledge, 1975], Appendix I, p.347-352
A History of Jewish Literature [New York : KTAV, 1976], v.8, “The Berlin Haskalah”, p.197-2003
אברמוביץ, צבי יצחק
בשמים ראש באספקלריה חסידית
תגים ג-ד (תשלב) 56-58
ופרקנו עולה מעלינו
כותרת ראשית 109 (2.1.1985) 28-29
גוטל, נריה מ.
יחסו של הראיה קוק לספר בשמים ראש
JSIJ – Jewish Studies : an Internet Journal
סמט, משה שרגא
ר’ שאול ברלין וכתביו
קרית ספר מג (תשכח) 429-441
בשמים ראש של ר’ שאול ברלין :ביבליוגרפיה, היסטוריוגרפיה ואידאולוגיה
קרית ספר מח (תשלג) 509-523
על שות בשמים ראש ומחברו
מספרא לסייפא 44-45 (תשנג) 243-253
הערות ר’ צבי חיות ור’ אברהם קלוגר לבשמים ראש
סיני עב (תשלג) 376-372