A Sweet Treat from Crete

Material history is often overlooked, and the material history of halakhah is no exception. As new products and technologies become available, they change life dramatically and enable new ways of thinking about the world. Coffee is probably the most famous example of material history shaping intellectual and halakhic history (thanks to Elliot Horowitz’s indispensable case study), but it is one of myriad examples. Consider, for example, the affect that refrigeration had on the study of the laws of salting meat (melichah). What was once common knowledge has become an area of specialization. And so forth.

Here is another example: Some innovative Mediterranean sugar refiners made Pesach a good deal more enjoyable.

Section 48 of the Minhagim of R. Shalom of [Wiener-]Neustadt states that the common custom is to refrain from eating sugar on Pesach, because flour was added to the mixture in the final stage of the refining process. Then, on the last day of one Pesach in Neustadt, a member of the study circle named R. Zanvel brought sugar from Crete that he was certain had no flour in it, so they all partook from the sugar he brought.

I do not know why flour was added during the refinement process, and why that step was skipped in Crete, but this episode takes place in the late-14th or early-15th century, just as the Cretan sugar industry began to flourish, along with other Christian-controlled areas of the Mediterranean Basin.

From J.H. Galloway, “The Mediterranean Sugar Industry”

J.H. Galloway’s article, “The Mediterranean Sugar Industry” (Geographical Review 67:2 [1977], pp. 177-194), offers a fascinating view of the industry in the period after the Black Plague, the decline of certain sugar-producing areas, and the rise of others. Apropos of an episode that took place on Pesach, the article also describes the consolidation of the industry on plantations and the increasing use of slave labor (he mentions Greeks, Bulgarians, Turks, and Tartars) in sugar production – long before the New World entered the picture.

Perhaps it is thanks to this R. Zanvel that Ashkenazim no longer refrain from sugar on Pesach. It seems that we dodged a bullet there. There is one other suggestive aspect of this source.

During this period, when Crete was ruled by Venice, it was known by a different name: Candia. In the source mentioned above, the Hebrew place name is קנדי (which, based on the evidence, we feel comfortable identifying as Crete or Heraklion, the island’s largest city). In English sources, too, the island and/or its largest city are known as Candy!

Did the Cretan (Candian) sugar industry and its method of refining without flour give us the with the word “candy”? Alas, no etymological dictionaries make this connection. It was a fun hypothesis, though.

Here is the passage from R. Shalom’s Minhagim:

מנהגי מהר”ש מנוישטט סימן מח
וכן נמי נוהגין שלא לאכול צוקר בפסח כי משימין בתוכה קמח, ואע”פ כשמבשלין הקנים שיש בהם הצוקר מבשלין אותן ד’ או ה’ פעמים שאין משימין בו קמח, מ”מ באחרונה משימין קמח ביורה, ולכן אין אוכלין שום צוקר בפסח. הגה’. שמעתי ממה”ר שלום ז”ל שפעם אחת אכלו הלומדים יחדיו בעיר נוישטט בי”ט האחרון של פסח, ונתן להם הח”ר זנוויל ז”ל צוקר שהביא עמו מעיר קנדי, ואמר שברי לו שאין בתוכו שום חימוץ ואכלוהו עמו

The Bessarabian Book Tour and the Monumental Commentary that Wasn’t

R. Shalom Lukianovsky wrote a monumental commentary on two sections of Shulhan Arukh. Despite his best efforts, you have never seen it. Here is his story.

Have any of our readers studied Shulhan Arukh with the Yad Shalom commentary on Orah Hayim and Yoreh De’ah? We’d be surprised if anyone has heard of it. We didn’t until last week, and in truth it is very obscure. So why are we writing about it?

This little rabbit hole begins with the hypothesis that in subscriber lists (prenumeranten), when places are not listed in alphabetical order, they trace the route that the author or agent took when traveling from town to town, selling subscriptions to fund the publication of the book. This seems like a reasonable assumption that, if true, can provide all kinds of information. For instance, it can perhaps tell us about the routes themselves and the relationships between communities. It can show who the author considered his primary audience. Did he visit only the bigger towns or every one-horse village? And does the genre of the work affect such a decision?

We recently had an opportunity to test the hypothesis. Elli was working on identifying places that appear in responsa (the overlap between HaMapah’s initial project and the Prenumeranten Project is evident) and was stumped by Divrei Malkiel 5:152, addressed to one R. Shalom, the rav of a place called פליאריא. No such place appears in Kagan’s Sefer Ha-Prenumeranten, and JewishGen’s Communities Database turned up nothing. However, a Google search showed that פליאריא appears as the third entry in the subscriber list of a work called מפענח נעלמים (Piotrków, 1912). Now, פליאריא is nowhere near the beginning of the alphabet, and in fact, over 80 places appear in this subscriber lists, in an order that is not alphabetical. We could test our hypothesis here.

It also turned out that the author of Mefa’ane’ah Ne’elamim is R. Shalom Lukianovsky, the rav of פלאריא. He wrote another book, too: Yad Shalom (Piotrków, 1910). There, the title page and all of the approbations list the place as פליאריא. So we can establish that פלאריא and פליאריא are the same place, and that in all likelihood, the R. Shalom of פליאריא addressed in Divrei Malkiel is the same R. Shalom who penned these two books. We are also a bit closer to identifying the town, as the title pages place it in the Russian province of Podolia. 

Here was a good opportunity to test the hypothesis, and on a list of 80 places, no less. Let’s look at the first page of subscribers to Mefa’ane’ah Ne’elamim:

To be honest, none of these places are household names, but a few were familiar to us. Both Maharsham and R. Tenenboim wrote responsa to a R. Yehiel Aharon Lerner in אקנא, which we had identified as Okny, Ukraine. We had identified באלטא and באלטע as Balta, Ukraine, a long time ago, though we had to make certain that the sixth place here was not Balti, Moldova. Both Balta and Balti are relatively close to Okny (though Balta is much closer), so the hypothesis, at first glance, seemed reasonable. The next question was whether we could find קאסי and בערזילא along the route between Okny and either Balti or Balta. 

Enter JewishGen’s Community finder, a phenomenal resource. For present purposes, three features are really helpful: first, it lists historical names for each place, and second, it lists (with links) all places within a 30-mile radius that had a Jewish community, and finally, it shows the place on a map. It also has links to other resources on the given place. For instance, here is the page for Balta, Ukraine:

Right away, we see likely candidates for places adjacent to Balta on the subscriber list: Olhopil for אליפאלי and Savran for סאווראן. We also see that Krasni Okny (that’s Okny) is 29 miles from Balta. On the map, we see a place called Kosy, which looks like a very likely match for קאסי, though the site does not list it as having a Jewish community. Using the site’s tooltip, we see this:

Kotovsk used to be called Birzula, which seems a likely match with בערזילא. And it is right where we expect it to be. The route from Okny to Balta takes one straight through Kosy and Kotovsk:

We can now work back from Okny to find the first three places visited. Sure enough, all three are small villages to the north/northeast of Okny: Flora (פליאריא), Stavrove (סטאוויראווי), and Chubivka (טשובווקי). One other significant point is that the first town is listed as סטנציא טשובווקי – the first word means “station”, so we would expect to find a train station there. Indeed, “Chubovka Station” is in Chubivka. Another point is that in the front matter of Yad Shalom, the author’s mailing address is given as Okny. Given the proximity and size difference, this makes perfect sense.

We have now identified the first 9 places on the list and can see the route that the author took, starting at the closest train station to his place of residence. Once we had these, the next three were easy to find using the methods described above. 12 down, 69 to go:

Alas, the next two places, באמינעצק and באקימי remain unidentified, and the two after that seem to backtrack toward the starting point. The place after that, though, is another train station, this one in מארדארווקי, easily identified as Mardarivka. It is along the same rail line as Chubivka. Jumping ahead a bit, the only other station mentioned in the list is in Zatyshshya (זאטישי), which is along the same line. This indicates that the author’s travels were not only along roads, but also seems to have included train travel. It was also becoming clear that it was not just one journey, but a series of journeys, each of which covered a different territory.

In all, we managed to identify 76 of the 81 places (many of which we did not find in any existing databases. In addition to the two mentioned, we also could not identify פיטאצק (near Odessa), ציסארסקי (between Cahul, Moldova and Reni, Ukraine), and ניקולשפאן (which seems to be in the region of Otaci, Moldova and Mohyliv-Podil’s’kyi, Ukraine). [UPDATE: A follower on Twitter has identified פיטאצק with Severynivka, formerly Potocki. Right where it should be.]

We can also show that the author took 6 to 8 different trips, during which he covered the entirety of Bessarabia (which corresponds roughly to today’s Moldova) as well as the parts of the Podolia and Kherson governorates that border Bessarabia. Most of the trips began close to Flora and proceeded outward, away from it. On these trips he sold c. 850 book subscriptions. 

We compared the places we identified with the data that can be gleaned from a 1919 US survey map of Bessarabia, an astounding map that shows the ethnographic makeup of every populated place in Bessarabia.

In the interactive map below, each journey we hypothesize is in a different color, and the order corresponds to the order that the places appear in the subscriber list. The overall order is ironclad; how we split them up into journeys is our hypothesis. (If you open the full map, the journeys are numbered and can be toggled.)

For contrast, Yad Shalom has only a single page of prenumeranten, with 17 places listed. They are also not in alphabetical order. Mapping them out, we see that the places are all bunched up, but with one clear outlier. This book, Yad Shalom, also has an astounding 18 approbations, from Hasidim and Mitnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sepharadim (well, one Sepharadi rabbi), from all across the Pale of Settlement, from Kovno to the Crimea (plus one from Maharsham, in Galicia). Comparing the map of approbations to the map of subscribers shows just how astoundingly different they are:

There is very little overlap between the places where he sold subscriptions (to either volume) and the places from whose rabbis he solicited approbations: only Balta, Dubasari, and Olhopil.

It is clear from the front matter of both books by R. Shalom Lukianovsky that Yad Shalom, which is all of 80 pages (including 16 pages of front matter and several pages of segulot to assist those who have trouble having children at the end of the book), was part of a much larger work that he had in manuscript. The approbations, most of which are dated to a decade or more before the publication of the book, refer to material on Yoreh De’ah in addition to Orah Hayim. In his own introductions, he all but begs readers to buy his books so he could publish more material. On the title page of Mefa’ane’ah Ne’elamim, he writes that he has 6,000 pages of material to publish.

The intended audience of the complete Yad Shalom was the learned class – those who could handle relatively dense halakhic material – all over Eastern Europe. Consider: R. Lukianovsky was writing in the same generation that R. Yehiel Mikhel Epstein (who wrote an approbation to Yad Shalom) was writing Arukh HaShulhan and R. Yisrael Meir HaKohen was writing Mishnah Berurah. There was an audience for new works arranged according to Shulhan Arukh

After a decade of trying and failing to publish, he turned to the local communities and managed to publish a small excerpt, which covers only the first 8 simanim of Orah Hayim. Two years later, he trudged from town to town in Bessarabia to sell a shorter book of sermonic material, again with the hopes of raising money to publish his magnum opus. (It is worth noting that R. Eitam Henkin, hy”d, describes R. Yehiel Mikhel Epstein engaging in a similar process, publishing piecemeal and republishing other works to fund the publication of Arukh HaShulhan.)

Could R. Lukianovsky’s work have competed with the other two? Have the manuscripts survived? Will it one day be “redeemed”, like R. Yair Hayim Bachrach’s Mekor Hayim, a commentary on Orah Hayim that remained unpublished for 300 years because Magen Avraham and Taz beat him to the punch?

We may not know the answers, but we can better understand his quest that took him to a hundred cities, towns, and villages all over Southern Ukraine and Bessarabia.