The Search for שאהל

A lot of the hours we put in are devoted to identifying place names as they appear in responsa with geographical coordinates. We have discussed how many places have several names and that there was no standardization of spelling. Moreover, some of these places have been swallowed up by larger cities and many others are so tiny that there is very little documentation to go on. The search for these places is a challenge and a lot of fun, though it can be frustrating. But first, the fun.

Several months ago, our friend Yisrael Dubitsky, Senior Digital Manuscripts Bibliographer at the National Library of Israel, posted a query to a specialist Facebook group trying to identify a place called שאהל. In the 19th century, Rabbi Shmuel Kitze of this town sent a letter to a Rabbi Zalman; the letter ended up in the Karlin-Stolin Library in Jerusalem and has been digitized.

The problem with a place name like שאהל is that it is short and has only two extremely common consonants. Nevertheless, we were able to positively identify the place with 100% certainty.

Participants in the FB discussion made suggestions like Shal, Iran and Challes, France; I thought that the search should focus on the Austro-Hungarian Empire because the writer’s name, Kitze, comes from Kittsee, one of the Sheva Kehillot/Siebengemeinden/ Seven Dorfs (never gets old) of Burgenland, now Austria. But even within the Habsburg realms, there were lots of possibilities: Tekovské Lužany, Slovakia (Nagysallo in Hungarian), Šaľa, Slovakia (Hungarian: Vágsellye, German: Schelle); Szamossályi, Hungary; and Șoala, Romania (Sálya in Hungarian).

There were problems with each of these suggestions, though. For example, Šaľa is spelled שאלה or סלה in other sources, as Yisrael pointed out. Nagysallo may have been called just Sallo (we’ve discussed dropped prefixes in Hungarian place names), but that “o” is unlikely to have been dropped. The letter “y” at the end of a Hungarian place name is usually dropped, but not “o”. Șoala has no documented Jewish community, so it’s an unlikely candidate. That left Szamossályi, a town in Northeast Hungary with a Jewish population of 144 in 1900. We had nothing more concrete than that, but the fun was just starting.

The next step (which maybe should have been the first step) was to consult a reference book. There’s no comprehensive gazetteer, but Berl Kagan’s indispensable Sefer Ha-Prenumerantn (Hebrew Subscription Lists) has a lot of place names. Like almost 9000. He has an entry for שאל where he lists שאהל as a variant spelling. This entry (#8362) does not appear in the Latin spelling index at the end of the book. But Kagan gives us a list of several books that mention this place in its list of presubscribers. Looking up the entries, we find that in R. Meir Asch’s Homat Esh has one subscriber from שאל, but it adds in parentheses “בורשוד”. This is the name of a county in Hungary. Looking at a list of towns and villages in this county yields one good candidate: Saly, Hungary. This was still tentative, though; this town does not even have a separate entry in the JewishGen Communities Database, though it is listed by IAJGS as having a cemetery (“BAZ” is Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen County), and it also appears in several lists of smaller communities near Miskolc.

Saly (highlighted) in Borsod County, Hungary, just south of Miskolc

Moving down Kagan’s list, we find that R. Zvi Hirsch Friedman’s הישר והטוב, published in 1880, has no less than 10 subscribers from שאהל, with that very spelling. The first subscriber listed is the town’s rabbi, R. Shmuel Schlesinger.

Now things connect with work we’ve already done. Rabbi Shmuel Schlesinger is in our database. He was the recipient of a responsum from Maharam Schick in 1878 (Orah Hayim 37), in which he is addressed as the the rav of שאללי בארשאדער קאמידאט. That is, the rav of שאללי, in Borsod County. So now we have an individual, R. Schlesinger, who is the rabbi of שאהל in 1880 and שאללי in Borsod County in 1878, and another identification of שאהל with שאל in Borsod County.

QED. שאהל is Saly, Hungary.

Funny enough, Kagan has another entry (#8372) for שאלי, which he identifies with Saly.