Kar­lin clas­sics

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - The writer, a rabbi in Tzur Hadas­sah, is on the fac­ulty of the Pardes In­sti­tute of Jewish Stud­ies and a post­doc­toral fel­low with the Gali­cia project at the Univer­sity of Haifa.

Only his col­leagues who truly knew the in­side of his in­sides were per­mit­ted to say praise­wor­thy things about him

In the an­nals of Has­sidism, there is a soli­tary ex­am­ple of a has­sidic mas­ter pen­ning a poem that has en­tered the sa­cred canon of zemirot (sin­gu­lar: ze­mer) – hymns sung at the Shab­bat ta­ble in fam­ily set­tings. That ze­mer is the now-fa­mous “Yah Ech­sof” writ­ten by Rabbi Aharon Per­low of Kar­lin (1736-1772).

The poem first ap­peared in print in a rare, thin, six-page pam­phlet pub­lished in 1849 in Cz­er­nowitz in Bukov­ina. The pam­phlet bears the ti­tle “Tzava’a” [will], and the fol­low­ing line ex­plains that the text is tran­scribed from an au­to­graph copy of Per­low’s eth­i­cal will.

Per­low’s will is a per­sonal doc­u­ment that was prob­a­bly not in­tended to be pub­lished for pos­ter­ity. Its pub­li­ca­tion al­most 80 years af­ter the demise of the au­thor sug­gests that it was not im­me­di­ately deemed of broad in­ter­est or sig­nif­i­cance.

The will fills the first two pages and opens with a dec­la­ra­tion that the au­thor hereby states that he is giv­ing his life for the sake of the Almighty. Per­low read­ily ad­mit­ted that he was un­sure about the mech­a­nism for mak­ing such a dec­la­ra­tion, so he an­nounced that he was do­ing so by re­ly­ing on the in­ten­tion and knowl­edge of his fore­bears.

Per­low then con­tin­ued with direc­tions for those who would be present at his demise. These in­struc­tions fo­cused on var­i­ous prayer and char­ity rites drawn from kab­bal­is­tic tra­di­tion. He then asked for his body to be sub­ject to forms of pun­ish­ment that were to mimic the corporal pun­ish­ments that could be meted out by a re­li­gious court ac­cord­ing to an­cient Jewish law. Specif­i­cally, he asked for an im­i­ta­tion ston­ing cer­e­mony, where his body would be dropped di­rectly on the ground four times. He out­lined the req­ui­site lofty char­ac­ter and con­duct of those who would pre­pare his body for burial.

As far as a eu­logy, Per­low asked for no praises to be sung. More­over, he in­vited any­one who wished to speak badly about him to take the stage, though he quickly warned that there is no place for lies – even ac­ci­den­tal lies – and it would be bet­ter to be silent than to say some­thing un­true. Only his col­leagues who truly knew the in­side of his in­sides were per­mit­ted to say praise­wor­thy things about him, for with­out a doubt they would metic­u­lously ad­here to the truth.

He then gave in­struc­tion for the lan­guage to be writ­ten on his tomb­stone and for the use of neigh­bor­ing burial plots. His wife and other women were told not to touch his de­ceased body, not to fol­low his bier and not to en­ter the room where his body lay.

So that his soul would con­tinue its as­cent, Per­low told his dis­ci­ples to give a coin to char­ity each day and then ded­i­cate a small amount of time to study, be­fore con­clud­ing the daily ri­tual with the recita­tion of kad­dish for all souls, but for his soul in par­tic­u­lar.

Ac­cord­ing to Jewish tra­di­tion, even the wickedest per­son is pun­ished for no more than a year. Yet Per­low was not con­fi­dent of his lot. So he asked his dis­ci­ples to con­tinue the char­ity-study-kad­dish ri­tual for an­other year. Dur­ing this sec­ond year, it was suf­fi­cient to per­form the ri­tual once a week on the eve of Sab­bath, and once a month on the eve of a new month.

THE FI­NAL three pages of the 1849 Cz­er­nowitz pam­phlet in­clude a list of 25 points ti­tled “Han­hagot Ye­sharot,” right­eous prac­tices. As the ti­tle page of the pam­phlet an­nounces, this is the con­duct ad­vice of Rabbi Asher Per­low of Stolin (1760-1826) – the son of the afore­men­tioned Aharon and bearer of his legacy.

Twenty-one of the 25 points be­gin with the word “yiza­her” – the reader should be care­ful, con­sci­en­tious and wary. Many of the sec­tions deal with prayer and study habits. Asher con­sis­tently urged the reader to show greater com­mit­ment, at­ten­tive­ness and fo­cus in the per­for­mance of re­li­gious rites.

Sec­tion 13 of the list is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing. Asher coun­sels his read­ers to find a trust­wor­thy and up­stand­ing friend and to meet that per­son ev­ery day for half an hour to dis­cuss any­thing that is on the reader’s heart or mind. There is no pre­sump­tion that the lis­tener will solve the is­sues; the lis­tener is merely ex­pected to care and look out for the con­fi­dant.

THE CZ­ER­NOWITZ 1849 pam­phlet is the ear­li­est print­ing of Aharon’s eth­i­cal will and of Asher’s reg­i­men coun­sel. While it is for­tu­nate to have the words of these great has­sidic mas­ters, the con­tents of both doc­u­ments is un­re­mark­able. Prof. Zeev Gries has demon­strated that Aharon’s will is not par­tic­u­larly “has­sidic;” rather, it fits the mold of rab­binic tes­ta­ments of the pe­riod. Sim­i­larly, Asher’s con­duct ad­vice does not stand out when com­pared to other such con­tem­po­rary lists.

Yet what makes the Cz­er­nowitz 1849 pam­phlet ir­re­place­able is one page, or to be more pre­cise a half a page, sand­wiched in be­tween the eth­i­cal will and the con­duct guid­ance: the first-ever print­ing of Aharon’s “Yah Ech­sof.” ■


THE 1849 Cz­er­nowitz pam­phlet, first print­ing, ti­tle page.

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