At a recent Shabbat dinner my son asked, "Abba, do you have any mysteries for me to solve?" Librarians have to be detectives at times. Here are some recent questions. Two are from CRC members.
Cupping and futility
Rabbi B. called me from out-of-town with a question about the Yiddish expression, "Helphen vi a toiten, bankes." He knew the expression meant, "It's futile; it won't help." The question was, "What does the word, bankes, mean?"I thought the word meant leeches, referring to the use of leeches in blood letting. To be sure I checked A. Harkavy's 1916 English-Yiddish dictionary. The expression was given as an example under the entry for banke. The word itself means the glass cups used in blood letting.
Uriel Weinreich's Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish -English Dictionary also gives same quote with the following explanation, "cupping glass (formerly used by physicians to draw blood to the skin, as a remedy for various maladies)"
I started to investigate this procedure. A physician friend said that warmed cups are used in Chinese medicine. The cups draw blood toward the surface of the skin. He also told me that there are some valid medical reasons for blood letting and using leeches. (Leeches are sometimes used to clean wounds.)
In Biblical and Talmudic Medicine, by Julius Preuss
on page 252 the process of using cupping glasses is described. Horns of young cows were used. This was proved by findings in Egyptians mummies. Preuss quotes several authors about the practice among the Bedouins and throughout the Orient. The Talmud uses the word, keren for this horn. Cupping vessels made of metal were found in Pompeii. Blood letting (phlebotomy) was forbidden on the eve of festivals because it causes weakness.
The expression itself is very old. Until recently it was believed that blood letting cured many internal problems. The literal translation of the expression is, "It can help as much as using a blood letting cup on a dead person." Even if you believe blood letting could help; it can not help someone who is already dead. Hence, the idiomatic meaning of the expression is: the action is futile or useless.
Rabbi M. handed me an article from the February 9, 1998 issue of The New Republic. The author quoted Rambam saying something about Jesus. Rabbi M. wanted to know the source of the quote. I checked the Dafka Judaica Classics CD ROM. I checked for the words [Yeshu] and [Notzri]. There were no matches. I told this to Rabbi M. and he said, "That's what I thought; the author made the quote up." Willing to give the benefit of doubt to the author, I looked up the author on the internet and sent him an e-mail. He never answered.
I discussed the quote with several others and they told me that the word "Yeshu" was censored out the Mishnah Torah. They pointed us to an uncensored edition and sure enough the quote from The New Republic was there.
Sometimes we are not successful in finding information because none exists. A visitor from Jerusalem, wanted to read any divrei Torah written by a former faculty member. We checked the library catalogs, publications of HTC, the archives in the Library, and periodical indexes. We found nothing. I asked a few people who remembered the teacher and they said that he never wrote anything for publication and no notes of his lectures were known to exist.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Regensberg
Another reader wanted to find a teshuva written by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Regensberg 1894-1977. We checked for his publications in the Library and the periodicals indexes. The teshuva was finally found after contacting a family member. It was in the periodical, HaPardes.
The Library recently acquired a biography of Rabbi Regensberg written by his great-grandson, Chayim David Kirschenbaum. The paper, originally prepared for his American history class, was partially based on interviews with family members and others who remembered him. Chayim, recently graduated the Fasman High School of Hebrew Theological College (HTC).
Rabbi Regensberg was born in the village of Zembrow, Poland. His father was HaRav Hagaon Dov Menachem the "Zembrower Rav. " They are descendents of many famous rabbis including Rabbi Yechezekal Katznellenbogen, the author of Knesset Yehezkel
. Rabbi Regensberg's first wife, Shana Mindel, was a tenth generation descendant of the Levush Mordecai and Yom Tov Lipman Chaim HaChohen. Rabbi Regensberg father-in-law, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Gordin, "Lomzher Gaon" was one of the first rebbes at HTC.
Acording to Rabbi Don Well in "HaGaon HaRav Haim David Regensberg, ZT"L
" in Halakha and Medicine; a symposium (Jerusalem, 1980), Rabbi Regensberg educated many students who routinely asked his advice and halakhic opinions. One was even known as the "Regensberg Teshuvah." On a trip to Israel in 1970 the former chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Unterman, heard that there was a visitor from Chicago at Hekhal Shlomo. Rav Unterman asked Rabbi Regensberg if he knew "Rav Regensberg." Instead of introducing himself, he asked Rav Unterman why he wanted to know. Rav Unterman wanted to say that he was enthralled with the courage and incisive scholaship of the landmark teshuva. Only later did Rabbi Regensberg confess that he was the author. It was the start of a long friendship.
Keep those questions coming. We all love to solve the mysteries.
This is an expanded version of the "Librarian's Lobby" that appeared in the News and Views published by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. 1. Biblical and Talmud Medicine, by Julius Preuss. Translated and edited by Fred Rosner. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1993. Rosner's translation was first published in 1978. Preuss's book first appeared in German in 1911. Preuss, a physician, died September 23, 1913 at the age of 52 and was buried in the Adath Israel cemetary in Berlin.
2. It is a work of Shealot veTeshuvot. (Jewish law) I found two editions; the first published in Altuna in 1733 and the second from Basdilkov in 1834.
3. Librarian catalogers try very hard make sure names are consitant. I noticed that Rabbi Well used a different spelling for Rabbi Regensberg's name than did his great-grandson. I checked with the family. They said all the family documents and official records spelled the name : Chaim Dovid Regensberg. Rabbi Well (or his Israeli editor) used the Israeli transliteration.
4. This is a teshuva (Rabbinic legal opinion) on cornea transplants. In can be found in Mishmeret Haim siman 17. This was one of the first teshuvot dealing with Jewish bioethics.
Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/liblob.htm. He can be reached via e-mail at: DDStuhlman@earthlink.net.
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© 2002. Last revised September 18, 2002