Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Hebrew stone tablets of Parur synagogue, and the black mark on it

Parur synagogue before restoration, Photo clicked in 2009

It was in early 2009, I paid my first visit to the Parur synagogue, since then one thing swayed my mind back to that sanctuary, and there is a reason for that. It was a centuries old Hebrew stone inscriptions which dragged my attention, initially it was just a curiosity of a calligrapher who happened to see centuries old Hebrew letters, But during my later visits, my basic instinct of questing a conundrum or a paradox has taken it..

Hebrew tablet of Parur synagogue, Photo clicked in 2009

My first impression about it wasn't something more than it being a dedicatory stone, but my failed attempts to interpret those words made me to discern more about it. But for a long period it remained bewildered. There were few challenges in interpreting the inscription. The constrains were, the space between the words, unfamiliar words and so on...

The difficulty in deciphering was result of an undated beautification work done to highlight the verse on the tablet with black paint to make it legible, which literally made the tablet's intelligibility a real gaffe and leading the quester to end up in an erroneous interpretation.

The probable date of the beautification on the stone tablet would be before 2000's, way before the renovation works under Muziris project initiated by the archaeological department of Kerala.

Portrait of Jacob Saphir, the Jewish traveller and the author of "Eben Saphir"

Even though the real tablet's current condition is gaffe, fortunately those words were well recorded. First among them was the great Jewish traveller and researcher Jacob Saphir who visited Kochi in 1860. In his travel diary "Eben Saphir", he had published this verses. Followed by David Solomon Sassoon in Ohel David (1932), Aaron Grenbaum in his Journal, ‘The Cochin Jewish Community, Impressions from a Mission to India (1966) where it’s given with English translation and I.S. Hallegua in his personal records (1988). Rabbi Saphir’s version has a minor variation in the sixth line, but the rest of authors have read alike. 

It reads like this:

He who dwelt in Rock and Bush                  אשר שכן בצר בסנה
May He dwell for His sake in my house          למענו ישכון ביתי
May there be light in it for the House of Jacob    יהי אור בו לבית יעקב
Alas, darkened in my exile                               הכי השכו בגלותי
Said David Jacob's Son                                     ענה דוד בנו יעקב
Renowned noble seed of Castile                    דגול יחש לקשטיאל
At the completion of the holy sanctuary    נוה קדש בעת ה'ו'ש'ל'ם
 May it be His will that the Redeemer come     יהי רצון ובא גואל

This poem was even part of the piyyutim (Jewish liturgical poem) and still remembered by the community in Israel. click here to hear the poem.  

This dedicatory note/poem gives the details that David Ben Jacob Castiel was the one who initiated the rebuilding of the synagogue in the Hebrew year ה'ו'ש'ל'ם ie 5376 (which is equal to the year 1616 AD), the meaning of the word ה'ו'ש'ל'ם is " was completed". Besides it being a dedicatory note, beauty of this verses is that the poet hallmarked his name which makes this poem an acrostic, which cleverly hides the name of the poet. The hidden name "אליה עדני" Eliyah Adeni, A 17th century Hebrew poet from Cochin — Eliyah ben Moses Adeni who died in 1631. This brilliant piece of work actually depicts the aptitude and knack of the poet..and the literary richness of the Jews of Malabar.

On a detailed analysis of the tablet, we can point out the errors in the tablet according to the available records. Here is a table of comparative study which also shows the evolution of the error which occurred in it.

As shown in the table above few many alphabets like "ו","ג", "נ" are merged and appear to be entirely different alphabet like "מ" and "ט" . Few alphabets like "ה" ,"ג","ד","ח" are interchanged with similar looking alphabets. One alphabet "ו" is not highlighted in the 3rd line and left it as it is, a close examination will show that there is a mark of engraving in it. 

The intruded attempt to highlight the verse had even ruined the remarkable feature of the acrostic poem and made poet's name itself erroneous. Which could be fetched by arranging first alphabets of each lines.

The real name of the poet and its current status.

This stone is exhibited in the Parur synagogue which is now a Jewish Museum, visited by travellers around the globe. From my personal experience I have met few scholars and Jewish travellers who couldn't decipher the content out-rightly, because of this above mentioned issues. As a justice to the great poet and his work, the black paint should be removed using modern technique and the words should be re-written. If it is not possible, the authority should at-least consider installing a small plaque explaining the meaning and history of the tablet, for the future generation.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Eliyah ben Moses Adeni, A 17th century Hebrew poet from Cochin.

Newly renovated Parur synagogue bears a eight lined Hebrew epitaph etched stone tablet, this dedicatory note was installed after the construction/renovation of Parur synagogue in 1620-21 (1616 ?) AD, the construction works was initiated by David Ben Jacob of renowned Castiel family. 

It is hard to interpret those words of the tablet, as the beautification work on it with black paint  had merged some of the alphabets and made it more confusing. This happened quiet recently but way before the recent renovation of the synagogue by the government in (which began in 2010). A similar mistake happened during renovation on the embossed Hebrew words in the entrance of the Synagogue which was pointed out by me and was mended. click here to read more about it

but historians and travellers had documented and preserved those precious words....

The picture of the tablet clicked in 2009 during my first visit, before renovation.

It reads like this:

He who dwelt in Rock and Bush                  אשר שכן בצר בסנה
May He dwell for His sake in my house          למענו ישכון ביתי
May there be light in it for the House of Jacob    יהי אור בו לבית יעקב
Alas, darkened in my exile                               הכי השכו בגלותי
Said David Jacob's Son                                     ענה דוד בנו יעקב
Renowned noble seed of Castile                    דגול יחש לקשטיאל
At the completion of the holy sanctuary    נוה קדש בעת ה'ו'ש'ל'ם
 1May it be His will that the Redeemer come     יהי רצון ובא גואל

(Jacob Saphir, a Jewish traveller who visited Cochin in 1860, published the poem with one variant in the sixth line:                            "דגולות של קשטיאל". )

The beauty is that this is not only a dedicatory note but an acrostic poem which reveals a name "אליה עדני" Eliyah Adeni, the author of this poem. and the year of construction. This brilliant piece of work actually depicts the aptitude and knack of the poet.

Eliyah ben Moses Adeni, born (date unknown) Died (Friday 27 Tishri 5392, i.e. Thu, 23 October 1631)2  Also known as Eliyahu Adeni or Rabbi Eliyah Ha-Adeni, was a native of Aden (Yemen) and was therefore called "Ha-Adeni" that is to say, "the man of Aden." He got settled in Cochin, and he is supposed to have spend his most of life there. 

Rabbi Adeni was a scholar, and a poet. His works was a part of the Cochini Minhag, and he is the only Cochini Jews whose complete works was published.3 He wrote "Azharot," didactic liturgical poems on the 613 commandments, which is read by the Jews of India and chiefly by those of Cochin on Shemini Atzeret (Eighth [day of] Assembly) or the eighth day of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacle).3 

The title page of  יד אליהו אזהרות, 
picture courtesy:

In the title page the work is named as "Seder Azharot", In the second page it bears a title  " העדני יד אליהו " It might be entitled by Adeni himself or by Belilio, But the work is widely known as " יד אליהו אזהרות " (Azharot yad Eliyahu), and it is counted among the finest examples of its kind.

The second page of  יד אליהו אזהרות, 
picture courtesy:

It was the visit of the Dutch emissary to Cochin Jewish community which led this legend's name and fame immortal. It was Levi ben Moses Belilio who edited the Azharot. The Azharot was brought to Amsterdam by Moses Pereyra and was printed by Uri Phoebus ben Aaron Witmund ha Levi in 1688.5 Thus it became one of the first printed book of Cochin Jews. 

There are some source which says Levi ben Moses Belilio was the grandson of Adeni,6. But that claim doesn't have a strong proof. 

1. The Cochin Jewish Community, Aaron Grenbaum
2. Ohel David, David Solomon Sassoon.
3. Who Are the Jews of India?, Nathan Katz
4. The Jewish Encyclopedia :A discriptive record of the history, religion literature and customs of the Jewish People from the earliest tmes to the present day , Volume 2, Apocrypha -Benash,
5. The Dutch Intersection: The Jews and the Netherlands in Modern History, Yosef Kaplan.
6. Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands 1585-1815, Lajb Fuks and R.G Fuks-Mansfeld

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Targum Malayalemi : An exotic Hebrew-Malayalam manuscript from Cochin.

The last article about the Malayalam translation of Bible and the role of a Cochin Jew in it was just an opening to explore the literary richness of the Jews of Malabar.

The vibrant community gave birth to many talents, Poets like Eliahu Adeni, Nehemiah ben Abraham Mota, Levi ben Moses Belilah, Ephraim Saala, Solomon ben Nissim, and Joseph Zakkai some of their works were part of Cochini Minhag which were later integrated into the liturgical books.

"Ohel David", ( Amsterdam, 1785), by David Ben Ezekiel Rahabi

David Rahabi was Cochini calender maker, He is known for his work "Ohel David", ( Amsterdam, 1785), which treats on the origin of Hebrew Calendar, and its comparison with Islamic and Hindu calendar. Which aided the community to prepare their wall hanging hand made event calendar. One of such last calendar was prepared by Johnny Hallegua in 2011.

Manuscript wall calendar from Pardesi synagogue, by an unknown Scribe dated 1862-1863.

Historical records by Mudaliar Joseph Hallegua, Naphtali Eliyahu Rahabi and other later Jewish historians from Cochin shows an excellent chronicling nature of the community.

And the community also had many unknown Soferim (Scribes) who made exquisite Torah scrolls, Megillah and Mezuzahs of Cochin and even purchased by Jews of far flung places.

There were numerous manuscripts produced by such talents in possession with the Cochin Jews, those were Biblical books and commentaries, apocryphal books, liturgy poems and hymns, treaties on religious and communal topics, astrology, anthropology, medicine, history and so on. ....small but vibrant community of Cochin was so rich in the field....

In this article we will discuss about, a late 19th century Hebrew-Malayalam Targum manuscript from Cochin, which also include a small portion  of liturgy poems. 

What is Targum ?

Traditionally the Aramaic translation of the Bible is known as Targum (תרגום‎) It forms a part of the Jewish traditional literature, and in its inception is as early as the time of the Second Temple.
But on a later context the word is also used to indicate the spoken paraphrases, explanations and expansions of the Jewish scriptures that a Rabbi would give in the common language of the listeners.

Targum Malyalemi

The title seems to be very exotic, and it is. "Targum Malayalemi" (תרגום מליאלמי) or more specifically "עם תרגום מליאלמי" which roughly means "with Malayalam translation". 

A page from the Manuscript, Targum Malayalemi.

This is one among the hundreds of the Hebrew manuscripts from Cochin, and this particular Codex in possession with The Jewish Theological Seminary, contains:

Ethics of the Fathers : פרקי אבות

Song of Songs : שיר השירים

Lamentations : איכה

liturgical poems : פיוטים

The Colophon

The colophon of this book is a brilliant example for how the information about the attributes is to be stated. 

Date: Tuesday 7th Elul 5652, (Tuesday, 30 August 1892)

Scribe: Eliyah Haim Hallegua

Owner: Rachel Bat Eliyah Hallegua 

The Language

The book is compiled with vocalized Hebrew text with Malayalam translation, phrase by phrase, in parallel columns. The style of Malayalam is a non standardised version or a later version of Judeo-Malayalam, there are many Hebrew words which are transliterated as it is, some of the examples are:

 תורה(Torah)                     തൊറാ (Thorah)   -   Torah
הצדיק (Ha Tzadik) ആസ്സദീഹ (Assadeeha) - Righteous one
נבי (Nabi)                             നാബി (Nabi) - Prophet
יין (Yayin)                        യായീന (Yayina) - Wine
ארזים (Arzim)                    ഏറെസ (Arese)  - Cedar

Few Malayalam words of Dutch-Latin origin is also seen in the translation, an example is ഓടാത്ത, (odatha) its etymology is the Latin loan Dutch word "Hortus" which means Garden. This word was came into Malayalam during Dutch rule.
Only few examples are quoted here from the preliminary analysis of the book.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Untold story of a Cochin Jew and Bailey's Malayalam Bible.

The article also lists out the details of the Hebrew-Malayalam manuscripts collected by David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942) which includes biblical portions, commentaries, occasional prayers, Jewish liturgical poems, and hymns.

A brief history of initial translation of Malayalam Bibles.

Bible translation work in Malayalam is of unique interest, the translation being made from the Syriac, with some help from Johann Phillip Fabricius's Tamil version, by Kayamkulam Philippos Ramban and Timapah Pillay. Timapah Pillay went to Bombay, where a font of Malayalam type had been cast, and he supervised the printing. Even though translation was completed or initialised in 1807, The book was published in 1811 and was later known as Ramban Bible. Successive British residents at Travancore took a deep interest in the work, first Colonel Colin Macaulay, and then Major John Munro, who had been the means of establishing a college at Kottayam. Timapah Pillay had translated the whole New Testament from the Tamil by 1813, but there were difficulties about revising it and publication was delayed.

Benjamin Bailey

In 1817 it was resolved to translate the whole Bible and print it at Kottayam. The C.M.S. lent their missionary, Benjamin Bailey , for this work, and he was to be assisted by eight Syrian priests and some local linguists; they were to be paid by the Bible Society and supervised by Major Munro. The Calcutta Auxiliary was also considering another New Testament translation from the Vulgate, under Roman Catholic superintendence, though the vicar-general did not object to the translation already made. The Madras Auxiliary Bible Society published his translation of the New Testament in 1829. It was not in the purer Malayalam; Bailey became busy with the Old Testament and completed it. A committee revised the texts and the Madras Auxiliary published Bailey's translation as it stood, the complete Old Testament appearing in 1841-42. In 1846, he published the first English-Malayalam dictionary and Grammar of Malayalam in 1869 these books not only displaced earlier tentative efforts, but they are still regarded as standard works. Revised edition of Bailey's Old Testament was issued in 1859. He returned to England on 20 March, 1850 after 33 years of mission work in Kerala. 

A page from the Book of Psalms, printed in 1938.
One of the first portion from the old testament translated to Malayalam.

There is an untold story of a Cochin Jew who assisted Bailey in his Old testament translation. He is another unsung legend of Cochin Jewry.

Not much informations are available about his personal life but his works...

Moses ben David Sarphati, the Hebrew professor of Kottayam Christian missionary society.

The surname Sarphati is believed to have their origin from France as the word SARPAT is the Hebrew word for France. According to the history this family came to Cochin in 17th century. They are professional writers and are seen in communal agreements of Cochin Jewish community.

Moses ben David Sarphati was a liberally-minded Jew, who is mentioned in many missionary records for his kindness and generosity. He was one among the linguists who helped Benjamin Bailey on Hebrew language in his complete translations of Old Testament Bible. 

He was the Hebrew Professor of the Kottayam CMS, many of the Malpans (The Syriac word "Malpan" means teacher. Elderly Christian priests who used to teach and train candidates to priesthood were usually referred to as Malpans) were practising Hebrew lesson under him thus he was a teacher to the teachers. Sarphati was a skilled Sofer (Hebrew scribe) and he is also considered as local historian and his Hebrew history record of Cochin Jews dated 1874, (which is a collection containing various records/data of an early date of 1663 to his time) is mentioned by David Solomon, in his Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscript catalogue book "Ohel David". 

Sarphati's influence is seen in the different stages of publishing of Bailey's Malayalam bible, as the primary stage was started by publishing Psalms, followed by the 5 Books of Moses which are of high importance in Judaism. Finally the entire books was published in 1841-42.

Biblical manuscripts with Malayalam translation

Cochin Jews held many translated biblical manuscripts owned by different people. These clusters of Malayalam translation would have been an aid for Bailey's translations, few among the recorded Malayalam translations are mentioned in Ohel David, some with the name of the scribes and owners too.

Book of Esther, with Hebrew text and Malayalam translation.
According to Malayalam note at the end, the text was scribed by by Solomon ben Shalom Kindeel
for Siniora Rahel Eliyyah Rahabi at Cochin.

1. Songs of Songs ( שיר השירים) (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

2.Book of Ruth (רות) : (Scribe: Solomon ben Shalom Kindeel, Donor: Sassoon Hilali Leveroy)

3.Lementations (איכה) : (Scribe: unknown,  Donor: Sassoon Hilali Leveroy)

4. Book of Esther (אסתר) : (Scribe: Solomon ben Shalom Kindeel, Owner: Siniora Rahel Eliyyah Rahabi, Donor: Sassoon Hilali Leveroy)

5. Commentaries to the Book of Lamentations (פירוש על הקינות והפיוטים) : (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: Elijah Madai)

Commentaries to the Book of Lamentations, with Hebrew text and Malayalam translation.

Jewish liturgical works with Malayalam translation

Cochin Jews had numerous manuscripts of occasional prayers, liturgical poems and hymns similar to those of Aleppo and Baghdad Jews.

Midrash Eikhah,The Pethihatha , with Hebrew text and Malayalam translation.

Cochin Jews had local Hebrew poets like David Castiel, Levy ben Moses Beliliah and Kabbalistic mystic and poet like Nehemiah ben Abraham,(Naamia Mootha), a Yemenite Jew settled in Cochin. The famous Andalusian poet and philosopher Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabriol's works along with, poet, physician and philosopher of Tuleda Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi's works were well celebrated in Cochin. Some of those poems were translated and became part of Jewish Malayalam folk songs.

Some of the  works the liturgical works with Malayalam translations mentioned in Ohel David are:

1. Lamentations and Elegies (איכה וקינות) : (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

2. The Pethihatha, Midrash Eikhah (מדרש איכה): (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

3. Pirkei Avot (פרקי אבות)  :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

4. The morning services (סדר תפלות) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

5. The daily Amidah (תפלת י׳׳ח) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

6. Full Kaddish  (קדיש שלם) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown) 

7. Selichot (Penitential) Prayers ( סליחות) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

8. Poems of Simeon bar Yochai (בר יוחאי נמשחת אשריך) : (Scribe: Joseph ben Solomon Hallegua, Owner: Leah bath Moses Rahabi)

9. Poems of Rabbi Judah Halevi (מי כמוך ואין כמוך לשבת זכור) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

10. The Azharoth of R. Solomon ibn Gabirol (אזהרות לשבועות) : (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

11. Avinu Malkeinu (אבינו מלכנו) :(Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

12. Yossipon, 90th Chapter (יוסיפון): (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: unknown)

13. A Prayer for the Royal Family, Lord Pentland, Governor of Madras, and Lady Pentland (הנותן תשועה) : (Scribe: Abraham Hai b. Joseph Hai b. Abraham Se'adyah, Owner/Donor: unknown)

14. Fragments of Lexicographical notes on Talmudic- Midrashic words: (Scribe: unknown, Owner/Donor: Ezekiel Bgai, Date: 1739)

Lots of texts were lost in time, it was worth that some were preserved and recorded its existence. But unfortunately most of the above mentioned manuscripts and incunabula collected by David Sassoon mentioned above were auctioned by Sotheby's of London in Zurich and in New York, between the years 1975 - 1994, in order to satisfy the Sassoon estate's British tax obligations. what remains of David Solomon Sassoon's private collection of Hebrew manuscripts is stored at a Canadian University library.

A later manuscript of 1892 A.D by Eliyah Haim Hallegua, which includes Pirkei Avot, Lamentations, Songs of song, liturgical poems also had Malayalam translation phrase by phrase in parallel columns. The manuscript is a bound book, and "The Jewish Theological Seminary." is the current custodian of it.

"A Reply to the Letters of the Abbé Dubois, on the State of Christianity in India" 
by James Hough (1824)
"Ohel David : Descriptive catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts in the Sassoon Library", by David Solomon Sassoon (1880–1942),