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Midrash UnboundTransformations and Innovations$

Michael A. Fishbane and Joanna Weinberg

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781904113713

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781904113713.001.0001

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The Destruction of the Temple

The Destruction of the Temple

A Yiddish Booklet for the Ninth of Av

(p.407) Nineteen The Destruction of the Temple
Midrash Unbound

Jacob Elbaum

Chava Turniansky

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at a Yiddish booklet for the Ninth of Av. This is a hitherto unresearched Yiddish collection of aggadot on the destruction of the Temple in a booklet of twelve pages with no title page, no title, and no mention of the author, the year, or the place of publication. The significance of this booklet lies in two main factors. First, it includes the fullest collection of sequences of talmudic narrative in Yiddish that is known of up to its time. Second, it coincides entirely—except for a few small differences in vocabulary and style—with the distinct cluster of stories entitled Khurbn or Khurbn beys hamikdesh that appears in the Tsene-rene after the discussion of the book of Lamentations. If this collection is an original component of the Tsene-rene, and perhaps even if not, there is much to be learned from it about the manner in which this foundational text of Yiddish literature was consolidated.

Keywords:   Yiddish booklet, Ninth of Av, aggadot, talmudic narrative, Tsene-rene, Yiddish literature

The Midrash and Yiddish Before the Seventeenth Century

Although no list of Yiddish translations of midrashim through the ages is available, we know that full translations of the most comprehensive and popular ones (Midrash tanḥuma and Midrash Rabbah) began to appear only in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.1 On the other hand, to this day, no Yiddish translation of the Talmud, or any separate tractate thereof, is known. However, the wealth of midrashic material that had accumulated by the fourteenth century was an inexhaustible source of elements of all kinds which were incorporated, in diverse forms of translation, reworking, and adaptation, into most genres of Old Yiddish literature from its very beginnings.

In the oldest known literary document of Yiddish literature—the Cambridge Codex T—S 10 K 22, dated 13822—an abundant use of midrashic sources may be observed. Four poems in this anthology, one about ‘paradise’ and three about the biblical figures of Abraham, Aaron, and Joseph, rely almost entirely on the Midrash.3 These four relatively short poems from the fourteenth century constitute the (p.408) cornerstone of Old Yiddish epic poetry on biblical themes. They were followed, probably in the fifteenthcentury, by a more extensive poem on akedat yitsḥak (the binding of Isaac),4 and later by the first confrontation of the genre with an entire biblical book, the book of Esther, which produced at least eleven versions.5 In both cases a great variety of midrashic sources played a vital, but no longer exclusive, role. Other elements—mainly translations and interpretations of biblical passages—are interwoven in the narrative. The expansion of the genre towards the books of the Former Prophets in the second half of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries brought about a decisive change in the thematic scope and narrative confines of the works, which resulted in a significant extension of the number of sources of elements used in these poems. The authors of these comprehensive epics, particularly the Shmuel-bukh (on the books of Samuel) and the Melokhim-bukh (on the books of Kings), the crowns of the genre, did not satisfy themselves with joining one midrashic element to another. They wove a strikingly rich mosaic-like fabric in which elements from the Bible and numerous midrashic and exegetical sources are organically integrated. The variety of their sources attests to the fact that these authors strove to make exhaustive use of every single story, commentary, or midrash that had ever been created on the pertinent biblical verses or on their subject matter.6 The beginning of the seventeenth century marked the onset of the genre’s gradual decline. In 1644David ben Menahem, the author of a series of poems on the first seventeen portions of the Pentateuch and on four of the Five Megillot, which were collected in a single bookMizmor letodah, criticizes the use of midrashic sources and declares himself in favour of rhymed literal Yiddish translations of the biblical text.7

During the sixteenth century the genre of the mayse—mainly a religious or quasi-religious story in prose, at times comparable in scope to the Latin medieval exemplum and at others to the Italian novella—appeared and developed in Yiddish, (p.409) drawing from several sources, but most intensely from the Talmud and Midrash.8 It was the Ashkenazim in sixteenth-century northern Italy who initiated the genre and brought it to its peak.9 They were the first to gather mayses into small collections; the oldest—sixteen mayses from Lamentations Rabbah—follows a fairly free translation of the festival prayer-book (maḥzor) preserved in a manuscript dated 1504. These mayses are intended for the Ninth of Av, and offer the oldest evidence that mayses first appeared as additions to, or insertions into, suitable contexts.10 In a somewhat later manuscript (1510), four mayses from talmudic–midrashic sources precede a Yiddish translation of the Psalms, followed by two epic poems, one on the book of Joshua and the other on the book of Judges.11 In a much more comprehensive and variegated miscellanea manuscript, completed in 1561, seven mayses appear, most of them of midrashic origin.12 Another miscellanea manuscript, dated 1579, presents a free homiletic translation of Mishnah Pirkei avot (Chapters of the Fathers) into Yiddish, in which 45 mayses pertaining to the relevant tana’im (mishnaic sages) are interspersed. The translation is followed by 28 additional mayses of the same sort and of similar origin.13 In an extensive anthology, dated 1580 and concerned exclusively with narrative prose of various kinds, there are 22 mayses taken from the Talmud or from the Midrash aseret hadibrot (Midrash on the Ten Commandments).14

The last two decades of the sixteenth century witnessed the transformation of the small, or relatively small, collections of mayses into large comprehensive compilations. About 130mayses, most of them from the Talmud and the Midrash, appear in a manuscript written in an unknown place called ‘Rovere’ (northern Italy) around 1585–90 by Moshe Vaysvaser of Prague.15 A similar collection of about 120 mayses (p.410) was written by Shmuel Bak of the same ‘Rovere’ for his aunt in Innsbruck during a visit to her in 1596.16 These two kindred manuscript collections were the precursors of Eyn shoyn Mayse-bukh (A Beautiful Book of Stories), which was printed in Basel in 1602 and reprinted many times during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and even later.17 The Mayse-bukh comprises 257 stories,18 more than half of them (at least 150) from various talmudic and midrashic sources.19 Many of these mayses—although bearing various linguistic and stylistic differences—appear in the earlier manuscript collections.20

This brief survey clearly attests to the development and flourishing of the mayse genre within one century. It also demonstrates the transitions involved, first from the individual story to small and growing clusters of stories among literary items of other kinds, and then to comprehensive compilations of stories alone. The permanent function of the Talmud and the Midrash as main sources becomes obvious, whether the stories are derived directly from them or via intermediaries, such as Ein ya’akov21—Jacob ibn Habib’s extensive collection of nearly all the aggadic passages of the Talmud in the original language, which was printed several times in the sixteenth century—or other Hebrew sources and compilations.

While the ample and extensive use of aggadic–talmudic and midrashic material for the sake of the above-mentioned Yiddish genres—the biblical epic and the narrative prose—is conspicuous, the use of these sources in many other kinds of Yiddish works is less noticeable and needs to be revealed by detailed research. Thus, for example, Targum Sheni, the Talmud tractate Megilah, and Esther Rabbah are the sources for the long poem on Purim (1128 lines) written in Venice around 1553–4 by a melamed (children’s teacher) from Poland;22 and many midrashic elements appear in Targum ḥamesh megilot, Jacob ben Samuel Bunem’s poetic adaptation into Yiddish of the Aramaic translation of the Five Megillot (Freiburg, 1584). The presence of aggadah and Midrash in Yiddish homiletic prose—and especially in the most popular Tsene-rene,23 as well as in the paraphrastic translations of the Bible into (p.411) Yiddish—has not yet been researched, and the same applies to other genres, whether the use of Midrash in them is an a priori conjecture or not.

Khurbn Beys Hamikdesh—The Destruction of the Temple

The case study for our contribution to this volume is a hitherto unresearched Yiddish collection of aggadot on the destruction of the Temple in a booklet of twelve pages (4to) with no title page, no title, and no mention of the author, the year, or the place of publication. This booklet, probably a unicum, was discovered by Sara Zfatman in the Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek in Frankfurt am Main. Opposite the first page, a librarian’s annotation in Roman characters reads: ‘Chorban ha-Bait [Krakau 1583]’.24 Although there is no doubt that the booklet was printed in the printing house of Isaac ben Aaron of Prostits in Kraków (1569–1612), the precise date of printing is not known. An item called Khurbn habayis be-loshn Ashkenaz (The Destruction of the Temple in Yiddish), which appears in the lists of books submitted by the Jews of Mantua for Church censorship in 1595,25 may point to our booklet and assist us in establishing the terminus ad quem of its printing.

The significance of this booklet lies in two main factors: (1) it includes the fullest collection of sequences of talmudic narrative in Yiddish that we know of up to its time; (2) it coincides entirely—except for a few small differences in vocabulary and style—with the distinct cluster of stories entitled Khurbn or Khurbn beys hamikdesh that appears in the Tsene-rene after the discussion of the book of Lamentations. If this collection is an original component of the Tsene-rene, and perhaps even if not, there is much to be learned from it about the manner in which this foundational text of Yiddish literature was consolidated.

1. The Characteristics of the Collection

At first glance it would seem that the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh carried out an act of pure compilation. From Babylonian Talmud Gitin 52b–58a he translated into (p.412) Yiddish a collection of stories on the destruction of the Temple, incorporated a story from tractate Ta’anit for completion,26 and added to it most of Petiḥta 24 from Lamentations Rabbah.27 Yet even a superficial comparison shows that the text is not in any way identical to the sources—neither in its sequence nor in its details. The author does not use the entire talmudic text from Gitin but deletes certain units;28 in addition, he occasionally alters the order of the content, creates his own links between the elements of the narrative, and adds supplementary material from other sources. But this is not the most important trait. What is more fundamental is the author’s assumption of the authority to add to and detract from the details of the stories, as a result of which some of them undergo changes that affect their very nature. Indeed, an examination of the stories themselves, sentence by sentence, in close comparison with their sources, reveals that there is not one story in the entire collection that is a precise reflection of the original text. Although it is well known that any translation made according to the considerations of the target language automatically results in changes of presentation—in terms of idioms, syntax, and the like—it is still possible to distinguish between a modification necessitated by the act of translation and a change made by a translator who allows himself the freedom of translating the text as he desires—a factor which creates a distance between his translation and its source.

A thorough examination of these phenomena requires a detailed comparison of each and every story of the source text against its Yiddish version, followed by a detailed discussion of the results. Since this task is impossible in the framework of this study, we shall merely mention a few of the phenomena.

The author opens his collection in the same manner as the source in Gitin—with the words of Rabbi Yohanan, which constitute a sort of exposition of the first story: ‘What is meant by the verse, “Happy is the man that feareth always, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief”?The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza.’ There is no doubt that the verse quoted here (Prov. 28: 14) is quite difficult to translate literally in the manner of the taytsh—the traditional word-for-word translation of the Bible into Yiddish. The writer thus chose to interpret it, which he does following the commentary of Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershom, 1288–1344), available in the editions of Mikraot gedolot printed in the sixteenth century. Ralbag’s interpretation, ‘It was the hardening of the heart (p.413) that destroyed the First and the Second Temples’, also connects with the subject of the first story, about the shaming of Bar Kamza that led to his denunciation of the Jews to the Roman emperor. Indeed, the integration of materials derived from other sources into the talmudic text for the purpose of expounding the narrative has far-reaching consequences in several instances. These may clearly be observed in relation to the following two matters in our collection. The first is the supplement added to the mention of Nakdimon ben Gorion and the rising of the sun. The author, unsatisfied with the mere hint at this matter in Gitin, retells the entire story from the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 19b–20a (with some changes in style, which will be commented on shortly). The second example is the integration of details from the ‘tale of a woman and her seven sons’ (Lam. Rabbah 1: 50) into the similar story in Gitin, while retaining the outline and style of the talmudic source.

The order of the contents of the collection in Gitin was largely preserved. However, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh departs from this order when he transfers the story about Martha, daughter of Boethius, ‘the wealthiest woman of Jerusalem’, from its original location (in Gitin 56b), after the mention of the three rich Jerusalemites and before the story about Abba Sikra, to after the story about Abba Sikra and the meeting of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai with Vespasian, who was to become emperor. The differences in sequence are summarized in this table:



Kamza and bar Kamza

Kamza and bar Kamza

Emperor Nero

Emperor Nero

Emperor Aspasian

Emperor Aspasian

Three rich Jerusalemites

Three rich Jerusalemites



Nakdimon and the Bishop (from Ta’anit)

Kalba Sabua, Ben Tsitsit Hakeset

Kalba Sabua, Ben Tsitsit Hakeset

Martha daughter of Boethius

Abba Sikra

Abba Sikra

Yohanan ben Zakkai and Vespasian

Yohanan ben Zakkai and Vespasian

Martha daughter of Boethius





The destruction of Tur Malka

The destruction of Tur Malka

Three sages about Kefar Sekania

Three sages about Kefar Sekania

The man who wished to divorce his wife

The man who wished to divorce his wife

The destruction of Beitar

The destruction of Beitar

The blood of Zechariah

The blood of Zechariah

The four hundred children

The four hundred children

The woman and her seven children

The woman and her seven children

The synagogues of Beitar

The synagogues of Beitar

Joshua ben Hananiah in Rome

Joshua ben Hananiah in Rome

The son and daughter of Ishmael ben Elisha

The son and daughter of Ishmael ben Elisha

The carpenter’s apprentice

The carpenter’s apprentice

Petiḥta 24 from Lamentations Rabbah

(p.414) We cannot satisfactorily explain the displacement of this story from its natural location in the collection in Gitin, although it may have been moved in order to emphasize the degree of despair felt by Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, which motivated his request for some minor favours of Vespasian. In any case, the removal of the story from its natural place seems to have induced the author to elaborate at the end of it the reason for Rabbi Zadok’s ‘illness’—which is explained in the story about Martha, daughter of Boethius, and is easily understood by anyone reading our collection consecutively—and to return to the subject within the story about the rich woman approximately as it appears in the talmudic source. Despite the twice-repeated mention of Rabbi Zadok’s fast, there is no mention of the treatment of his illness, which in the Talmud is attached to the story about Rabbi Yohanan and Vespasian.

2. Verses and their Translations

As noted earlier, it is impossible to discuss fully the changes which occurred in the stories as a result of their translation. However, one striking point must be addressed, and this is the issue of the biblical verses.29 Verses used in a translated story often needed clarification on three levels: (a) quotation; (b) literal translation; and (c) explanation. For example, the segment of the anecdote about Nero in the second story in Gitin (56b): ‘He said to a certain boy: Repeat to me [the last] verse of Scripture you have learnt. He said: “And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel”30 [Ezek. 25: 14]’, reads in Khurbn beys hamikdesh as follows:

Later on he found a young child and said to him: Tell me a verse—for he wanted to try his luck and see which verse the child would tell him. The child then told him the verse “And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel.” This means: Our Lord God said: I will have vengeance on Edom because of [or: on behalf of] My people Israel. That is: when Edom will destroy the Temple, and send My people into exile, after that I will have vengeance on him.

It seems obvious that, since the author had decided to include this story, he could not avoid citing the verse which stands at its centre. At the same time it is evident that when the explicit verse was not absolutely necessary, the author preferred to circumvent it, as he does in the story of Titus, the source of which opens with: ‘Vespasian sent to Titus, who said, “Where is their God, the rock in whom they trusted” [Deut. 32: 37]. This was the wicked Titus, who blasphemed and insulted (p.415) Heaven. What did he do? He took a harlot by the hand and entered the Holy of Holies.’ The author begins his translation as follows:

So the emperor went to Rome and sent the evil Titus to Jerusalem. When he came, he conquered the city and said: Where is the God of Israel in whom they trust and hope, why does he not come and save them? What did he do? He took a prostitute and went in with her into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies itself, where no one was allowed to enter during the whole year except for the High Priest on Yom Kippur.

In this case the author has chosen to paraphrase the verse in order to make matters easier for his readers, and for that purpose he has also explained the significance of entering the Holy of Holies. Here again, the author avoids quoting verses wherever he is able to do so. Any comparison of the translation with the source in Gitin shows that all the contextual midrashic elaborations of verses that are not essential to the substance of the stories, but rather additions intended to teach a moral lesson, or to serve as links between issues or components of the narrative, are not reproduced by the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh. An instance in which the original link was exchanged for another, because the author disconnected the story from the verse that preceded it in the source, will be discussed later on when dealing with the tale of the woman and her seven sons.

An illuminating example of the ‘translator’s’ role with regard to the use of verses may be observed in the story about Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and Vespasian. The story is replete with verses, the most important of which is, ‘And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one’ (Isa. 10: 34).31 A comparison of the source with the ‘translation’ demonstrates that the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh attempted to avoid the complex midrashic explanation in the original and preferred to present only what follows from it. One of the results of this omission is that the claim that the Temple will only be destroyed at the hands of a king lacks substantiation, for it is not corroborated by a verse citation. The reader may wonder what verse Rabbi Yohanan used in his conversation with Vespasian, which apparently motivated his actions (or at least justified his appraisals) concerning the current events, created an opportunity to reveal what was expected to happen in the future, and granted him the necessary confidence to persuade Vespasian that the royal crown was already waiting for him in distant Rome. The source reads:

He [Vespasian] said: Your life is forfeit on two accounts, one because I am not a king and you call me a king, and again, if I am a king, why did you not come to me before now? He replied: As for your saying that you are not a king, in truth you are a king, since if you were not a king Jerusalem would not be delivered into your hand, as it is written, ‘And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one’ [Isa. 10: 34]. ‘Mighty one’ [is an epithet] applied only to a king, as it is written, ‘And their mighty one shall be of themselves, etc.’ [Jer. 30: 21]; and Lebanon refers to the Sanctuary, as it says, ‘This goodly mountain and Lebanon’ [Deut. 3: 25].

(p.416) In contrast, the Yiddish version reads:32

Then said the emperor to Rabbi Yohanan: You are twice guilty: once, you call me king [but] I am not a king, so you are mocking me. Secondly, if I am a king, why did you not come out to [see] me until now? Then said Rabbi Yohanan: You say that you are not a king, but you are indeed a king, because I know that Jerusalem and the temple will be delivered into your hand, and we learn that from the verse that [says] the Temple will not be delivered except into the hand of a king. If you were not a king, Jerusalem could not be delivered into your hand.

Notwithstanding this tendency, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh does not delete all verses. Several sentences later he quotes the verse ‘[God] turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish’ (Isa. 44: 25), which he places in the mouth of Rabbi Akiva (according to the method he uses wherever there are several attributions), instead of pointing out, as does the source, that ‘some say’ it was Rabbi Akiva. Shortly thereafter he also quotes the verse ‘And good tidings make the bone fat’ (Prov. 15: 30). In this case the author was able to adhere to the source and simply introduce these verses of wisdom, since they do not require an explanation that would interfere with the flow of the text.33

3. The Stories

As mentioned earlier, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh expanded on the story about Nakdimon ben Gorion found in tractate Ta’anit of the Babylonian Talmud (19b–20a). He reproduced the opening sentence from Gitin 56a: ‘There were in it [Jerusalem] three men of great wealth, Nakdimon ben Gorion, Ben Kalba Sabua, and Ben Tsitsit Hakeset’, but transformed the sequel, ‘Nakdimon ben Gorion was so called because the sun continued shining for his sake’, into a sort of introduction that includes information not found in his source. He also added clarification of the source’s condensed wording: ‘And these names were not their real names. The first one was called Nakdimon because a miracle happened to him, in that the sun shone on his behalf longer than was usual for it to shine at any other time.’34 With this sentence providing a transition device, he moves to the story from Ta’anit. (p.417) His decision to insert it here is not obvious. Inasmuch as this story is a clear digression from the main issue of the collection—the destruction of the Temple—the compiler presumably weighed up the digression against the irresistible appeal of this classic story, and deliberately chose to incorporate it into his text.35

The story itself follows the framework of the source, but the Yiddish author, as is his wont, introduces explanations wherever he deems these necessary for his readers, or because he wishes to instruct them in the manner of all those who wrote for readers whose acquaintance with the Hebrew sources came only through Yiddish. It is for this reason that he adds to his citation from the source (‘It once happened that the Israelites came to Jerusalem for the festivals, and there was not enough water [in the city] for drinking purposes’ (Ta’anit 19b)) this explanatory rewording: ‘Once all [the people of] Israel came to Jerusalem for the festival because at Passover, at Shavuot, and at Sukkot all Israel had to come to Jerusalem. Once all Israel went [there] and they had no water to drink.’ In the following sentences, as in many similar instances when he seems unsatisfied with the impersonal marker ‘he said to him’, the author specifies the names of the speakers (for example, da shprakh der tsadik tsu dem hegmon, that is: ‘the pious man said to the bishop’). At the same time he exchanges a nickname (Nakdimon ben Gorion) for the real name (Boni ben Gorion), and expands short sentences. Thus, instead of simply translating the source ‘And he fixed with him a time’, our translator writes: ‘And he fixed with him a time when he could deliver the wells or the money to him’, and goes on to explain what Nakdimon means by ‘I have still time’ by expanding the phrase: ‘a lot of rain can come, so that your wells will be full again’. When confronted with idiomatic phrases and expressions, the author sometimes omits them (as he does with ‘the Holy One caused the world to storm only on thy account’) or remodels them (as, for instance, when instead of Nakdimon’s invocation to the Creator, ‘Announce to the world that Thou hast favourites here on earth!’, he has him say, ‘Show the world that we are the beloved ones on this earth [Vayz der velt daz mir zayn di gelibtn in oylem]’.36 It is also characteristic of this author that, having concretized the abstract subject of the sentence in the source, he further elaborates: ‘and just as you performed a miracle for me with the rain, perform a miracle for me with the sun’.

The author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh diversifies the opening formulae of the stories he brings into his compilation (es gishakh ayn mayse, ayn mayse iz gishehn, ayn mayse gishakh, meaning ‘it once happened’, ‘an event occurred’) and even begins the tale of the woman and her seven sons in quite a different manner from that of his main (p.418) source in Gitin 57b. While there the story is brought as an additional illustration to the verse ‘Yea, for Thy sake we are killed all the day long’ (Ps. 44: 23), in Khurbn beys hamikdesh it is introduced directly as an independent tale with no mention of the verse. However, in this case the modification is not a result of the author’s conception alone, but is already found in the text of Lamentations Rabbah 1: 50,from which he draws details to complete his version of the story. Yet it is perfectly clear that he does not replace one source with the other; nor does he adapt all the details found in the second source, but rather integrates them and builds up a new, compound version. Here too, as throughout his compilation, he modifies or omits details from his sources on one hand, but on the other hand adds elements of his own when he feels that the brevity of the source may hinder understanding. Thus, for example, the story in Lamentations Rabbah opens: ‘There was a case of Miriam, daughter of Tanhum, who was taken captive with her seven sons.’ It is from this source that the detail about the children being taken captive—which does not appear in the talmudic source—was added to the version of the story in Khurbn beys hamikdesh, but the name of the mother, as well as the fact that she was also taken captive, is not mentioned (‘there was a case of a woman that had seven sons who were taken captive’).

As a rule, matters that seem unclear in the source story are explained. For example, ‘the first’ [son] (in Git. and in Lam. Rabbah) is translated as ‘the eldest’. From there on the boys are listed in the same manner as in Lamentations Rabbah (the second, the third, the fourth, and so on). The overall influence of Lamentations Rabbah is quite obvious throughout, and it seems that the Yiddish author superimposed this version on that from Gitin, adding his own supplements according to the subject matter. Thus, the emperor’s command in the Yiddish version, ‘Bow down to the avodah zarah [idol]’, is assembled from ‘Worship the avodah zarah’ (Git. 57b) and ‘Bow down to the tselem [image]’ (Lam. Rabbah).There are various other examples of this kind.

The most obvious element ‘imported’ from Lamentations Rabbah is that of the biblical verses employed by the seven sons as arguments for their refusal to obey the emperor. There is no doubt that the writer preferred the verses quoted in Lamentations Rabbah to those cited in Gitin. Similarly, he specifically favoured the more lengthy style of the discussion between the seventh son and the emperor as it appears in this midrashic source. In his usual manner he also made some additions, including a slightly strange one added to the translation of the sentence: ‘Your brothers have had their fill of years and life and have had happiness,’ which in Khurbn beys hamikdesh reads, ‘Look, your brothers lived long and indulged in a lot of good living [fil guts ginet], it is [therefore] no wonder that they let themselves be killed.’

According to his overall method of shaping the stories in his collection, the author indicates who speaks whenever the source reads ‘he said’ (which appears in both his sources and is the common designation of the speaker in the Talmud as well as in the Midrash). For purposes of clarification he also adds his own explicit comments to the verses used to justify the refusal to worship idols, for example: ‘I will (p.419) not bow down to that [piece of] wood’ (says the first son), ‘therefore I will not worship your god’ (says the second), and ‘therefore I will not have your god’ (says the sixth).

All this notwithstanding, it would seem that the most essential feature our author introduces into the mechanism of this rabbinic story is that of variation. In contrast to the repeated attempts of all stories of this kind to retain a uniform style and language—as is illustrated by the care taken to use the same expressions throughout the rabbinic narrative—the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh chooses to highlight variations of one kind or another. Such concern for diversity brings about notable change with respect to the question, ‘Is there a divinity in the world?’ In Lamentations Rabbah the question is followed by a description of the Creator in human form, which is built entirely on Psalms 115: 2–8. The adaptation of the details of this biblical sequence by the emperor (in the Lam. Rabbah version) clearly indicates that the storyteller presents the ruler as searching for a divinity with human attributes. Yet the young child repeatedly instructs him that God only has the qualities of the human organs and their power, and that this—and not their corporeal constitution—is the intention of the personification employed in these biblical expressions. The transformation of the extended dialogue in Khurbn beys hamikdesh into a long (but condensed) monologue by the young child appears to betray the writer’s distaste for repetition. The result is to focus attention on the meaning of the ‘attributes’ to which the emperor referred, finding climactic expression at the close of the discourse: ‘If your God is that strong, why doesn’t He save you from my hands as Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were saved from Nebuchadnezzar, who had them thrown into the lime oven?’

This instance illustrates another characteristic of our author’s adaptation of the sources. Even while adding certain explanations (for example, what Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were saved from), he also removes phrases intended only to embellish or intensify the content. Thus whereas Lamentations Rabbah reads, ‘If you do not kill us, the Holy One, blessed be He, has many killers, many bears, many wolves, and lions, and snakes, and leopards, and scorpions who can harm us and kill us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, will exact from you vengeance for our blood in the future,’ the translation reads, ‘And if you would not kill us, our God has many agents who could have killed us. But our God [Himself] will take vengeance on you for our blood.’ Similar reasons, as well as changing concepts of female modesty, may have induced the author to remove a feature from the description of the mother’s actions towards her son: ‘They gave her [her son], and she took out her breasts and nursed him.’ Another omission occurs at the end of the story, where the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh returns to the version of the story in Gitin. He merely mentions that a voice came forth, and said, ‘The mother of the children rejoices’ (Ps. 113: 9), and omits the entire conclusion of the derashah in Lamentations Rabbah with its three scriptural passages: ‘To fulfil what is said [in the Scriptures], “She who has borne seven sons languished” [Jer. 15: 9]’; ‘and a voice came forth saying, (p.420) “The mother of the children rejoices” [Ps. 113: 9]’, ‘and the Holy Spirit screaming, “For these things I weep” [Lam. 1: 16]’.

We will now give a synoptic presentation of the tale of a man who developed a desire for his master’s wife, which is narrated at the conclusion of the cycle of stories both in Gitin and Khurbn beys hamikdesh:37

BT Gitin 19a

Khurbn beys hamikdesh

R. Judah said in the name of Rav: What is signified by the verse ‘And they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage?’ [Micah 2: 2]

A certain man once conceived a desire for the wife of his master, he being a carpenter’s apprentice.

Once upon a time there was a man who developed a liking for the wife of his master, who had taught him a trade, and he didn’t know how to get her.

Once his master needed to borrow [money].

Once his master needed money and he asked him to lend it to him.

He said to him:

So he said to him:

Send your wife to me

Send your wife to me,

and I will lend her the money.

and I will send it with her.

So he sent his wife to him,

So he sent his wife

And she stayed for three days with him.

and he kept her with him for three days.

He then went to him and asked

Then his master came and asked him:

Where is my wife whom I sent to you?

Where is my wife that I sent to you?

He replied:

So he said:

I sent her away at once,

I had her go home immediately

but I heard that some youngsters abused her

but I was told that on the road she frolicked

on the road.

a lot.

He said to him: What shall I do?

He said: What shall I do with her?

He said to him:

He said:

If you listen to my advice, divorce her.

Will you obey me? Divorce her.

He said to him:

Then he said:

She has a large ketubah [marriage

She has a large ketubah.


I do not have [enough] to pay her.

He said to him: I will lend you (the money),

He said: I will lend you (the money).

and give her her ketubah.

So he went and divorced her

So he took the money and divorced her and

and the other went and married her.

gave her [her] ketubah.

As soon as the master divorced her, he

married her.

(p.421) When the time for payment arrived

Then came the time to pay back the money he had lent him for the ketubah,

and he was not able to pay him,

and he did not have [the money] to pay.

Then he said to him: Pay me back my money. So he said: I have none.

He said to him:

He said to him:

Since you have no money,

Come and work off your debt with me.

be my servant and work off the money for me.

So they used to sit and eat and drink

So he had to be his servant,

while he waited on them,

[and] when he with his wife ate and drank

he had to stand by the table and pour [their

wine] for them.

and tears used to fall from his eyes and drop

And his tears fell

into their cups.

into the cup.

From that hour the doom was sealed;

At that time it was sealed that Jerusalem

would be destroyed.

some however say that it was for two wicks in one light.

May God let us merit to build it again soon in our days. Amen.

In Gitin the story is reported by Rabbi Judah in the name of Rav (as is the preceding story about the son and daughter of Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha), whereas the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh edits out the names of the speakers and the quotation from Micah, and moves directly to the story. As in the earlier stories adapted from the Gitin cycle, here, too, the basic structure of the narrative is retained, along with changes in the details—many of which alter the very nature of the story. For example, the author tends to add explanatory sentences, specifically those which either reveal—at the content level—the motivations behind the characters’ actions (while in the rabbinic story these motives are usually uncovered only through the actions themselves), or complete—at the narrative level—partial or fragmentary sentences, both of which are characteristic features of the rabbinic story in general. To the ‘factual’ sentence in the exposition of the story, that the man ‘conceived a desire for the wife of his master’, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh added: ‘and did not know how to get her’. This change transforms the apprentice (who is not referred to as a carpenter’s apprentice in the Yiddish version, since it was already explained that the ‘master’ taught him a trade),38 into someone obsessed with thoughts bearing on the fulfilment of his desire. This sharpening of the base (p.422) qualities of the apprentice is also evident from the transformation of the sentence: ‘but I heard that some youngsters abused her on the road’ into ‘but I was told that on the road she frolicked a lot’. This revision transforms the woman from the victim of abuse to the initiator of an act of immorality. The translation of the sentence ‘So he went and divorced her and the other went and married her’ by ‘As soon as the master had divorced her, he married her’ also gives more emphasis to the apprentice’s tenacity than appears in the source.

Other changes follow: the bluntness of the Yiddish rendering of the sentence ‘Come and work off your debt with me’ is much stronger than the phrase used in the source.39 The additional conclusion, ‘so he had to be his servant’, which recurs in the summarizing scene: ‘And he had to stand by the table and pour [their wine] for them’, provides the Yiddish reader with information that the Hebrew reader arrives at independently; moreover, it serves to emphasize the cruelty of the apprentice. Thus, overall, the ‘translator’ chooses to reinforce what is said in the source by means of various additions (including dialogue), and also explicates what the reader of the talmudic source would need to infer.40 At the conclusion of the story, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh chose not to translate the alternative reason for the destruction of the Temple quoted in his source: ‘some however say that it was for two wicks in one light’. It is not clear whether this choice was due to the difficulty of translating the metaphor, or simply because of the problematic formulation noted by several commentators.41

The section in Khurbn beys hamikdesh that comprises the selection of stories from tractate Gitin concludes with the wish (absent in the source): ‘May God let us merit to rebuild [Jerusalem] soon in our days, Amen.’ What follows is a rendering of most of Petiḥta 24 of Lamentations Rabbah (according to the printed edition). The ‘translator’ skips over the whole section in which Isaiah 22: 1–12 is expounded verse by verse, and begins with the midrashic elaboration of Psalms 42: 5: ‘These things I remember and pour out my soul within me’, which is linked to the last-mentioned verse, Isaiah 22: 12 (‘My Lord God of Hosts summoned on that day to weeping and lamenting, to tonsuring and girding with sackcloth’).42 Our Yiddish author deals with his selection of subjects from Petiḥta 24 according to the methods and principles already discussed: he omits the ‘demonstrative’ verses that often impede the (p.423) narrative flow, essential verses are paraphrased,43 and he shortens extended passages or adds further explanations where necessary. Idiomatic expressions are converted.44 Although a detailed discussion of all the changes introduced into the text requires more extensive consideration, we will focus here on one central matter—the author’s decision to highlight Petiḥta 24 of Lamentations Rabbah. This choice is proof of his intention to present his readers with a well-structured literary unit, and not simply a string of midrashic explications as separate stories. The material he uses from this petiḥta includes three complementary units: (1) Israel’s confession of its sins; (2) the Creator’s response to the destruction of the Temple—a literary unit45 that concludes in the original source with the bold remark, ‘Woe to the king who prospered in his youth but did not prosper in his old age,’ placed in the mouth of God; and (3), a long story,46 which concludes with the promise of future consolation due to the great merit of Rachel rather than that of Moses and the patriarchs. Rachel reminds God of what happened when her father replaced her with her sister before her wedding to Jacob: ‘I gave my sister all the signs that I had given to my husband, so that he would think that she was Rachel,’ and even spoke to Jacob from her place ‘under the bed’,

so that he would not discern the voice of my sister. I paid my sister only kindness, and I was not jealous of her nor allowed her to be shamed, although I am a mere mortal, dust and ashes. I had no envy of my rival, and did not place her at risk for shame and humiliation. But you are the King, living and enduring and merciful. How is it then that you are jealous of idolatry, which is worthless, and have sent my children into exile on its account, allowing them to be killed by the sword, and permitting the enemy to do whatever they wanted to them?47

This impassioned claim in the manner of kal vaḥomer (a minori ad maius) brings about the Creator’s promise, ‘For Rachel I am going to bring Israel back to their land.’

The corresponding passage in Khurbn beys hamikdesh reads:

And the word-signs on which I agreed with Jacob I taught to my sister so that he would not notice that it was her. And I lay down under the bed and I spoke for her so that he would not recognize my sister by her voice. Thus I did and I was not jealous of her. Lord of the world [riboyn shel oylem], look, I am a human being of flesh and blood, dust and ashes, and I did not envy my sister and You are a merciful king. Why were You jealous of (p.424) the idols [avodah zarah] which Israel worshipped? Why did your Holy Name mind so much the image [tselem] which does not mean a thing and for that reason You expelled my children and the enemies did with them whatever they wanted? At once God took pity and said: Rachel, because of you I will bring Israel back to their land. Amen selah.48

The rendering of this petiḥta constitutes an obvious completion to the first unit of Khurbn beys hamikdesh. The long stories from Petiḥta 24 are used by the author in directing his readers’ attention away from those narratives that lie at the core of the Gitin cycle and attest to the moral failings of the people of Jerusalem (insulting and shaming others, behaving with extreme strictness, ‘oppressing a man and his house’, etc.) that brought about the destruction of the Holy City (and of the city of Beitar). Instead the depiction of God’s sorrow is crucial; he appears to be surprised by what happened after he had said, ‘I will close my eyes to it and will swear that I will not pay attention to it until they have entirely destroyed it.’ All that remains for him is to weep. The author adds stories that deal with the sorrow of the fathers of the nation, whose pleas for divine mercy are disregarded, and concludes with the poignant narrative about Rachel’s virtues. Having herself overcome human feelings of envy, it is she who teaches God to overcome his envy of the idol worshipped by the people of Israel. For her merits, redemption is promised.

4. Khurbn beys hamikdesh in the Tsene-rene

The second volume of the oldest extant edition of the Tsene-rene (1622)49 begins with the Five Megillot, continues with the haftarot (prophetic readings) for the weekly readings, and concludes with the haftarot for special sabbaths and festivals (the last being Simhat Torah). Appearing as a running header on the pages of the Five Megillot is the word midrashim.50 And indeed, in the discussion of the Megillot, the translation and explanation of the verses are combined with a selection of midrashim. Exceptional in this cycle is Lamentations, in which there are two distinct sections. The first is a translation of the book intertwined with explanations (usually from Rashi’s commentary), ending with the closing note ‘End of the book of Lamentations’ (selik megilat eikhah).51 The following relatively lengthy section,52 with the header khurbn (‘destruction’), and referred to in the title page of the (p.425) volume as khurbn in loshn ashkenaz, is entirely different; it is, in fact, none other than the very collection of stories under discussion in this chapter. Since the text of the booklet printed in Kraków and the text that appears in the Tsene-rene are virtually identical,53 an explanation for the relationship between the two must be sought.

First, the question of authorship of our text must be considered. Was its author Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Janów, the renowned author of the Tsene-rene, whose name appears on the title pages of both volumes of the book?54 In a meticulously systematic analysis of the language of the Tsene-rene Simon Neuberg has demonstrated that the vocabulary of each of the three sections (Torah, Megillot, haftarot) differs clearly from that of the other two, a phenomenon that becomes particularly prominent in the section khurbn in loshn ashkenaz, which, together with Ruth, differs in its linguistic features most conspicuously from that of the other four Megillot in the Tsene-rene.55 The conclusions of the linguistic analysis seem to indicate quite clearly that Rabbi Jacob, the author of the first volume of the Tsene-rene (on the Torah), was not the author of the various components of the second volume of this book (Megillot and haftarot). The discussion of the questions about the integration of the two volumes into one opus is beyond the framework of this article.56 It is, however, relevant that an earlier printed Yiddish booklet on the destruction of the Temple has been inserted directly after the Yiddish translation and explanation of Lamentations. The difference between the Tsene-Rene’s treatment of Lamentations and that of the other four Megillot leads to the conclusion that whoever included the booklet in the second volume of the Tsene-rene wished to differentiate Lamentations from the other Megillot. Since the khurbn booklet consisted of midrashim, the preceding rendition of Lamentations required no more than a Yiddish translation and explanation of the text, as had been done in the section of the haftarot. Indeed, there is a great similarity between the manner of rendition of the haftarot and the methods used in the rendition of Lamentations.

(p.426) The translation and explanation of Lamentations together with the legends of the destruction of the Temple (either adjacent to the explanation57 or as an independent text) created a unique framework which probably served a practical purpose: providing appropriate reading matter for mourners on the Ninth of Av, a day when regular learning is forbidden.58

Most enlightening on this matter are, for example, the words of Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1530–1612) that on the Ninth of Av

it is forbidden to read the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, and to learn Mishnah or Midrash or Gemara or halakhah or aggadah that rejoice the heart, but one should read the book of Job and the [prophecies of] evil in Jeremiah, which break the heart […], and it is permitted to learn Midrash Lamentations in order to remember the destruction of the Temple, and likewise the aggadot of the destruction in Chapter ‘Hanizakin’ and in Chapter ‘Ḥelek’ and to read the destruction described in Josippon […], and also the commentary on Lamentations and Job is permitted.59

This Yiddish booklet was not the first text to provide materials permitted for reading or learning on the Ninth of Av. It was preceded by the Hebrew collection Zikhron ḥurban habayit (‘Memory of the Destruction of the Temple’, Cremona, 1565), at the core of which are the stories of destruction from Gitin.60 However, as has already been noted,61 there is no discernible influence from this collection on the Yiddish booklet.

This Yiddish compilation came to be an integral part of the Tsene-rene, appearing in all known editions,62 while at the same time it continued to appear in print as an independent booklet.63 The longevity that the compilation enjoyed was not due to its appearance as an independent booklet, but because of its place in the Tsene-rene. Indeed, in one of the later printed editions of Khurbn beys hamikdesh (p.427) (1862),64 the sequential explanation of the verses of Lamentations from the Tsenerene is printed before the cycle of stories. This was explicitly noted in the German translation of both units that appeared in the twentieth century.65

Further research on the use of Midrash in the rest of the Tsene-rene, as well as in the other genres of Yiddish literature of the early modern period, will no doubt reveal additional methods of adaptation used by the authors for the sake of their readers, allow for a fuller differentiation between conventional and innovative techniques, and explain how considerable portions of the Midrash became a living, integral part of the spiritual assets of the Yiddish-reading public who did not understand the original sources. (p.428)


(1) The earliest translation seems to be that of Tanḥuma, Warsaw (1884), which was reprinted there in 1886 and 1896, and appeared in photocopied editions in Williamsburg (1963) and Israel (1964). A full translation of Midrash Rabbah appeared for the first time in Warsaw (1893–5), where it was reprinted several times (1898, 1913). Another full translation appeared in St Louis in 1919, and the well-known translation of the Midrash Rabbah (the Five Scrolls only) by Shimshon Dunsky was published in Montreal between 1957 and 1973.

(2) See Lajb Fuks, The Oldest Known Literary Documents of Yiddish Literature (c.1382), 2 vols. (Leiden, 1957).

(3) See Walter Roll, ‘Zu den ersten drei Texten der Cambridger Handschrift von 1382’, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, 104 (1975), 54–68; Dov Sadan, ‘The Midrashic Background of “The Paradise” and its Implications for the Evaluation of the Cambridge Yiddish Codex (1382)’, The Field of Yiddish, 2 (1965), 253–62; Wulf-Otto Dreessen, ‘Midraschepik und Bibelepik: Biblische Stoffe in der volkssprachlichen Literatur der Juden und Christen des Mittelalters im deutschen Sprachgebiet’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, 100 (1981), 78–97.

(4) See Percy Matenko and Samuel Sloan, ‘The Aqedath Jiṣḥaq: A Sixteenth Century Yiddish Epic’, in Percy Matenko, Two Studies in Yiddish Culture (Leiden, 1968), 3–70; Wulf-Otto Dreessen, Akedass Jizhak: Ein Altjiddisches Gedicht über die Opferung Isaaks: Mit Einleitung und Kommentar kritisch herausgegeben (Hamburg, 1971); id., ‘Midraschepik und Bibelepik’, 78–97.

(5) See Chone Shmeruk, ‘Yiddish Long Poems on the Book of Esther to the Eighteenth Century’ (Heb.), in id. (ed.), Yiddish Biblical Plays 1697–1750, Edited from Manuscripts and Printed Versions with an Introduction by Chone Shmeruk [Maḥazot mikra’iyim beyidish, 1697–1750: hehedir lefi kitvei yad ude-fusim vehosif mavo ḥone shmeruk] (Jerusalem, 1979), 131–8; Wulf-Otto Dreessen, ‘Die altjiddischen Estherdichtungen: Uberlegungen zur Rekonstruktion der Geschichte der älteren jiddischen Literatur’, Daphnis, 6 (1977), 218–33; Jutta Baum-Sheridan, Studien zu den westjiddischen Estherdichtungen (Hamburg, 1996).

(6) On the sources of the Shmuel-bukh see Felix Falk and Lajb Fuks (eds.), Das Schemuelbuch des Mosche Esrim Wearba: Ein biblisches Epos aus dem 15. Jahrhundert, vol. ii (Assen, 1961), 107–13. On those of the Melokhim-bukh see Lajb Fuks (ed.), Das altjiddische Epos Melokim-buk, vol. ii (Assen, 1965), 6–52.

(7) For a survey of the genre, see Chava Turniansky, ‘On Old-Yiddish Biblical Epics’, International Folklore Review, 8 (1991), 26–33; ead., ‘The Research of the Yiddish Epic Poems on the Bible’ (Heb.), Newsletter of the World Union of Jewish Studies, 27 (1987), 27–40; Chone Shmeruk, Yiddish Literature: Aspects of Its History [Sifrut yidish: perakim letoledoteiha] (Tel Aviv, 1978), 117–36.

(8) On these and other sources of the mayses see Sara Zfatman, ‘The Mayse-Bukh: An Old Yiddish Literary Genre’ (Heb.), Hasifrut, 28 (1979), 126–52.

(9) See Chone Shmeruk, ‘The Beginnings of Yiddish Narrative Prose and its Centre in Italy’ (Heb.), in Daniel Carpi, Attilio Milano, and Alexander Rofé (eds.), Scritti in memoria di Leone Carpi [Sefer zikaron le’aryeh le’one karpi: kovets meḥkarim letoledot hayehudim be’italiyah] (Jerusalem, 1967), 119–40; Zfatman, ‘The Mayse-Bukh’ (Heb.).

(10) See Chava Turniansky and Erika Timm, Yiddish in Italia: Yiddish Manuscripts and Printed Books from the 15th to the 17th Century (Milan, 2003), no. 12, p. 20; Sarah Zfatman, Yiddish Narrative Prose from Its Beginnings to Shivḥei habesht (1504–1814): An Annotated Bibliography [Hasiporet beyidish mereshitah ad ‘Shivḥei habesht’ (1504–1814): bibliografiyah mu’eret] (Jerusalem, 1985), 11, item alef.

(11) See Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 10, p. 16; Zfatman, Yiddish Narrative Prose, 11, item bet.

(12) See Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 47, pp. 96–7; Zfatman, Yiddish Narrative Prose, 13, item dalet.

(13) For the critical edition of the entire manuscript see Anshel Levi, An Old Yiddish Midrash on the ‘Chapters of the Fathers’ [Midrash lefirkei avot beyidish kama’it], ed. Ya’akov Maitlis (Jerusalem, 1978). For brief information see Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 48, p. 100; Zfatman, Yiddish Narrative Prose, 14, item heh.

(14) Ibid. 15–18, item vav. For single mayses of talmudic–midrashic origin preserved in manuscripts of this period see Zfatman, Yiddish Narrative Prose, 18–19, item heh; 22–3, item yod-alef.

(15) ‘Rovere’ is probably either Rovereto or Rovere della Luna, both near Trento. See Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 64, p. 126; Erika Timm, ‘Zur Frühgeschichte der jiddischen Erzählprosa: Eine neuaufgefundene Maise-Handschrift’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, 117 (1995), 243–80. The last pages of the manuscript contain a Yiddish translation of the midrash Eleh ezkerah.

(16) See Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 65, p. 128; Zfatman, ‘The Mayse-Bukh’ (Heb.).

(18) The title page promises ‘more than 300 mayses’. On this number see Timm, ‘Zur Frühgeschichte der jiddischen Erzählprosa’, 270–2.

(21) Ibid. 262–3.

(22) See Turniansky and Timm, Yiddish in Italia, no. 60, p. 120.

(23) We do not know when the Tsene-rene was written nor when it was first printed. It consists of a rendering in Yiddish of the Pentateuch, the Megillot, and the haftarot (prophetic readings), making use of numerous sources, including Midrash, Talmud, Rashi (1040–1105), and other exegetes, particularly Bahya ben Asher (d. 1340). The earliest extant edition appeared in 1622 (apparently in Hanau and not in Basle as is stated on the title page) in two parts, one on the Torah and the other on the Five Scrolls and the haftarot. According to the title page of the section on the Torah, which mentions three earlier editions, one in Lublin followed by two in Kraków, this is the fourth edition. See Jacob Elbaum and Chava Turniansky, ‘Tsene-rene’, The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, 2. vols. (New Haven, Conn., 2008), ii. 1912–3.

(24) For this and further information on the booklet see Sara Zfatman, ‘“Khurbn habayis”, Kraków before 1595: One More Yiddish Print from Poland in the 16th Century’ (Heb.), Kiryat sefer, 54 (1979), 201–2; Chone Shmeruk, Yiddish Literature in Poland: Historical Studies and Perspectives [Sifrut yidish bepolin: meḥkarim ve’iyunim historiyim] (Jerusalem, 1981), nos. 61, 114; Shifra Baruchson-Arbib, Books and Readers: The Reading Interests of Italian Jews at the Close of the Renaissance [Sefarim vekorim: tarbut hakeriah shel yehudei italiyah beshilhei harenesans] (Ramat Gan, 1993), 157. A later, most accurate edition of the booklet, following a paraphrastic rendering into Yiddish of the book of Lamentations, appeared in Khurbn beys hamikdesh mit megilles eykho (Pest, 1862) (digital photograph provided by the Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek in Frankfurt am Main).

(25) See Agnes Romer-Segal, ‘Yiddish Literature and its Readers in the 16th Century: Books in the Censor’s Lists, Mantua 1595’ (Heb.), Kiryat sefer, 53 (1978), 779–88.

(26) See below, section 3.

(27) Translations have been taken from: Jacob Neusner, Lamentations Rabbah: An Analytical Translation (Atlanta, Ga., 1989); Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin, trans. Maurice Simon, ed. Isidore Epstein (London, 1977). In some instances alterations were made for the sake of greater accuracy.

(28) For example, compare BT Git. 57a on the verse: ‘The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob and hath not pitied’ (Lam. 2: 2) and Khurbn, 6a. As usual, even the brief talmudic text quoted is not provided with an attribution. So also regarding the matter which immediately follows: ‘Once when R. Manyumi b. Helkiah and R. Helkiah b. Tobiah and R. Huna b. Hiya were sitting together they said: if anyone knows anything about Kefar Sekania of Egypt, let him say’, translated as ‘Three scholars were sitting together. They spoke thus: anyone who can say something about the city of Kefar Sekania, speak.’ There are many other similar cases.

(29) On the use of biblical verses by the sages see Jonah Fraenkel, The Aggadic Narrative: Harmony of Form and Content [Sipur ha’agadah: aḥdut shel tokhen vetsurah] (Tel Aviv, 2001), 198–219. For an earlier version, see id., ‘Bible Verses Quoted in Tales of the Sages’, in Joseph Heinemann and Dov Noy (eds.), Studies in Aggadah and Folk Literature (Jerusalem, 1971), 80–99.

(30) Most of the following translations of biblical verses into English are taken from the Jewish Publication Society 1917 version, but at times we used those that appear in English versions of the Talmud and Lamentations Rabbah (see above, n. 27). All translations from Khurbn beys hamikdesh are ours.

(31) See the observation of Fraenkel, The Aggadic Narrative (Heb.), 212–18, who hints at additional discussions of this well-known story.

(32) The cursive script points to the author’s independent additions.

(33) Following this, the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh changes the continuation of the story—incidentally this change omits the quotation of the verse: ‘But a broken spirit drieth the bones’ (Prov. 17: 22)—and introduces only the explanation appropriate to his subject matter: ‘When one sees an enemy before him, his bone turns thin.’ There are similar examples: one at the close of the story in BT Gitin about the son and daughter of Rabbi Ishmael, which concludes with the words ‘“For them Jeremiah utters lamentation [Lam. 1: 15]”—For these I am weeping, mine eye, mine eye drops water’ (Git. 58a), translated in Khurbn as ‘For these Jeremiah the prophet lamented my eyes drip down water.’

(34) See Khurbn, 2a. These words of introduction are built upon the tradition found in BT Ta’an. 20a: ‘His name was not Nakdimon ben Boni and he was called Nakdimon because the sun had broken through [nikdera] on his behalf,’ translated in Khurbn: ‘for this reason was he called Nakdimon—it is translated as “shine”, because of him the sun shone; alternatively his real name was Boni’.

(35) On this story see Jacob Elbaum, ‘Nakdimon ben Gorion and the Bishop: On the Nature of One Jerusalemite Story’ (Heb.), Gilyonot lamoreh, 5–6 (1977), 28–34.

(36) It is worthwhile to compare the ‘translation’ of these passages (and of the story as a whole) in Khurbn beys hamikdesh with an apparently earlier translation; see Levi, An Old Yiddish Midrash, 131–2. Without going into details we may note that Levi’s ‘translation’ is rather more accurate.

(37) Khurbn, 9a. Before this story and after the tale of R. Ishmael b. Elisha’s son and daughter is the story of Resh Lakish about Zofnat bat Paniel (BT Git. 58a), which is not included in Khurbn beys hamikdesh.

(38) It is almost certain that the author of Khurbn beys hamikdesh used Rashi’s commentary when he converted the sentence ‘he being a carpenter’s apprentice’ into ‘who taught him a trade’.

(39) The sentence ‘Come and work off your debt with me’ is translated as ‘Be my servant and work off the money for me.’ It is unnecessary to say that this is not a literal translation of the Hebrew text. As was already mentioned, this sentence follows a long dialogue (not found in the source), which leads gradually to the choice (or lack thereof) expressed in the sentence ‘so he had to be his servant’ (also not found in the source).

(40) Similarly, it is possible to say that this was also the method of a number of Hebrew writers adapting tales of the sages during the Middle Ages.

(41) The phrase seems to have sexual connotations. See e.g. Rashi on BT Git. 58a, and R. Samuel Edels (Maharsha), Ḥidushei agadot, ad loc.

(42) Although the translator does quote the verse, it is only as an introduction to the matter following.

(43) For example, the expository details (the basis of which is to be found in Petiḥta 24) of Isa. 33: 8: ‘Highways are desolate, wayfarers have ceased.’

(44) For example, ‘deceitful prophets who were in my midst misled me from the way of life to the way of death’ is rendered by ‘deceitful prophets who were in our midst led me from the good path to the evil path’; the sentence ‘I shall […] take an oath that I shall not become engaged with it until the time of the end’ is translated as ‘I will swear that I will not pay attention to it until it is entirely destroyed’; ‘God above, creator of heavens and earth’ is briefly designated ‘the Creator’; there are many other examples.

(45) The story is entitled ‘The Holy One Weeping’, in Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitsky (eds.), The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, trans. William Braude (New York, 1992), 145–7.

(46) Entitled ‘Mourning by the Fathers’, ibid. 146–8.

(47) From Neusner’s translation of Petiḥta 24 (Jacob Neusner, Lamentations Rabbah, 78–9).

(48) See Khurbn, 12b. Here, too, the verses of justification (Jer. 3: 14–16) found in the source have been omitted. These complex stories, of which only certain aspects have been discussed, are worthy of a wider discussion; see Galit Hasan-Rokem, ‘The Voice is the Voice of my Sister: Feminine Images and Feminine Symbols in Lamentations Rabbah’ (Heb.), in Yael Azmon (ed.), A View into the Lives of Women in Jewish Societies [Eshnav leḥayeihen shel nashim beḥevrot yehudiyot] (Jerusalem, 1995), 95–111; ead., Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature, trans. Batya Stein (Stanford, Calif., 2000).

(49) See above, n. 23. From the wording of the title page of the second part it seems that this was composed later than the first. In most of the following editions both parts of the Tsene-rene appear in one volume.

(50) The header midrashim appears at the top of the left-hand column of the page, which is printed in two columns. At the top of the right-hand column appears the name of the Megillah in question.

(51) Tsene-rene (1622), 15b.

(52) Ibid. 15c–20c.

(53) There are a few differences in the orthography (as is usual when there are two printings of a Yiddish book within a short space of time), and several lexical differences, where one of two words with the same meaning appears at times in one text and at times in the other.

(54) See above, n. 23.

(55) See Simon Neuberg, Pragmatische Aspekte der jiddischen Sprachgeschichte am Beispiel der ‘Zenerene’, Jidische Schtudies, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprache und Literatur der aschkenasischen Juden 7, ed. Walter Roll and Erika Timm (Hamburg, 1999), 109–15.

(56) Since the three first editions are not extant, we do not know if they (or any one of them) consisted of two volumes, which is the case of the fourth and oldest extant edition (1622). In order to solve the puzzle of the second volume of the Tsene-rene further research into the language, style, and, most importantly, the methods of adapting the literary materials is needed. It is also necessary to analyse meticulously and compare the wording of the title pages of both volumes, paying special attention to what is said in that of the second volume: ‘Behold, this is a new thing, the like of which there never was, the Five Scrolls as well as the haftarot, and in addition the khurbn in loshn ashkenaz which he pondered, and sought out, and set in order, the pious great Rabbi Jacob ben Rabbi Isaac of blessed memory […] who pitched his tent to dwell in the holy community of Janow.’ Sara Zfatman, ‘“Khurbn habayis”’, 202 n. 6, considered that ‘it is possible to find in the language of the title page [of the second volume] a hint that the Khurbn is an appendix to the original work of R. Jacob ben Isaac of Janow’.

(57) As it appears in the booklets mentioned above, end of n. 24, and below, n. 63.

(58) ‘Matters of Torah rejoice the heart […]; therefore on the ninth day of Ab it is forbidden to study the Torah, excepting such subjects that sadden the heart’, see Solomon Ganzfried, Code of Jewish Law (Kitzur Schulchan Aruch): A Compilation of Jewish Laws and Customs, trans. Hyman E. Goldin, 4 vols. in 1 (New York, 1928), iii. 62.

(59) Our translation (of Yaffe’s Levush on the Tur, ‘Oraḥ ḥayim’, §554, no. a–b) and our emphasis; see also the corresponding section in Mishnah berurah, and the quotation above, n. 58.

(60) See Meir Benayahu, Hebrew Printing in Cremona [Hadefus ha’ivri bikrimona] (Jerusalem, 1971), 225.

(61) See Zfatman, ‘“Khurbn habayis”’ (Heb.), 201 n. 2.

(62) The changes within the text are no different from the changes which the text of the Tsene-rene in general underwent and is still undergoing.

(63) We recently identified two editions of our booklet in the National Library of Israel, in Jerusalem; they were printed in the 19th cent. in eastern Europe. These two booklets, one of thirteen folios (JNUL R 8vo 54A1231), and the other of sixteen folios (including a translation into Yiddish of the ‘Will of Eliezer Hagadol’ (R 8vo JNUL 2006A5379)) lack title pages and the text has undergone lexical and orthographic changes. The Khurbn beys hamikdeshwas also included in another book, published in Brooklyn, New York (c.1990; JNUL S90A4045). The title page reads: ‘Seder kinot letishah be’av [Order of Lamentations for the Ninth of Av] […] with explanations in Yiddish and good, nice parables. We have also added Khurbn beis hamikdesh and the order of service for evening, morning, and afternoon prayers.’

(64) See above, n. 24.

(65) See Die Zerstörung Jerusalems aus dem Buche Zeena Ureena, trans. into German by Alexander Eliasberg (Berlin, 1921).