Rabbi Aharon Epstein and his Prague Publications: Materials Related to the History of Prague Orthodoxy in 1930?s
Abstract: Rabbi Aharon Epstein (1895 – died in the Holocaust) came to Prague from Romania via Carpathian Ukraine in 1930. He was one of the last from a long line of Orthodox scholars of Eastern European origin who were since mid-19th century invited to serve the small Orthodox segment of the Prague community and to help it survive. Rabbi Epstein pronounced his first Prague sermon on 1 Kislev 5691 (22 November 1931) in the Old New Synagogue and served as a member of the rabbinic court (Rabinatsassessor) and was responsible chiefly for supervision of the local Kosher butchers. The present study describes two publications that Rabbi Epstein published in Prague. Chronologically first is Epstein?s most extensive work, namely, collection of responsa Kapei Aharon (Aaron?s Palms, Ex 29:24 and Lv 8:27). The book was published in 1933 and was printed in Mukachevo (Munkácz) in Czechoslovak Carpathian Ukraine. It is marked as the first volume, however, the sequel never appeared. Many of the texts included in the collection are Prague-related and offer an interesting insight into the life of the Orthodox segment of the Prague Jewish community, refering to figures such as Salomon Hugo (Tswi) Lieben (one of the co-founders of the Jewish Museum in Prague), the future historian Otto (Gavriel) Muneles or to the study group Tiferet bachurim.
The second publication is a short commentary on the Book of Esther called Besime d?pirje (Besima de-purya), published in Prague in 1937 (typed and cyclostyled on a thicker pink paper). The book as an artefact is a telling manifestation of its author?s identification with Czechoslovak Republic. The selection of the genre – related to the miraculous redemption of Jews from a terrible peril, as narrated by the book of Esther – was certainly not arbitrary considering the historical context. Epstein writes toward the end of his text: “We, the Jews of Czechoslovakia (Yehudim bnei Medinat ha-Čechoslovakiyah), must thank God that he placed our share and destiny among educated and peaceloving people, to the land of mercy, built on the base of justice and law.”
The book contains also a Hebrew eulogy of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk († 14 September, 1937) authored by Rabbi Epstein. Some of the copies include an inserted sheet of paper (same type as the whole book) with a Czech translation of the same eulogy.
Key-words: Czechoslovak Jews; Prague Jewish Community; Orthodox Judaism; Aharon Epstein; Prague Rabbis
PhDr. Pavel Sládek, PhD., působí jako odborný asistent na oboru hebraistika na Ústavu Blízkého východu a Afriky Filozofické fakulty Univerzity Karlovy v Praze. Věnuje se především myšlenkovým proudům judaismu, rabínské literatuře a kulturním dějinám Židů v raně moderní době ( firstname.lastname@example.org).