What has two thumbs and got deceived by Firkovich? This guy! Okay. To be honest, I can’t fully or even partially blame R. Abraham ben Shemuel Firkovich, the greatest collector of manuscripts in Karaite Jewish history, for the set of events that cost me $150. But he sure is a convenient target.
So, this all started about 3 months ago, when I began looking for works to retype and publish on a Karaite site that I am putting together. I saw this advertisement on eBay: 1865 Odessa HOZEK YAD on the Rambam by a KARAITE AUTHOR R. Shlomo ibn Muvchar.
I was PUMPED. A Karaite commenting on the Rambam’s famous Mishné Torah?!?! This was going to be great. We’d hit Rambam with a left, and a right. He wouldn’t know what was coming.
And this Karaite names the book Hozek Yad?!? Hozek Yad means “hand strength” and it is a reference to the subtitle of Rambam’s Mishné Torah, Yad Hazakah, The Strong Hand.
(Note: Rambam’s work has 14 sections, and to write 14 in Hebrew, one would write Yod Dalet, which spells the word Yad. Thus the “Yad” in Yad Hazakah is a reference to the books 14 sections.)
So this Karaite went and wrote a book and gave it the ironic, sarcastic title of Hozek Yad, because he was really going to show Rambam what real strength is and was going to tear Rambam’s work apart. By hand! This was gonna be awesome.
So, I told Gabriel Wasserman, whose work has been invaluable to The Karaite Press, that I had ordered this “strange book”. He said he found a manuscript of it and told me that it appears that someone had written a summary of Rambam’s Mishné Torah in verse (בחרוזים), with a commentary thereon.
This should have been my first clue that something was wrong. Why in the world would a Karaite go through trouble of turning the Mishné Torah into verse before commenting on it. It made no sense.
But it wasn’t until I received the book and sent Gabriel a picture of the cover page that we figured out what was really going on.
Gabriel out of the kindness of his heart (and without my asking) translated the relevant portions for me:
All this was written by the great rabbi, the stronghold and tower, renowned sage in his generation, from whose fruit many people benefitted and whose light was holy and glorious, the great in deeds, honorable Rabbi Solomon son of the splendid Rabbi Samuel ibn Muvhar, of blessed saintly memory, one of the Sephardic Rabbis at the time of Rabbi Sh. Algazi of blessed memory mentioned honorably in the responsa Torath Hayyim by the great Rabbi Hayyim Shabbethai of blessed memory, in volume 1 §63 and 65; and he wrote the introductory poems to the book Ahavath Olam by the above-mentioned Rabbi Sh. Algazi, as mentioned in the book Shem Ha-gedolim by the great Rabbi Hida [=Hayyim Yosef David Azulai], of blessed memory.
Book I, from the library of manuscripts in the wonderful possession of אב”ן רש”ף [= R. Abraham Firkovich], may his lamp shine
Now published for the first time […] by the printer, me, Zerah, under the authority of my master, my father, my teacher, the Hakham Rabbi Abraham Yerushalmi, long may he live, Amen, known as Firkovich….
And here is that last section in Hebrew:
So the book wasn’t by a Karaite at all. The seller thought it was because he saw that Firkovich was mentioned.
What is ironic (for the uninitiated) is that Firkovich was among the greatest of collectors of manuscripts, but he was also a forger. Yes, he forged tombstones and colophons to make it seem that Karaites were a more ancient movement than in reality. In some cases, he forged tombstones. In other cases he forged colophons. And in this case, he seemed to be a teacher of the printer. And not a forger at all with respect to this.
But, even though Hozek Yad itself was not the result of Firkovich’s forgeries, I still got swindled because (I presume) some bookseller saw the name Firkovich and sold this book as a Karaite commentary on the Mishne Torah.
So, I guess it’s true, Reindeer(s) are better than people.
BTW, if anyone wants to see what this poem and commentary looks like – here you go.