In 1743 the well-known Amsterdam Jewish printer Naphtali Herz Rofe and his son-in-law Kosman ben Joseph Baruch published two related titles: first, a new Yiddish edition of the medieval history book Sefer Yosippon; second, a completely new title, also in Yiddish, written as a continuation of the former: Sheyris Yisroel. Both books were the work of one man: Menahem Man ben Shlomo ha-Levi Amelander (1698-died before 1749). He edited the new Yosippon edition and authored Sheyris Yisroel, presented as ‘the second part of the Book of Yosippon’.
Amelander was an Amsterdam Ashkenazi intellectual, educated by rabbi-printer Moses Frankfurter and in the Prague yeshiva, working in the Hebrew and Yiddish book industry. He had a profound Jewish knowledge, which he used in writing Sheyris Yisroel. The book offered a survey of Jewish history from the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE up until contemporary times. The title, ‘Remnant of Israel’, a quotation from Zephaniah 3:13, demonstrates the author’s eschatological idea of history: the period under attention was one awaiting messianic times, when the ‘remnant’ would be reunited with the ‘Ten Lost Tribes’ of Israel.
Amelander’s Jewish history book was deeply influenced by Basnage’s Histoire des Juifs, which he consulted in the 1726 Dutch edition. Like Basnage, he presented Josephus as his predecessor and example. Above all, Josephus functioned as a source of legitimation: what his contemporaries accepted from the famed author, they could not deny Amelander. The main issue at stake was the use of Gentile sources, which in the Ashkenazi world was still disputed. The most important non-Jewish source, Basnage, was used extensively but quoted only once in full.
Amelander adhered to the traditional Jewish view that Sefer Yosippon was authored by Josephus himself and specifically directed at a Jewish audience. Sheyris Yisroel was intended to continue this project. Both books were supposed to offer observant Jews legitimate leisure, as they offered true stories on God’s miracles for the Jewish people. Next to Sefer Yosippon, Amelander also used a Dutch version of Josephus for his historical narrative: he therefore distinguished between ‘undzere Yosippon’ and ‘Yosippon tsu di Romi’im’.
Sheyris Yisroel enjoyed a tremendous success after its first 1743 edition: it was frequently re-published, often together with Sefer Yosippon, translated into Hebrew three times (1804, 1811, 1964), once re-translated from Hebrew into Yiddish (1873), and translated into Dutch (1855). At least 28 editions have survived.
Amelander, Menahem Man ben Shlomo ha-Levi, Keter malkhut ve-hu heleq sheni mi-Sefer Yosippon bilshon Ashkenaz…. Ve-nikra shmo be-Yisrael Sefer She’erit Yisra’el. Amsterdam: Naphtali Herz Rofe; Kosman ben Joseph Baruch, 1743.
Joseph ben Gorion, Sefer Yosippon bilshon Ashkenaz, ed. Menahem Amelander. Amsterdam: Naphtali Herz Rofe; Kosman ben Joseph Baruch, 1743.
Fuks, L., ‘Menahem Man ben Salomo Halevi und sein Jiddisches Geschichtswerk “Sche’erit Jisrael”’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 100 (1981): 170-86.
Wallet, B., ‘Links in a Chain: Early Modern Yiddish Historiography in the Northern Netherlands (1743-1812)’. PhD diss., University of Amsterdam, 2012.
Wallet, B., ‘Historiography, Ideology, and Religious Controversies: Jacques Basnage and Menahem Amelander continuing Josephus in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic’, forthcoming.
JRA entry contributed by Bart Wallet