Reading the Written Torah, we must remember about the Oral Torah …
Reading and learning the Torah in Polish
By Mirek Sopek, the author of this edition and owner of the WWE Publishing House (this fragment comes from the introduction to the printed version):
I have no doubt in my mind that at present, one of the most interesting translation efforts regarding the Torah in Poland is the work of rabbi Sasha Pecaric – Tora Pardes Lauder. Firstly, because it introduced something that Poles interested in Judaism had lacked: an interpretation of the Oral Torah strictly connected (in the Jewish tradition) with the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is, in the simplest terms, the entirety of the interpretative tradition of the Written Torah. It contains the Talmud, the Code of Jewish Law (Halacha), numerous commentaries and Midrashim. Pecaric made an attempt at something seemingly impossible – to express in Polish the richness of the interpretative tradition of the Torah present in Jewish thought. Personally, I had been familiar with Pecaric’s oeuvre before I learned about Cylkow, and before I began the work described here. It was a discovery of immense depths of wisdom and thought.
Why am I writing about this in the introduction to my edition of Cylkow’s Torah? This is because among the “proponents” (if I may use such a term here) of the Cylkow translation and the “proponents” of the Pecaric translation (including rabbi Pecaric himself), there exists a certain contention. Rabbi Pecaric has recently revealed that when he arrived in Poland, he was against releasing Cylkow’s works. On the other hand, an acclaimed expert in Cylkow, Piotr Paziński, considers Pecaric’s translation to be an ambitious and useful, but ultimately failed project.
As it is often the case, neither side of the argument is entirely correct. Naturally, I do not feel entitled to indicate particular aspects of this “lack of correctness”, or to pass judgments. I will only allow myself to express a sort of personal statement: if I have ever “learned” the Torah in Polish to at least a minimal degree at all, or merely began to appreciate its sense for my own self, were I able to really study it – then this happened thanks to Pecaric’s profound reflection and his Torah Pardes Lauder, so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition! However, I must also admit that if I was actually able to perceive and grasp the often seemingly inexplicable meaning of the Torah’s many tales and themes, in their primal vitality and with a sort of deeper significance, such that is not easily translatable to words – this perhaps happened thanks to this archaic, yet at the same time very authentic Polish language employed by Cylkow. Therefore, I do not think that either of this projects is better than the other – both of them should be a source of pride, a pride related both to the unique Jewish component of the Polish society, and to the exquisiteness of the present day experience of Poles reaching to the Jewish interpretative thought.
This all happened here, in the place tainted by the tragedy of the Shoah – but also the place where, despite everything, according to the words of the poet: “the land is so pure, as if swept with angel wings” …
We are very happy to achieve the publication of four books of Hebrew Bible in Rabbi’s Izaak Cylkow translation. As it has been our policy from the very beginning, we always publish printed books as well. So, we present here: The Torah, Psalms, Five Megilots, The Book of Ijob. Soon we will see The Book of Jozue here!
Torah, Psalms, Hamesh Megillot: (Song over Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Kohelet, Esther), The Book of Job, The Book of Joshua, The Book of Judges
A commentary to this edition of the Book of Job (In Polish – by Mirek Sopek)
HOW DID THIS EDITION OF THE TORAH COME INTO BEING?
By Mirek Sopek, the author of this edition and owner of the WWE Publishing House (this fragment comes from the introduction to the printed version):
The history of this edition begins in 2004 in the Łódź-based Club of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. There I discovered copies of Izaak Cylkow’s Torah published xerographically as photocopies (created from microfilms). The editions from Austeria were not yet available at the time. From the very beginning I was fascinated by the extraordinary, archaic but also beautiful language of the translation. I decided to contribute and the only way I could do so would be to publish Cylkow’s Torah in electronic form – that is as an e-book and an audiobook. However, I began systematic work as late as in 2008. A bit of clarification here – my main activities revolve around business and scientific projects, hence I had very little time available for something that initially was just a hobby. That is when I decided to solve the problem of limited time by employing the only method that came to my mind – that is one of systematic and regular work, never exceeding 15 minutes a day, but done each and every day…
… and that is how I began rewriting the text of the Torah. This task was not an easy one… First of all, the text contained a Polish diacritical mark – é – missing from the modern Polish language. In order to introduce this mark, I needed to modify the computer keyboard software that I used for writing. Moreover, already envisioning different electronic editions of Cylkow’s Torah, I needed to choose a format that would allow for easy electronic processing of its text. I chose the “Zefania XML” format. Writing the text of the Torah this way took me nearly 3 years. I always noted down the places in which I wrote the text, and these now include: Aleksandrów Łódzki, where my parents live, Europe’s major cities, Jerusalem and the imposing cities of the United States and Canada. However, when adding the last verses of the Torah (on December 31st, 2010 in the Remuh Synagogue in Cracow), I did not realize the importance of the next step which would be to proofread the text…
ERRORS AND MISTAKES…
Since the entire text was written manually, and the process itself took so long, the most natural source of errors was… the writing itself. Common typos, mixed with subconscious divergences towards modern Polish (e.g. the persistent usage of “siedzemdziesiąt” instead of “siedmdziesiąt” – the word “seventy”) resulted in the need to reread the text may times – in the original Zefania format, in HTML on the previous website cylkow.pl, and finally in print. A huge number of minor mistakes was detected during the recording of the audiobook version of the Torah. And when finally, using my own software (written in Python), I analyzed and indexed all words of the entire Torah – still several errors showed up! I felt a bit better about this when it turned out that even the original edition of Cylkow’s Torah contained errors!
In total, I found and then – having confirmed the correctness (both according to the Hebrew original, as well as English and other Polish editions) – I corrected four fairly significant errors in Cylkow’s original edition (the list of errors and corrections is available in the footnotes of the audiobook and eBook editions). [–kolumna–]
Striving to remain true to Cylkow’s original, excluding completely
obvious errors, was the most important motive behind my work. This
helped me realize how extraordinary was the work of generations of
Jewish scribes, who for centuries took care of each individual
character, word or even length of space in Torah scrolls. Considering
the fact that today we use computers and are still prone to errors, we
may only imagine and appreciate the effort behind preserving complete
fidelity to the original text of the Torah.
DIVISION INTO PARSHAS
The only significant change in this edition of Cylkow’s Torah in relation to the Polish text of the original 19th century edition is the indication of places which divide the entire text into sections known as Parshas (in Aramaic, Parsha is known as Sidra, which stands for “order”). The division of the Torah unto Parshas originates from the traditional Masoretic version of Judaism’s holy books. A Parsha is the basic unit of the week-based division of the Torah, which allows to read its entire text during the full liturgical year, which, according to the moon-sun calendar (which is the basis for the Jewish calendar) contains 54 weeks. My decision was motivated by the fact that introducing such a division does not violate the original text of Cylkow’s Torah in any way. In short notes at the beginning of each Parsha I only added its location within the entire Torah, and when it should be read, trying to avoid any sort of commentary – to which I have absolutely not felt authorized. This way, the Torah in this edition contains, at the same time, the Jewish division (Parshas) and the later one, originating from the Middle Ages – the popular Christian division (unto chapters and verses).
It is worth mentioning here that the majority of fundamental commentary works in Judaism assume Parshas as uniformly commented wholes. In modern times, one of the most interesting efforts of this kind was the adaptation of the teachings of rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson („Lubavitcher Rebbe”) done by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks. In present-day Poland, we have interesting commentary by Konstanty Gebert and Stanisław Krajewski.
This page would not exist if it were not for the hard work and diligence of an amazing person I recently met, both virtually (on Social Media) and in person: first in Spain and later in Poland. The person is Ann Bofill Shanly from a small Mediterranean town of Sitges – not far from Barcelona. Ann started to investigate the family of her late Godmother Jadwiga Szenhak and the great discovery she made was that Jadwiga Szenhak was a Jewish Holocaust survivor and … the granddaughter of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow’s sister!
This discovery inspired Ann to search deeply and what you can find in this page, is a summary of her research as for mid 2018.
“My Godmother Jadwiga Szenhak was born in Czestochowa in 1910, grew up in Sosnowiec, went to Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and married agricultural engineer Marian Maurizio-Abramowicz in Krakow in 1935. When WWII broke out, Jadwiga and Marian fled Poland on their motorbike crossing all Europe until they reached Spain, where they lived in exile for the rest of their lives. Jadwiga’s family suffered all the fatal consequences and cruelty of the German Invasion of Poland. Only her Father Jozef survived, and I still don’t know how he managed to do so. Her Mother Stefania died at the beginning of the war, her brother Henryk disappeared in the Russian front never to be seen again, and her sister Wanda together with her husband Israel Lubelski and little 10 year old son Stasio died in Auschwitz on 5th October 1943.”
Jadwiga Szenhak Maurizio. Sitges 1955. Photo and copyright by Ann Bofill Shanly.
The key discovery Ann made, was that Jadwiga Szenhak was granddaughter of Eliszewa Cylkow (circa 1842), sister of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow to whom this site is devoted.
Even before the escape to Spain, she learned Spanish (studied Roman languages) and later became famous in Spain for her translations of renown Polish science-fiction writer – Stanislaw Lem. In doing so, she followed her family tradition, from her great uncle Rabbi Cylkow himself, to Stanislaw Szenhak – her uncle. For many years, her translations were one of the best. If you can read Spanish, read about her translations here. If you read Polish, read about Jadwiga here.
Jadwiga was married to an equally amazing and famous person: Marian “Dzik” Maurizio-Abramowicz, called among Polish climbers “Uncle Dzik” (Wuj Dzik). In 2015, a special exhibition was organized by the Tatra Muzeum in Zakopane honoring the life of Jadwiga and Marian Maurizio under the label “I will turn toward Tatra” (“Ku Tatrom się zwrócę”). Additionally, there were two previous exhibitions about them, one in Warsaw and one in Kraków, both in 2013. See the materials from the conferences here and there.
A young Marjan Maurizio-Abramowicz with his mountain climbing friends in Zakopane in the mid 1920s. Copyright of Ann Bofill Shanly.
How were the discoveries made?
The discovery of that amazing link was initiated when Ann, thanks to Public Records Office in Czestochowa (Archiwum Państwowe w Częstochowie) received the Birth Certificates of her Godmother Jadwiga Szenhak (1910) and those of her older siblings Wanda (1905) and Henryk (1909), children of Jozef Szenhak and Stefanía Weisblat, all three born in Czestochowa. Then, thanks to the Jewish Records Indexing (JRI) , she found the marriage certificate of Jozef Szenhak and Stefanía Weisblat.
From this evidence the family tree became clear:
Jadwiga Eleonora Szenhak (1910) was daughter of Jozef Szenhak (1876) and Stefania Weisblat, and granddaughter of Samuel Szenhak and Eliszewa Cylkow (~1842). Eliszewa (Polish: Elżbieta) Cylkow was sister of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow!
It is important to note that Jadwiga’s grandfather, Samuel (Stanisław) Szenhak (1835-1913) was a renown Jewish scholar. He was the author of highly acclaimed Talmudic dictionary (Hamashbir) and, among other works, translated into Polish the monumental “History of Jews” by Heinrich Graetz. He also cooperated with Rabbi Cylkow. For example he wrote an introduction to his “Book of Job” translation to Polish language. He was also an inventor with his own patents in the USA. See one of them here.
The line points to young Jadwiga at a party in Poland about 1930. Copyright of Ann Bofill Shanly.
Tracing the family roots of Jadwiga Maurizio-Szenhak up to Rabbi Izaak Cylkow was just the beginning of many other incredible discoveries… Ann started to trace the archives and publications about the children of Rabbi Cylkow himself. These discoveries are really breathtaking! Firstly, she found the marriage certificate of Izaak Cylkow and Chaja Anna Blumberg:
The marriage Certificate of Izaak Cylkow and Chaja Anna Blumberg – October 14th, 1865
Then, Ann found that Izaak and Chaja Anna had three children. The direct evidences point to Adela Zylbersztajn. Ann found the 1934 obituary for Adela, stating that she was Izaak Cylkow’s daughter:
1934 obituary for Adela Zylbersztajn pointing to Izaak Cylkow – her father.
Adela was a renowned Polish poet… The obituary continues, praising her participation in the intellectual life of Poland, and keeping her family traditions in the field of literature. She was a translator and an active poet …
1934 obituary for Adela Zylbersztajn. Tribute to her literary activities.
Here is one of her short, beautiful poems:
One can bypass a word, when [it died away, One can erase the sentence’s withered [formula; But one cannot subdue the desire, when [embodied and when turned into a warm blood – [ and alive, and tender.
(translated by Mirek Sopek)
Adela Zylbersztajn is known in Poland for her poems paying tribute to the memory of Eliza Orzeszkowa, for her own poetry and translations works. There is no doubt that she was deeply immersed in the Polish language, literature, cultural and social life:
Then Ann made another great discovery. She located a short letter written by Mr. Louis Cylkow, in longhand, that proves that Adela Zylbersztajn, daughter of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow was Louis Cylkow sister:
The letter reads:
January 24, 1915 Very honored, Sir.
Please send the attached letter to my sister. Mrs Adela Zylbersztajn Tłomackie 7*, Warsaw I apologize for having caused you this embarrassment and I assure you of my sincere gratitude.
Accept, Sir, my respectful tributes. Louis Cyklow Saint-Guénolé, Penmarch, (Finistère) France
* Note that this letter was written in 1915, and that Izaak Cylkow’s family lived for many years at Tłomackie 7, where the Grand Warsaw Synagogue stood, even after the Rabbi died 1908.
This is the key evidence that both Adela Zylberstein and Louis Cylkow were children of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow!
The next discovery made by Ann, was about Henryk Cylkow. It is highly probable that he was also Rabbi Cylkow son and brother to Adela and Ludwik, although this fact is not yet corroborated.
Henryk Cylkow was born in Warsaw circa 1866, just one year after Rabbi Izaak Cylkow and Chaia Anna Blumberg had married. Henryk was a lawyer (the attorney at law) and … a composer and musicographer. As a composer he is known for many symphonic works, including Allegro appassionato (first performed in 1916 in Warsaw), The Song about the Sea (1917 Warsaw), the overture “After the Battle”, which won runner-up prize at the II-nd L. Kronenberg competition in 1921 and many more. He also composed songs to the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and many piano works, including five Mazurkas and Preludes. It seems that he developed his career as a composer when he was in his fifties.
Coda – The great family of Rabbi Izaak Cylkow
Rabbi Izaak Cylkow, was not only an accomplished translator of Hebrew Scriptures into Polish language. As seen on this page, he was also a great father who provided his children with a modern education, and supported them with an open mind, so they could excel in their choice of profession, be it arts, literature and (perhaps) music*.
His relatives, like Jadwiga Szenhak Maurizo, belonged in their own right, to the intellectual elite of the turn of the XIX century. The professional success of the siblings Adela, Ludwik and Henryk*, make the whole story about Rabbi Izaak Cylkow much more fascinating…
Mirek Sopek, Warsaw, July 25th, 2018
* As we noted above – Izaak’s Cylkow paternity of Henryk is pending corroboration.
Creation and significance of Cylkow’s Torah
Dr Izaak Cylkow began his work on direct translations of biblical books to the Polish language already during the 80s of the 19th century. In 1883, “Psalms”, “translated and elucidated by Dr. J. Cylkow”, were published by Aleksander Gins’ printer’s shop.
However, translating the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which constitute the very foundation of Judaism – was the Warsaw-based rabbi’s most important initiative. And so, in 1985, “Moses’ Pentateuch”, “translated and elucidated according to the best sources by Dr I. Cylkow”, was published in 1895 in Cracow. The book’s publishing was “funded by the Translator”.
Cylkow’s Torah is the first Polish translation of the Pentateuch done on basis of the original text in Hebrew. All preceding translations of the first books of the Old Testament – as they are called by Christians – were based on translations from Latin. In this context, the importance of Cylkow’s work is tremendous.
Czesław Miłosz claimed that it was a translation of exceptional poetic beauty, at the same time remaining true to the original text (which is a rare combination). According to Miłosz, Cylkow aimed to preserve the order of words from the original whenever it was possible. Miłosz notices that Cylkow, “sensitive to the modulation of the Hebrew phrase, shapes the verse in a manner slightly different from both the Catholic and Protestant Bibles, which were always influenced by the Latin syntax”.
The Torah was not the last work of Cylkow – at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, he published the majority of Księgi Prorocze (Newiim) and Pisma (Ketuwim). Several books were published already after his passing, while the books (Pisma) of Daniel, Exra, Kronik and Nechamiasz, which complete the translation of the entire Tanach (meaning all books of the Hebrew Bible) left by Cylkow in manuscript, were lost during the destruction of Warsaw…
Apart from biblical books, Cylkow also translated the Machzor prayer book, as well as Sermons and Teachings. Today, the publishing of Cylkow’s works (as facsimile) is undertaken by the Cracow-based publishing house Austeria.
During the course of the past few years, the very notion of the book itself underwent a dramatic revolution. Not a long time ago, its printed form was essentialy its synonym. Today, the majority of new books are sold in the form of eBooks.
Naturally, the same revolution applies to sacred texts – the Bible in particular. It is impossible to say how this will affect the perception of their content. Against many skeptical voices, we decided to give it a try…
Cylkow’s Torah is available in both of the most popular formats: EPUB and MOBI. Here you can download a sample in EPUB or MOBI.
Virtualio is responsible for the distribution of our edition of Cylkow’s Torah, thanks to which it is available in Poland’s major online bookstores.
Although the essential goal of our work was to publish Cylkow’s Torah in digital formats, at one stage of the project we decided not to refrain from publishing a regular printed book… Perhaps because there are still so many people who prefer to experience a physical, tangible book – especially when it contains sacred text? Perhaps out of respect to Cylkow and the history of his work, so deeply bound with the tangibility of a book…
The visual design of both the cover and the entire book was created by Dr Beata Wawrzecka (visual artist at MakoLab and assistant professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź). We decided to use a traditional Polish typeface – “Póltawski”…
To order a printed version of Cylkow’s Torah (49 PLN), enter here.
Izaak Cylkow was born in 1841 in Masovia, in the town of Bieżuń, to the family of Mojżesz Aaron Cylkow (1813-1884) – a respected scholar of the Talmud, a person of exceptional humility and wisdom. Masovia was the true homeland for Cylkow’s family – since the 30s of the 19th century, they divided their time between Bieżuń, Warsaw and Kuchary (currently called Kuchary Żydowskie), where Izaak’s father was a teacher and administrator of Salomon Posner’s estate. Both Bieżuń and Kuchary are located by the same beautiful river Wkra, surrounded by swamps and meadows…
One cannot help but appreciate these landscapes and their singular atmosphere while reading Cylkow today, contemplating his mastery of the Polish language. We must also remember that Mojżesz Aaron Cylkow raised the children, including the sons of Salomon Posner and his own Izaak, to become Poles of the Jewish Denomination – advocates of progress and cultural assimilation, maintaining, at the same time, the faith of their ancestors…
The story of Cylkow and his Torah
1895 – Cracow …
Józef Fiszer’s publishing house. “Moses’ Pentateuch” is published, “translated and elucidated according to the best sources by Dr I. Cylkow”. The book was “funded by the Translator”. Translation of the Torah – the most important five books of the Hebrew Bible – was not the first project of the author. In 1883, the print shop of Aleksander Gins publishes “Psalms”, also “translated and elucidated by Dr. I. Cylkow”. Neither was it his last – at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, he published the majority of Księgi Prorocze (Newiim) and Pisma (Ketuwim). Several books were published already after his passing, while the books (Pisma) of Daniel, Exra, Kronik and Nechamiasz, which complete the translation of the entire Tanach (meaning all books of the Hebrew Bible) left by Cylkow in manuscript, were lost during the destruction of Warsaw… Apart from biblical books, Cylkow also translated the Machzor prayer book, as well as Sermons and Teachings. Today, the publishing of Cylkow’s works (as facsimile) is undertaken by the Cracow-based publishing house Austeria.
1878 – Warsaw …
Consider the context of Cylkow’s work – both personal and historical. It is beyond doubt that the translation of the Pentateuch was the most important effort in his entire career as a translator. The basic meaning of the Torah for the Jewish people requires no explanation. Its translation to the Polish language however – especially in the curious circumstances that Poland found itself in at the end of the 19th century, deprived of statehood for the previous 100 years – was indeed an extraordinary endeavor. It combined an adherence to the Jewish tradition and religion with a passion for the Polish language – a mother tongue for an enormous part of the community of Polish Jews. The translation and publishing of the Pentateuch has historical and political significance, emphasizing the rabbi’s patriotic involvement.
The Tłomackie Sermon …
One cannot help but notice this in the context of the astounding event that took place on September 26th, 1878. During the ceremony of the opening of the Great Synagogue, Rabbi Cylkow, despite a rigorous prohibition issued by the Tsarist government, gave a sermon in Polish – and by doing so, he enforced the government’s acceptance for this practice!
This sermon contained a beautiful fragment, still meaningful today: “(…) religions do not exist in order to aggravate and inspire rage; to separate people from one another, or to sow the seeds of contention, but to bring calm and promote peace; to bring people together and to unite them towards a common good. (…) religion should not be a storm that extirpates and destroys, but a sun that illuminates and radiates warmth that grows flowers and fruit (…) a true religion is such that accepts truth in all religions and respects faith in each faith (…) nobody has been given exclusive privilege to the Heavens, or the Earth (…) God rules in the Heavens and on the Earth, He has but one love for everyone and one justice for all…”
1854 – Warsaw – Berlin
At the age of 13 (in 1854), Cylkow’s entire family moved to Warsaw, where Izaak’s father became a Talmud teacher in the Warsaw Rabbinic School. The young Izaak obtains education there as well. After graduating from the Rabbinic School, Izaak joins the Tsarist-Royal Medical-Surgical Academy in Warsaw, with the intention of becoming a doctor. However, he soon changed his mind and, with the help from his father, leaves for Berlin for a foreign stipend. In Berlin, he finalizes his university career and obtains a doctorate in philosophy and linguistics. He returns to Warsaw in the year of the January Uprising (1863) and begins social work. He becomes a supervisor of Jewish schools for children, and begins preaching in the synagogue at Daniłowiczkowska street. Together with other exceptional representatives of the Jewish community, he helps in reforming the Warsaw Talmud-Tora schools, and revives religious classes for children by the synagogue. The list of activities of Izaak Cylkow is long; however, it is his work on translation of the Psalms, the Torah and all remaining books of the Tanach that is certainly Cylkow’s greatest achievement and the true work of his life.
1908 – Warsaw
We have traced Izaak Cylkow’s biography backwards – from the future, towards the past. The unforgiving fate concludes this journey with the seal of death – Izaak Cylkow died, after a serious cardiac illness, on December 1st, 1908 in Warsaw…
He was active until the very end – a few days before his death, together with Bolesław Prus and Catholic and Protestant priests, he actively participated in the works of the Practical Hygiene society… In the eulogy delivered by Dr Henryk Nusbaum, we read: “Izaak Cylkow, a profound scholar of Judaist knowledge and Old Hebrew literature, knew, praised and loved the masterpieces of the Polish literature, and knew how to appreciate the grand currents of justice, unconditional tolerance and the loving nature of the Polish culture. He lamented the infertile and pointless symptoms of antisemitism in the Polish society”. In the latter part of the eulogy, Dr Nusbaum emphasized the ideal harmony of the late rabbi’s activity between the hallowed praise for the ancestors’ religion and the history of the Jewish nation, and the love for our common homeland (..), with love and understanding toward brothers of different faiths and the eternal children of this land!”
Reflecting upon this quote, we cannot forget the words of Pope John Paul II, directed – over 100 years later – “back” towards the Jews: “First of all, our two religions, fully conscious of the many aspect that bind them together (…) want to be recognized and respected, each in its identity, without any syncretism or ambiguous appropriation.”