From the balcony of a huge and ornate temple, a man contemplates “the terrestrial globe bursting forth from the midst of clouds and receiving luminous emanations from the Most High.” (1) Around him is an extravagant array of niches containing narrative scenes, friezes and frames enclosing blocks of text, rows of figures, Kabbalistic symbols and programs, Zodiac signs, and divine names. Beneath, in Hebrew and English, is the title “Origin of the Rites and Worship of the Hebrews. The work was reproduced and published (2) for the American public in 1859 together with an “Explication”, a one hundred twelve page explanatory booklet translated from the original French, (3) by Max Wolff, rabbi of Ohabei Shalom Congregation in Boston, who later served as a cantor in San Francisco.
Wolff lays out his project in an author’s preface:
“HAVING undertaken to edit and to publish a lithograph pictorial composed of various figures representing portions of the Torah or Law of Moses of the creation of heaven and earth of nature and its agencies of the seasons and their influences of the human frame and of the holy temple in Jerusalem each portion arranged within its own semicircle and located in due concatenation to give a full and comprehensible view of the observances enjoined by the religion of the Hebrews it becomes my duty to state that this pictorial representation was originally composed by the learned and accomplished Dr Rosenberg and by him published in Paris during the year 5611 1851…
…Accordingly I presume to appear before the public as the Anglo American editor of the learned Frenchman’s work and having secured the assistance of competent artists whose skill has done justice to the pictorial portion of the work I also submit a translation of the author s explication to which I have added some few remarks of my own such as the occasion seemed to call for and I fervently pray that as the eye of the beholder is pleased with the work of art so the mind of the reader may be convinced and give thanks to Him who hath decreed that from Zion shall go forth the law and the Word of God from Jerusalem.”
The Explication has been digitized as part of the Google Books project:
Abraham Karp, Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress (Washington, 1991) and the on-line exhibition Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: Art for the Home.
Yosef Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America (New York, 2006)
1 From Wolff’s “Explication”
2 The printer was Julius Bien, a respected lithographer who fled Germany for New York after having participated in the unsuccessful revolution of 1848. While receiving US Government contracts for engraving geological and geographical publications, he was also involved in Jewish communal life as director of both the Hebrew Technical Institute and Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. (from Kestenbaum & Company, Important Hebrew Printed Books and Manuscripts Auction, June 26, 2001, lot 139 catalog description.
3 Dr. D. Rosenberg of Paris published an illustrated lithograph based on a kabbalistic understanding of Judaism in 1851. It was so complicated and laden with details that he also had to publish an explication in French. (from Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America, vol. 2 pp. 896-897)