Friday, September 11, 2015

Blowing the Shofar in 1879 -- Or Blowing Smoke?

Max Rossvally blowing the shofar
(1879, Library of Congress)
Searching for historic photographs of Rosh Hashanna and blowing the shofar (ram's horn), we discovered a poster showing Jewish pictures of Jewish festivals. Starring in the 1879 photo gallery was a man named Max Rossvally.


He appeared as a pious man even though he didn't seem to know laws of tfillin (phylacteries) or lulav (a grouping of flora, including a palm branch, used in Sukkot prayers.)

Who was Rossvally?  A Jewish man originally from Germany named Mordechai Rosenthal, a Civil War veteran who claimed he was a surgeon, a convict, and a evangelical convert to Christianity.

Here are the poster and his pictures with a lulav and tfillin:

Rossvally's gallery of pictures

Rossvally and misplaced tfillin
Rossvally with a few extra branches
and misplaced tfillin, usually not worn
on Sukkot (Tabernacles)

Here's what we know about Rossvally:

A description of Jewish converts to Christianity and Rossvally in "United States Jewry,
1776-1985,"  by Jacob Rader Marcus


Reader "Sarah" informs us that the section below is a satire, using real names of known individuals of the time. Apparently the report on the meeting is a lampoon. I quote from the editor's introduction:
"Litigation apparently did not recornmad [SIC] itself to Harry Hananel Marks (z8yy-z916), editor in 1878-1879 of New York City's Reformer and Jewish Times. Marks... preferred the "means" of satire and produced the lampoon reprinted below. .... His pamphlet is, in any case, a clever - and even a prophtic -piece of work. .... Marks cleverly juxtaposed these savory characters with some of the leading and most accomplished Jews in the world at that time.... "

and from
He also published the sharp satire Down with the Jews! Meeting of the Society for Suppressing the Jewish Race (1879), which attacked anti-semitism among American politicians"
A [satirical] description of a meeting of an American anti-Semitic group attended by Rossvally
who converted while serving a sentence in prison (American Jewish Archives, 1964)
Today, the shofar-blowers are known for their piety and observance of Jewish commandments.

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