June ’08 in the Exponent: Bylaws of a Talmud Torah Society


‘The World is Too Much with Us’

Early readers of the Jewish Exponent didn’t often get to peruse frivolous material, especially on the cover.

Most of the Aug. 28, 1908 issue’s cover was devoted to an article translating from the original Yiddish the bylaws of a Talmud Torah Society of Cracow (now commonly spelled Kraków).

Heavy reading indeed.

Adding to the confusion is the headline, which indicates the bylaws are from 1551, although no further mention is made of that date. Instead, the article notes that the translation was made from a 1775 copy of the original copy of 1638.

Some of the bylaws included:

  • Elementary school teachers should have no more than 40 pupils — and there should be two assistants. A Talmud school teacher would be limited to 25 students, again with two assistants.
  • “No teacher shall compete with another teacher to take one of his pupils away in the middle of the term.”
  • “If, on reaching the age of fourteen, the pupil is found incapable of pursuing the study of the Talmud, he should be taught a trade or given a position as a servant.”

In addition, there were laws related to the sources of income of the Torah society.

For example: “The Mohel should make a collection from the parents and relatives and invited guests at every circumcision celebration and deliver the money to the society.”

Also on the page is a decidedly less-serious poem by Felix N. Gerson, the paper’s managing editor. It sounds like something out of Peter Pan, with descriptions of elves, sprites and frolicking nymphs.

Gerson, who was born in Philadelphia in 1862, worked for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad between 1880 and 1890 and is credited by jewishencyclopedia.com for helping to end the railroad strikes of 1887. He died in 1945.


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