David Latchman

‘All Is Inscribed in a Book’: Selichos Books of the UK

As the summer comes to an end, Selichos and the sound of the Shofar heralds the upcoming Yomim Naroyim, the High Holy Days, and many of us will reach for a familiar volume of these Selichos prayers, bound in distinctive blue cloth. It is entitled ‘The Authorised Selichot for the whole year.’ First published in 1956, it was produced by the learned Chazan of Finchley Synagogue, Rev Abraham Rosenfelder with the sanction of Chief Rabbi Brodie (illustrated).

Above: The inside title page of Rev Abraham Rosenfeld’s ‘Selichot for the Whole Year’, printed in London in1956

Several years later, Rev Rosenfeld produced ‘The Authorised Kinot for the Ninth of Av,’ this one in black cloth appropriate for the fast (illustrated). As well as the standard liturgy and full English translations, both volumes contain original Hebrew poems commemorating the Holocaust written in the same style by the talented Rev Rosenfelder himself. Not surprisingly, both volumes have become standard works reprinted several times. In my collection, I have first editions of both, inscribed by Rev Rosenfelder, one of them with an inscription to the then Jewish Chronicle editor William Frankel, which I came across and bought in an Oxfam Charity shop!

Above: The inside title page of Rev Abraham Rosenfeld’s ‘Kinot for the Ninth of Av’, printed in London in 1965

Interestingly, the volume of Kinot produced by Rev Rosenfelder contains to my knowledge the first English translation of the Kinot published in the UK. In contrast, the earliest translation of the Selichot in the UK was produced by David Asher, in 1866, who refers to it as ‘the first ever attempted in this country’ (illustrated).

Above: The inside title page of the first ‘Selichoth… with a New English Translation’, by David Asher, printed in 1866

Surprisingly, the entrepreneurial printer Alexander (who as discussed in earlier blogs produced many liturgical volumes with English translations from 1770 onwards) did not produce editions of the Selichot or Kinot in Hebrew and English, although he did produce a Hebrew-only Kinot in 1775 (illustrated). In contrast, his rivals, the three partners Moses, Isaac and Jacob (who we have also previously discussed), produced a Hebrew-only Selichot in 1770 (illustrated). Their Selichot volume is relatively common for an eighteenth-century Hebrew liturgy whereas Alexander’s Kinot is very rare, the only copy I have seen being the one I bought for £20 almost 40 years ago.

Above: The Hebrew-only edition of Kinot printed in London by Alexander
Above: The Selichot book produced by the three partners Moses, Isaac and Jacob, printed in 1770

One wonders why the difference. Did the London community follow the custom of disposing of their Kinot after Tisha b’Av, to show their faith that by the next year the Messiah would have come and so the liturgy would be irrelevant. But surely if this was the case, the entrepreneurial Alexander would have done an annual reprint!

About the Author
Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic, author, and philanthropist, and currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London, having led the university since 2003. Latchman holds First-class Honours in Natural Sciences, a MA, and a PhD, and has completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London. He also has a DSc (higher doctorate) from the University of London.
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