Sefer Lashon Zahav was written by Rabbi David Tevele HaKohen Schiff. It gets its title because the values of the Hebrew letters in both the word Zahav and the name David add up to fourteen.
Rabbi David Tevele Schiff served as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of London from 1765 until his death in 1791.
The book was published in 1822, posthumously, by his nephew, Rabbi Gavriel Adler, who included an introduction with Rabbi Schiff’s biography. Rabbi Adler also added Kanfei Nesharim with novellae by his relatives, rabbis of the Adler family.
Rabbi Schiff was a follower of Rabbi Jacob Joshua Falk, rabbi in Frankfurt and author of the classic commentary on the Talmud, Pnei Yehoshua. He was a contemporary of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Prague’s Chief Rabbi and author of the fundamental responsa Noda B’Yehudah. His most famous disciple was Rabbi Nosson Adler of Frankfurt-am-Main, famous for his Kabbalistic teachings. He was a prominent Torah scholar and rabbi of his generation and was very active in promoting Torah and Torah awareness.
My book has two parts, bound in one half-leather volume, each with a separate title page. Volume I contains Torah novella on the Talmud, including a responsum which David Tevel Schiff received from his contemporary, the Noda B’Yehudah. Volume II contains novella to Mishnayos and the Torah, as well as sermons given by the Rabbi.
Rabbi Schiff was originally the rabbinical choice of the Great Synagogue in Dukes Place, and, after the Rabbi of the neighbouring Hambro Synagogue left for Europe, he became the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. He was the son of Solomon Schiff, a member of a famous and learned family from Frankfort-on-Main. His mother Roesche, was the daughter of one-time Great Synagogue member, Reb Aberle London, and the new Rabbi was happy to think that fortune brought him back to his mother’s home-town. He had already had considerable experience, having served as Preacher (Maggid) in Vienna, head of the Beth haMidrash in Worms, and finally Dayyan in Frankfort. He was elected to his post in London on February 24th, 1765, with a salary of £200 per annum.
The Ashkenazi community in London may not have been known for its learned scholarship, but it positively started to flower under the new rabbinic leadership. The rebuilt Great Synagogue was dedicated in 1766, and Hebrew printing in London started in 1770 with what was probably the first book by Jewish printers and typesetters, the Selichos book, of which I have previously written about my copy. At about the same time (1770), the first Siddur in Hebrew with an English translation was printed in London by Alexander Alexander and Baruch Meyers.. This was followed in 1771 by a set of Hebrew Machzorim (Festival Prayer books), and I will eventually write about the set in my library. Yiddish pocket calendars appeared in 1772. In 1787 a Chumash appeared (which I will also eventually write about), by Loeb Soesmans from Amsterdam, with am English translation by the erudite David Levi.
The book starts with three Haskamas (approbations) from distinguished rabbis:
This is followed by an introduction that includes some biographical details about Rabbi Schiff:
The book includes Talmudic glosses, Rabbinic questions and answers and sermons. Here is a question that Rabbi Schiff answered in London about the status of a certain Cohen:
These are some images from the second part, starting with the Rabbi’s remarks on the health of King George III: