Pirkei Avoth. The Sentences and Proverbs of the Ancient Fathers… Called Abouth… Translated into English with comments by Maimonides [and R. Abraham Tang], London 1772.

Tang01This book, which is over 250 years old, is one of the earliest books printed by a Jewish printer in England. It was printed by L. Alexander in 1772 in London.

The Ashkenazi community in London started to flourish under the new rabbinic leadership of Rabbi David Tevele Schiff, who was appointed Chief Rabbi in 1765.  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).

The translator, the English scholar Abraham Tang (d. 1792) was a grandson of the Dayan of Prague, Abraham Tausig Neu-Greschel. Like his grandfather, the Author signed his name with the Hebrew initials TN”G, and is thus generally known as Tang. Tang wrote a number of other works, all unpublished, and his manuscripts were until recently in London (see A. Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts …Jews’ College, London [i.e.the Beth Din Library], nos. 7 and 35). In addition to his Rabbinic knowledge, Tang was an enlightened scholar, well familiar with secular writings. He cites “a noble passage of my countryman, Milton” as an introduction to a comment by Maimonides (p. 24 of the introduction). The late Cecil Roth described Abraham Tang as “the first Anglo-Jewish scholar of modern times”.

Abraham Tang was born in England, and we notice interesting accents in his transliterations.  He drops his ‘aitch’ like a London Cockney, and calls himself an ‘Ebrew’.  He writes ‘Pantateuch’.

His father, Naphtali Tang, settled in London in the first half of the eighteenth century and married a daughter of Rabbi Natan Nata of Opatow. There was also a brother, Leib Tang, whose name appears among the subscribers to another book that was also published in London in 1772, Eben Shoham.  This was a book of sermons that were delivered by Rabbi Moses ben Juday of Minsk, in London to a group called Chevra Shaarei Tzion.  They were mostly members of the Hambro Synagogue in London.

Abraham ben Naphtali Tang died in London in 1792, and is buried in the Hambro Synagogue cemetery in Lauriston Road.

Tang02The book starts with a very long introduction, of which my copy, sadly, is missing a number of pages.  To this introduction, Tang appends a translation of the Rambam (Maimonides)’s commentary.

Some of the above information comes from an article by the late Rabbi Sidney Leperer in Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, Volume XXIV., where Rabbi Leperer describes Abraham Tang as ‘a Precursor of the Anglo-Jewish Haskalah’ (enlightenment).


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