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AARON BLASHKI, JEWISH SCHOLAR, BUSINESSMAN & PHILANTHROPIST

This remarkable cover with 8 Victorian Hospital Charity stamps, 7 blue 1d (1 shilling), as 5 singles and 1 pair, as well as a single red-brown 2½d (2 shillings & 6d), was cancelled by a REGISTERED/ W/ OC 26/ 01/ MELBOURNE, and it had a large unframed ‘R’ showing that it was sent registered. It was addressed to A. Blaski Esq. J.P., bOX 1051 G.P.O., Sydney. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

Hannah and Phillip Blashki, Jewish immigrants originally from Poland, arrived in Melbourne in 1858. Phillip worked as a hawker, a gold dealer on the diggings, and eventually owned a jewellery shop in Bourke St, P.Blashki and Sons. Hannah and Phillip had thirteen children, and one of these, Aaron, began work for tobacco importers Jacobs Hart and Co., in Melbourne. The company sent him to Sydney where he developed a number of business interests of his own and became director of the Sydney Exchange Co., the Eagle Tobacco Co., the Hilton Bellbird Coal Co. and the Katoomba Gas Co., and a partner in Falk Bros, photographers. He founded the Sydney Jewish Aid Society and was its president for thirty years. Aaron (1860-1938) married Minnie Waxman in 1889 and they had three children. Around 1930 Aaron and Minnie sold their business interests and moved to London, where they died.

Like many other Jewish boys, Aaron Blashki, who spearheaded the English translation of Rashi, was brought up in a home where Shabbat and Torah study went together. His father Phillip studied the weekly portion with Rashi, which gave Aaron Blashki an addictive interest in the subject. In his memoir published under the title of "Blashkiana"[6], he says (pages 90-91):

"When I lived with my parents in Melbourne it was our custom to read with my father the weekly portion of the Torah every Friday night. After we had finished my father would then study the portion by himself, using the Rashi commentary. I often asked him about it, but got no more than a general idea that to understand the inner meaning of the Torah one had to get the benefit of such commentators as Rashi, Ibn Ezra and others, but Rashi was always my father’s favourite, and he never seemed to tire of him. I made up my mind that some day I would try to have Rashi translated. I remember asking the librarian of the Melbourne Public Library if he had an English translation of Rashi. He searched everywhere, but told me that he didn’t think Rashi had ever been translated into English".

Years passed and Aaron Blashki became well-to-do but never abandoned the thought of an English translation of Rashi. The result – five volumes published between 1929 and 1934, was known in Australia as "the Blashki Chumash"; elsewhere, for reasons we shall discover, it is "the Silbermann Rashi". The work was the outcome of two independent projects, later combined. In Australia the prime movers were Aaron Blashki and Louis Joseph; in England Rev Morris Rosenbaum and Dr Abraham Silbermann.

The story of the Australian project is bound up with the life of Aaron Blashki, about whom information is available in the memoir mentioned above. Born in Melbourne in 1860, he played an important part in the commercial life of both Australia and South-East Asia; his travels are a fascinating chapter of Jewish and commercial history.

Unusually for his time in Australia Blashki combined his business career with a firm adherence to religious tradition and a love of Jewish sacred books. He was in a way like Rashi himself, earning a living from commercial pursuits (in Rashi’s case vineyards and winemaking) whilst devoting himself to Jewish learning and observance. Blashki was a member of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, holding office as president in 1913-14 in the era of Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen with whom he did not always see eye-to-eye, and he was involved in Jewish educational and charitable work.

He did not at first envisage undertaking the Rashi project on his own, even with help. He relates in his memoir that when Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz visited Australia in 1921 and wanted ideas on Jewish education, he responded by suggesting an edition of Rashi in English. The Chief Rabbi agreed and said that with financial backing he could produce the work within a year. He suggested a sum of 2000 pounds, which Blashki agreed to provide. The money was placed on deposit in London, but the project did not go ahead even though Hertz later said he could find clergy who could help him provided he had another 500 pounds. Blashki paid the five hundred and kept asking for a progress report. Nothing eventuated and about six years later when Blashki’s daughter Viva married Wilfred S Samuel, Blashki asked Samuel to go and see the Chief Rabbi. After an interview with the Chief Rabbi, Samuel advised Blashki not to expect any results from Hertz. Eventually Hertz produced a Chumash commentary on quite different lines.

Blashki, having given up on Hertz, decided "to take the matter in hand myself". He might have produced a reasonable translation on his own, but he looked for "a sound Hebrew scholar" to be his co-worker and regarded himself as "fortunate in enlisting the help of Mr L Joseph, then teacher of Hebrew at the Eastern Suburbs School". At that stage Sydney had at least two L Josephs; indeed one L Joseph attended the rabbinical expositions of the other. Officially they were both Louis Joseph, but Joseph the teacher was also known by other names – Joe Joseph, Joe Louvish and Joe Luvich, and sometimes simply as Joseph. His pupils, if Morris Ochert is to be believed, thought he was a madman, and members of the community called him "Meshuggener (Crazy) Joseph". Ochert tells a number of stories about Joseph’s lessons in two memoirs published in the AJHS Journal – "Bondi Jewry Between the Wars".

Louis Joseph also taught at the Great Synagogue Sabbath School, where he scared his pupils but inspired them too. He seems to have had ample time available to work on Rashi with Aaron Blashki. The latter wrote, "Mr Joseph eagerly and enthusiastically joined in the work. Every day we put in some hours of hard work. On Sundays and holidays much longer time. On some days we spent as much as 12 hours together, and in 12 months we had finished the whole of Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah." Since Blashki paid Joseph, the work was seen as Blashki’s property. The manuscript may have remained in Blashki’s handwriting or it might have been typed in his office.

Aaron Blashki had a long association with The Great Synagogue in the Central Business District of Sydney, first as Vice-President and Treasurer an later as President, and he was a member of the Board for 25 years.

 

The first non-philatelic text of this paper was extracted from the website of Susie Zada, and the vast portion of the other non-philatelic text was extracted from www.oztorah.com. I have no information as to whether Aaron Blashki was a philatelist.

Addendum (December 2010): An obituary appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 7 July, 1938, page 7, and this is an abbreviation of the obituary: Mr. Aaron Blashki, who died in London on Tuesday, was born in Melbourne in 1860. He began his commercial career at the age of 13 with Jacobs Hart and Company, and later bought out the Sydney business of the firm and founded A. Blashki, Ltd. In 1900 he erected the Blashki Buildings on the corner of Hunter and Elizabeth Streets (Sydney).....For 25 years he was vice-president of the N.S.W. Board of Jewish Education. He founded the Jewish Aid Society, and after holding the presidency for 35 years, he was elected life president. He was a leading Freemason, and was a Past Grand Master of the Victorian Grand Lodge. He was a member of the Sydney Cricket Club.

Mrs. Blashki and two children, Dr. Eric Blashki of Macquarie Street, and Mrs. Wilfred Samuel, of London survive. Another son, Captain Roy (Hector) Blashki, was killed in action in the Great War (at the age of 23 on 3 August 1917).

 

 


 

 

 

 
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