Is Jozefów Close to Chelm?

Simply stated, the answer is no.

Jozefów was a hamlet south of Warsaw in the 19th century that has all but been swallowed up by today’s metropolitan Warsaw. (It is only about 15 km. from downtown Warsaw.)

Chelm, on the other hand, is quite a distance to the east and situated today within the borders of Ukraine.

Chelm is famous, of course, in Jewish folklore for its “wise men,” whose solutions to problems challenge logic except when viewed through the lens of “pilpul.”

Why raise such a question?

Before giving an answer, I need to back up a bit. It was not uncommon in Eastern Europe for a Hebrew book to have its title also given in a transcription into the “vernacular” of the majority culture, i.e. Russian (Cyrillic) or Polish (Latin). (This generally was a requirement of local censors.)  Moreover, such transliterations often preserved the Hebrew pronunciation peculiar to the locale.

For example, in Lemberg (present-day L’viv, Ukraine), in 1892 a work on Talmudic hermeneutics by Joseph Engel was published whose title was אתוון דאורייתא that we today transliterate as: Atvan de-Oraita. Yet clearly on the page in Latin characters we read: Aswon deorajsu.

Another example: In Jozefów in 1826, an edition of Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s La-yesharim tehilah appeared, and on the title-page it also stated in Latin characters: Laieszurym tehyłu. As bizarre as it may look to (some of) us today, this fairly replicated the Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation of central Poland in the 19th century.

In Jozefów in 1835, however, another book by Moses Chaim Luzzatto was published, Mesilat Yesharim. And on the title-page one finds the following gibberish:  MYRUZSJ SEŁYSM.

Or is it gibberish? Or perhaps the type-setter was from Chelm? Or was he ignorant of the fact that Polish is written left-to-right- rather than right-to-left?

For if one reverses the letters, one finds: MSYŁES JSZURYM a perfectly rendering of M’siles yeshorim, as Hebrew was pronounced at that time and in that place.

Such “slip-ups” appear not to have happened often, so when I came across this, it took moment to figure it out.

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