HASKAMAH (Askamah; Heb. אַסְכָּמָה ,הַסְכָּמָה; "agreement," "approbation"), in Jewish literature, a term with several meanings: (1) Rabbinic approval and approbation of the legal decisions of colleagues, usually attached to the original legal decision and circulated with it. These haskamot sometimes amplify the original, by including additional sources and pointing out implications. (2) In the Spanish and later also in the Italian and Oriental communities, the term was used for the statutes and ordinances enacted by the communities (see *Ascama ). (3) In the philosophical literature of the Middle Ages, "consensus," "harmony between entities," "pre-established harmony" (see Klatzkin , Thesaurus Philosophicus 1, 185–6). (4) More commonly, the recommendation of a scholar or rabbi to a book or treatise.
This entry deals with the last meaning.
ORIGINS AND HISTORY. Various opinions have been offered on the origin or development of the haskamah for books. Some see the influence of the approbatio of the Church, others see it as resulting from the papal action of 1553 in the dispute between the publishing houses of *Bragadini and Giustiniani which resulted in the burning of the Talmud (see *Censorship ). The first haskamah appeared in the 15th century, in the Agur by Jacob Landau (Naples, c. 1490), the first Hebrew book printed during its author's lifetime; it was signed by seven rabbis. The haskamah for Elijah Levita's Sefer ha-Baḥur (Rome, 1518) signed by the rabbi of Rome, threatens excommunication for republication within 10 years. Thus the haskamah fulfilled the function of a copyright, the period of protection extending from five to 25 years. The haskamah in Joseph Caro's Bedek ha-Bayit (Venice, 1606) is signed by three rabbis (the number of haskamot varied from book to book); and it concluded with a declaration by the sexton that he has read it in all the synagogues of Venice. With the introduction of title pages in the 16th century, haskamot came to be printed at the beginning rather than at the end of a book.
Thus, the haskamah developed from a recommendation to an expression of approval to a method of protecting the author's rights and finally to a form of self-censorship to protect the Jewish community against the church censorship and later to counteract kabbalistic, pseudo-messianic, and Haskalah tendencies. Thus, at the Rabbinical Synod of Ferrara of 1554, it was enacted that no book should receive its first printing without prior approbation of three rabbis of the particular region. Similar takkanot were issued in Poland in 1594 and 1682. Such restrictions were used to prevent the spread of the heretical Shabbatean doctrines, or to protect the printers of the expensive Talmud editions. This led to many disputes and litigations. The majority of haskamot issued in the 17th and 18th centuries originated in the centers of Hebrew printing, such as Venice, Amsterdam, and Constantinople. Haskamot were usually written in a combination of Hebrew and Aramaic, frequently using the florid style of rabbinic writings. They sometimes contain bibliographic, biographic, and geographic data, which, though not always exact, are an important source for historians and scholars, and bibliographers like Roest, Wachstein and Wiener utilized this source.
Haskamot have been much abused. Often their place and date were intentionally altered. Some writers, eager to have haskamot appended to their works, forged signatures and haskamot, as was the case in Nehemiah Ḥayon's Ha-Kolot Yeḥdalun (Amsterdam, 1725). Earlier maskilim used forged approbations to their works in order to deceive the pious reader. Others printed only part of the book which had received the haskamah, and some authors published their books on inferior paper with unclear type. As a result some haskamot included such specifications as "the condition of this haskamah that the printing of this book should be completed within two years" or "on condition that the printer should print the book on white paper with black ink." These factors, and others as well, made many rabbis reluctant to write haskamot. Samson *Wertheimer was ready to approve only the works of relatives or scholars who were poor. Some writers of approbations made no secret of the fact that they had been given to help the author financially (see Abraham ha-Kohen 's Beit Ya'akov, Leghorn, 1792). Some rabbis denied haskamot to any book which dealt with Jewish law; others were ready to add their names only if a well-known rabbi had already given his haskamah. Still others protested that they had no time to read the entire book, or that they were not sufficiently acquainted with the subject; which did not prevent some from granting their approbation merely on the reputation of the author.
Some authors were not eager to obtain the haskamah of rabbis who could not read the work; thus Moses Mendelssohn did not request haskamot for his books, nor did Raphael ha-Kohen for his Torat Yekuti'el (Berlin, 1772); other authorities disapproved of them altogether (Responsa Ḥatam Sofer ḤM 41); Ezekiel Landau used his haskamah to the Prague Pentateuch of 1785 to express his disapproval of Mendelssohn's Pentateuch edition. Between 1499 and 1850, 3,662 haskamot were issued, the majority in Eastern Europe. Authors of religious books are still anxious to print a haskamah by a prominent rabbi or authority. In secular works the worldwide custom of using a preface or an introduction by a well-known authority fulfills the same role.
L. Loewenstein, Index Approbationum (1923); I.S. Reggio, Iggerot Yashar (1834–36); B. Wachstein, in: MGWJ, 71 (1927), 123–33; I. Halperin (ed.), Pinkas Va'ad Arba Araẓot (1945), index; M. Carmilly-Weinberger, Sefer ve-Sayif (1966), xii–xiv, 177–85; Shunami, Bibl., 501
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.