One of the great literary works of Galician Jewry in the 16th-18th centuries is the “ShemotGittin” compendium. This is a lexical compilation that records the way names of men and women are written in Gittin, or bills of divorce, as well as in marriage documents. It classifies the hierarchy of personal names and nicknames, as well as the pronunciation and spelling of names of towns and villages.
This “Shemot Gittin” literature, which at first blush seems to be merely lists of names and esoteric halakhic particulars, in fact reveals extensive linguistic, grammatical and research studies by major halakhic authorities. The writers of these compilations examined the sources and the meanings of the names and their respective nicknames, the various relationships between Hebrew names and their vernacular equivalents, as well as the phonetic transcription of those non-Hebrew names.
This genre also documents city names in Galicia, while describing ongoing debates that reflect rabbinic attitudes towards the decisions of the gentile authorities in these matters, the different pronunciations of local dialects, and the rabbis’ general ambivalence towards Christian names and languages.
This literature serves as the basis for much of the rulings in the halakhot of Jewish Laws of Divorce, and was at the center of numerous halakhic polemics. “Shemot Gittin” literature was appended to the Shulĥan Arukh only at the end of the 17th century, and the earliest publications of complete monographs likewise date to those years. Yet the printed literature in this field is only the tip of an enormous iceberg of a diverse collection of manuscripts in the possession of rabbis and halakhic adjudicators, as a tradition of legal rulings in these fields was preserved from the early days of the Jewish settlement in Poland. These manuscripts were kept in court archives, alongside sample copies of bills of divorce and traditions of precise forms of spelling and writing.
The focus of my research study is the analysis of this literature; the description of its sources and its progression; its place in the broader discourse of print culture, manuscripts, and professional literature; as well as an understanding of the relationship between Jews and gentiles, as far as can be discerned through these texts.
My hope is that this work will open for researchers a door into this unique halakhic literature, which incorporates memory, documentation, and a living history of the names of Jewish men and women and their places of residence throughout Galicia and Bukovina. Ultimately, my goal is that this study will make a substantial contribution to the broader study of Jewish history and tradition.