Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the Rapaport Family Name (1)
By Dr. Chanan Rapaport (2)

As the editor of the new feature Tov Shem Tov – in the historical bimonthly Et-Mol, published by the Ben-Zvi Institute -, I was asked by the general editor to begin this pleasant task by explaining the origins, history and folklore associated with this well-known family name.

This family is very highly regarded in Orthodox circles, as it is a name borne by Kohanim, the Jewish priestly caste that originated with Aaron the High Priest and his famous brother Moses our ancient teacher and leader. Those who carry this name are obviously called upon to bless the congregation by reciting the priestly benediction and are much in demand in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn (3).

The History of the Name

At various times and in keeping with the Zeitgeist – the mood of the times – various explanations were given as to the origin of the family name. From the middle of the sixteenth century, when the memory of the life of the Jews in Spain and Portugal was fading, until the nineteenth century, it was stylish among the Jews of Eastern and Western Europe to consider the Rapaport family among those who were exiled from Spain. With this attribution they had what could be considered the approval to be an ancient family along with the status that attached itself to such families.
During those centuries there were two folkloristic explanations as to the origin of the name Rapaport:
1.The first explanation described the marriage of two distinguished families of Spanish exiles – a son of
the Rapa family married a daughter of the Porto (Portugal) family. The result of the marriage of the two was the creation of a new family name – Rapaport.
2. The second explanation claimed that the name Rapaport was the combination of the important ‘Rav’ [Rabbi] from the city of Oporto, a major city in Portugal. No one ever bothered, so it seems, to try to track down the identity of this important rabbi in the history of the Jews in Portugal but in spite of that this explanation received wide and prominent resonance (4).

With the second expulsion of Jews from Mainz (5) in 1462, we find some of the family in northern Italy in the fertile area of the Po River valley. One son of the Raffa family moved to Venice where he served as a rabbi. Another relocated to Porto, which today is identified with the city of Lenyago = Legnago (45o10’N/11o19’E) east of Mantua.

The second half of the name Rapaport is taken from the name of the city of Porto. When the son who lived in Porto moved to Venice, the Jews of Venice wanted to differentiate between him and the newly arrived rabbi. They called him ‘the Raffa from Porto’ while their rabbi was ‘the Raffa from Venice.’ Over time the name remained Raffa-Porto, hence Rapaport.

Others maintain that the name Rapaport derives from the German word for raven = Rabe or Rape.
A raven appears on the family’s Coat of Arms, found in the Museum of Shields of Nobility in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. It is also found on the printer’s mark on the title page of Minha B’lulah, the book by Rabbi Abraham Menahem, son of Jacob the Kohen, published in Verona in 1594.
The symbol is representative of the period of the Italian Renaissance with partially clothed women and plant leaves surrounding the medallion. Within it are the outstretched hands in the priestly benediction pose representing the Rappa priestly family and the raven symbolizing the Jew wandering around the world from place to place.

We know that in 1520, some seventy-five years before the printing of the above mentioned medallion, one of the members of the family called himself ‘The circumciser Yitzchak, son of Yechiel the Kohen of the Ravens’ (6). That is, ‘Raven’ = Rape – as the first part of the family name was well known for many years by family members.

In the opinion of the later researchers, the second half of the name of the family = Porto comes from the town of Portobuffole located some forty kilometers north of Venice. The Rappa family lived in this town before 1480, almost seventy years before we find them in Porto-Legnago (7).

The Extent of the Dispersion of the Family and its Contributions

As was already pointed out, in 1380 we find the family in Regensburg in southern Germany and afterwards in Mainz. Following the numerous expulsions they wandered about Italy. From there, this family of rabbis, physicians, scientists, holders of titles of nobility and bankers spread northward to Vienna, Bohemia and Moravia (today the Czech Republic), Poland, Galicia, Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania. They also moved eastward to Hungary, Besserabia and Romania.
From East and Central Europe, at the beginning of the 20th century, the family looked to the Anglo-Saxon world – United States, Canada, England, Australia and South Africa. In the wanderings throughout all the generations Eretz Yisrael was never ignored.

An analysis of the contributions of the Rapaport family in the last six hundred years to religious and secular literature, education, science, medicine, art, finance and commerce is beyond the scope of this short summary.
Relevant information can easily be found in every biography of a member of this distinguished family and, no less, in the biographies of those who married into it. In order to better study and appraise the history and contribution of the family, the Center for the Study of the Rapaport Family was established in 1990. An indispensable focus of the Center is our research on the ‘Development of the Jewish Intellectual Class’.
1) It should be pointed out initially that the name would be spelled consistently throughout as Rapaport. Following are some, but not all, of the variations of spellings: Rappaport, Rappoport, Rapoportov, Rapiport, Rapeport, Rapperport, Rapart, Rappa, Rapovich, Rapert, Rapport, Rapir and Praport.

2) This article first appeared in the periodical Et-Mol, Vol. 31:2 (184), 2005 and in Sharsheret Hadorot Vol. 20.N. 2. It is reprinted here with permission through the generous courtesy of their editorial boards.

3) The redemption of the firstborn is commanded in the Torah where it is mentioned several times. There is a widespread story about the famous Gaon of Vilna, known by his acronym ‘HaGRA,’ who was the firstborn in his family. His father fulfilled this mitzvah as required when he was thirty days old but he repeated the mitzvah for himself in adulthood. When he met Rabbi Chayim haKohen Rapaport, the chief rabbi of Lvov, for the first time, he requested to redeem himself for a third time. He did this with the explanation that: “Now that he fulfilled the redemption through a distinguished Kohen, his mind was at ease that it was done exactly as required by Jewish law.”

4) The author of this article personally heard these two explanations from the noted professor of history Dr. Ben-Zion Dinur (Dinaburg) towards the end of the War of Independence, before he was appointed as the Minister of Education of Israel. Professor Dinaburg was convinced of the veracity of these explanations.
In the last century, a discussion developed in scientific journals and in various encyclopedias (see the Bibliography) as to the source of this name. There are those who are convinced that we are dealing with a single priestly family, of Ashkenazic origin whose name at first was RAFFA after the plain in Bavaria north of the city Regensburg (Ratisbone) (49o01’N/12o07’E), from where this family emerged from general anonymity. The Jews were expelled from Regensburg in the years 1420-1422, after malicious incitement by the monk Giovanni Capistrano (1386-1456) and the family arrived in the city of Mainz.

5) As is well known, Johannes Guttenberg of Mainz invented the first moveable type printing press, in Europe, and opened in Mainz, the first publishing house. We know that he kept his professional knowledge a secret and refused to teach Jews the printing profession, lest they spread heresy. Consequently, we do not know how Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi Rappa, (earlier expelled from Regensburg ) and now in Mainz, learned to be a printer. However, after the second expulsion of Jews from Mainz, we find Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi Rappa in northern Italy. He opened a printing house in the Piove di Sacco townlet (45o18’N/12o01’E), eighteen kilometers southeast of the city of Padua. He printed the first Hebrew book ever published in 1472, part one of the Arba’a Turim of Jacob Ben Asher. The publication of the Arba’a Turim was completed in 1475 and Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi a son of the Raffa-Rapaport family became the world’s first Hebrew printer.

6) Rabbi Eliakim Carmoli, who was the supervisor of the Hebrew Section of the Imperial Library in Paris,
titled his historical research on the Rapaport and Young-Toivim families, ‘The Ravens and the Doves’, (published in 1861)

7) A sad testimony from Portobuffole (Trevizo region) where the family lived before 1480, is the Blood Libel of 1480, which came in the wake of the infamous Trent Blood Libel of 1475. In the transcript of the trial, today located in the Biblioteka Marchana in Venice, the Jews of Portobuffole were on trial for the murder of a Christian boy for the ritual needs of Passover. This insidious Blood Libel led to the burning of three Portobuffole Jews in the San Marco central plaza of Venice.
In September 2005, more than five hundred years later, a delegation from the city along with its mayor and priest came to the Jewish community of Venice to seek forgiveness and pardon for this reprehensible act.
By the way, representing the Jews of Israel and the generations of the Rapaport family at this interesting ceremony was the young Israeli conductor Mr. Dan Rapoport of Rechovot who lives, temporarily, in Venice.

a) Brann, Mordechai. Das Geschlecht der "jungen Raben". Centenarium. 1890. pp. 394-399.
b) Brann, Mordechai. And Rosenthal, F. [Eds]. Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David
Kaufmann. Breslau, Schles. Veriages Anstalt, 1900.
c) Carmoly, Elyakim. Haorvim uvnei Yonna. Redelhaim, 1861. [Hebrew].
d) Encyclopedia Judaica. [English Version]. 1972. vol. XIII, pp. 913-5, 1547-8, 1552-7.
e) Freimann, Aron. Haben Juedische Fluechtling aus Mainz im xv. Jahrhundert den Buchdruk
nach Italien gebracht? Journal of Jewish Bibliography. October 1938. Vol. 1[1], pp. 9-11.
f) Jacobi, Paul. The Genesis of the Rapaport family. Sharsheret Hadorot. 1994. Vol. 8[2], pp. V-IX.
g) Jewish Encyclopaedia. Vol. 10. 1901-1906. pp. 133-4, 317, 319-23.
h) Juedisches Lexikon. Harlitz, G. and Kirschner, B. (Eds). 1927-30. Berlin, Vol. IV, pp. 1232-5.
i) Lewin, Louis. Deutsche Einwanderungen in Polnische Ghetti. Jahrbuch der Juedischen
Literarischen Gesellschaft. 1906. Vol. 4, pp. 293-329. 1907. Vol. 5. pp. 75-154.
j) Nissim, Daniele. Famiglie Rapa e Rapaport nell’Italia Settentrionale (sec. XV-XVI) con
un’Appendice sull’origine della Miscellanea Rothschild. Rassegna Mensile di Israel. 2001.
Vol. 47 p. pp. 177-192.
k) Nissim, Daniele. Rapa and Rapaport Families in Northern Italy in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Avotaynu, International Review of Jewish Genealogy. 2003. Vol. 19 [1], pp. 29 –32.
l) Rapaport, Chanan. The Development of the Jewish Intellectual Class. Avotaynu, International
Review of Jewish Genealogy. 1995. Vol. 11[2], pp. 32.
m) Reifman, Yaakov. Toldot Avraham Menachem ben Yaakov Hacohen. Ha-Shachar. 1872. No.
3, pp. 353-376. [Hebrew]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jacobi Absolute Generations Scale

Absolute Generations Scale 1)


Chair of IIJG and a close collaborator of Paul Jacobi)

            A major goal of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy
and Paul Jacobi Center is to develop scientific research tools and technologies
for the use of Jewish genealogists and social scientists generally. 

One such tool for which there has long been a compelling need, is
a standard chronological system to record generations on family trees.
Additionally, there has been a need for a system that permits the
synchronization of generations within kinship groups and their harmonization
with other family trees, whether related or unrelated,
and with wider
frames of reference,
both historical and societal.

 The "Jacobi Absolute Generations Scale", devised by the
late Dr. Paul Jacobi almost half a century ago, which fully answers
these various needs (and) is thus recommended by the Institute for
general use.

This paper begins by addressing areas illustrating some of the
problematics involved, both in enumerating the generations using the “Relative
Generations” system and in identifying individuals bearing identical names
within them.

A. "Relative Generations"

            The simplest way to register generations on a family tree is to
define the length of a generation as 25 or 30 years, and then to tie
on the tree to a recognized dating system, such as the Julian, Gregorian,
Hebrew or Muslim calendars. Unfortunately, this arbitrary approach is
inadequate from a number of perspectives, starting with the fact that it
depends on knowledge of years of birth and death of individuals on the tree,
and these facts often are unknown. As a result, family historians, in grappling
with the problem, often adopt a different approach. They opt to designate
generations by the number of generations known to them, generally
assigning the number 1 to the earliest generation recorded on their particular

            Despite the prima
logic of this system of “relative generations,” it can lead to
confusion, inconsistencies and even errors. One obvious danger may be
demonstrated in the case of a family historian who fixes the third generation
back (the earliest known to him) as number 1, while another researcher of the
same family, who has traced the common lineage further back in time, assigns
the number 1 to the fifth or even the fifteenth generation back. The resultant
confusions are self- evident.

However, the potential pitfalls associated with this system run
deeper. To cite but two problem areas:

1.  Homonymous individuals

             In certain Ashkenazi Jewish traditions, it is customary to
memorialize deceased relatives by calling new-born children after them. While
several considerations may come into play in selecting given names, a first son
is very often named after his grandfather or, if the latter is still alive,
after his great grandfather.
  Other children, both male and
female, are named in accordance with various conventions and, in some
communities, in a well-accepted (though not iron-cast) order. These customs
lead to regular, consistent naming patterns, usually repeating themselves in
every third generation and often throughout parallel branches within the same

Since family historians frequently use naming patterns as a
guiding light to fix generations
in time and to determine
the relationships between individuals, the recurrence of people with the same
given name – known as
“homonymous individuals” - in a single family lends
itself to
misidentification and outright mistakes. The problem may be compounded
when the same
naming pattern is found in another, unrelated family that bears the same
surname, sometimes in the same community.

Among Sephardim, especially Ladino-(Judeo-Spanish) speaking Jews,
it has been, and to an extent it still is, the custom (is) to name a
in honor of maternal and paternal grandparents, even while
they are still alive.
Again, the same names may appear many times within a single
timeframe, and not in clearly defined generations, thereby increasing the risk
of errors in identity

2. Married names

In Jewish usage, women tend to be recorded as
“so-and-so” the daughter of “so-and-so” [her father], wife of “so-and-so.”
  Although in some
cases this form of appellation may help identification, it frequently leads to
confusion, given the multiplicity of the same masculine name in repeated
within a given family. The problem is compounded by the propensity for cousins
to marry cousins
in certain Jewish societies.

            These factors complicate and hinder comparisons
between independently produced family trees,
especially where the
"relative-generations" system is used for recording purposes.
Harmonizing such trees and reconciling inconsistencies between them is far from
easy, while the establishment of complex family relationships becomes all the
more difficult the longer the lineages
. Errors are hard to spot and
"skipped generations" may be overlooked, with all the attendant
blunders likely to arise therefrom.

In brief, the "relative generations" system can become
an obstacle to serious genealogical research. Attempts to synchronize the
arbitrarily numbered generations with a standard time-line may not lead to
accurate correlations.
Hence, the historical background and cultural context surrounding
an individual may be skewed and marred by anachronisms or the opposite
Equally, the influences on his behavior and life choices, his
educational and occupational opportunities, residential possibilities, communal
affiliations and societal networks, and migrational decisions, to mention but a
few aspects of life relevant to the genealogist, may be improperly understood
and even totally misinterpreted.

B. "Absolute Generations"

            Aware of these difficulties, the late Dr. Paul Jacobi (1911-1997)
developed an alternative system for registering generations, now known
as the Jacobi “Absolute Generations Scale (JAGS).
In this
system, genealogists employ an absolute time line  that is stable,
recognized and linked directly to the years as enumerated in the accepted
system in use in the Western world today (“BC” and “AD”, or, for Jews and some
others, “BCE” and “CE”).

            On the basis of his extensive genealogical knowledge
and experience, Jacobi determined the average span of a single generation as 75
years, with each successive generation set to follow the previous one at
intervals of 30 years. Thus, on the basis of the Common Era dating system:

            •“Generation 1” is fixed as 2040–1965 (a period of 75

            •Working backwards, “Generation 2” begins 30 years
earlier and covers the period 2010-–1935.

            •Successive generations are counted retrogressively
every 30 years prior to 2010.

With the designation of the current generation as “Generation 0,”
Jacobi’s absolute generational scale for the last 900 years is as follows:




































































































Jacobi consciously drew his scale back to “Generation 32”
(1035-1110) which corresponds with the life of the great Jewish biblical and
Talmudic commentator, Rashi (1040-1105).

            Theoretically, Jacobi’s scale could be extended back
to the dawn of recorded history, or indeed of history itself, but Jacobi
preferred not to be drawn into unnecessary theoretical discussions over when
history began and, according to whose historical tradition. As a practical
matter, he regarded it as sufficient to use the scale as it is, since
scientific Jewish genealogy scarcely pre-dates Rashi.*

            An individual, who lived the larger part of his life
within the time-frame of a given generation, is designated as belonging to that
generation. Thus, the outstanding Jewish scholars Samuel Eliezer ben Judah
Halevi Edels (1555-1631) [the “Maharsha”] and Maimonides (1135-1204) [the
“Rambam”] belong to generations 15 and 29, respectively.  Within each absolute
generation, the scale allows for flexibility. On occasion, it is necessary—and possible—to
split a generation or to skip one. For example:

Ø  •A man lived
from 1725 to 1755 and had a son who lived from 1744 to 1790. Both belong to
Generation 9. For the sake of clarity, however, the father should be assigned
to Generation 9b and the son to Generation 9a.

Ø  A woman
lived from 1775 to 1830 and had a daughter who lived from 1815 to 1890. The
mother belongs to Generation 8, but the daughter to Generation 6—hence the need
to skip a generation in this case.

When the need eventually arises, the scale can be extended forward
in time by adding Generation–1 (2100–2025), Generation–2 (2130–2055), and so


            Several advantages arise from adopting the Jacobi
Absolute Generations Scale (JAGS). 

First and foremost, the JAGS offers a standard
chronological system to record generations on family trees and to synchronize
them within kinship groups.

Every individual on a specific family tree—and
on parallel trees drawn up independently–can be assigned to an absolute

An individual’s generational position is
identical on all trees, thereby providing positive identification when trees
are compared, merged or interchanged.

The JAGS minimizes the possibility of
misidentification and of coalescing discrete individuals bearing the same given
name and patronym.

The JAGS readily illustrates anomalies,
requiring further investigation, such as a married woman whose father was born
in generation 12, but whose supposed husband was born 100 years earlier, in
generation 15.

It sometimes suggests solutions to these
anomalies because facility in using JAGS leads to an ability to place an
individual in his correct generation, even in the absence of precise dates of
birth and death for the individual concerned.

The JAGS indicates the precise time-frame in
which a person lived the majority of his life and thereby places him in the
correct historical context, even when some vital genealogical information is

Assignment of an absolute generation to all
family members reveals who an individual’s contemporaries were, both within his
own family and beyond.  The JAGS permits the reconstruction of generational
relationships even when full genealogical information is missing. For instance,
if an individual can be located in generation 26, one may reasonably assume
that his father belonged to generation 27, his children to generation 25 and
his grandchildren to generation 24. The subsequent discovery of a critical
piece of vital statistical information almost invariably substantiates these
assumptions, proving the reliability and value of the scale.

Finally, use of Jacobi's Absolute Generations
Scale points the way to the creation of a common terminology and chronology
between genealogists and researchers from other scientific disciplines, as well
as scholars from diverse cultures, speaking different languages.


In the light of these advantages, the Genealogical Institute
highly recommends that Jacobi’s scale be adopted as widely as possible.

Dr. Neville Lamdan, the Director of the Institute, contributed to
this article.


* For those seeking greater historical depth, herewith the Jacobi
Absolute Generations Scale drawn from “Generation 0” to “Generation 101”,
during which time (-1049 – -970), according to tradition and to many Biblical
archaeologists, King David is held to have lived.

0    =   1995 - 2070

 1    =   1965 - 2040

=    1215 - 1290

51  =       465 -   540

76  =    -285 -   -210

 2    =   1935 – 2010

27   =    1185 - 1260

52  =       435 -   510

77  =    -315 -   -240

 3    =   1905 - 1980

28   =    1155 - 1230

53  =       405 -   480

78  =    -345 -   -270

 4    =   1875 - 1950

29   =    1125 - 1200

54  =       375 -   450

79  =    -375 -   -300

 5   =    1845 - 1920

30   =    1095 - 1170

55  =       345 -   420

80  =    -405 -   -330

 6   =    1815 - 1890

31   =    1065 - 1140

56  =       315 -   390

81  =    -435 -   -360

 7   =    1785 - 1860

32   =    1035 - 1110

57  =       285 -   360

82  =    -465 -   -390

  8  =    1755 - 1830

33   =    1005 - 1080

58  =       255 -   330

83  =    -495 -   -420

  9  =    1725 - 1800

34   =      975 - 1050

59  =       225 -   300

84  =    -525 -   -450

10  =    1695 - 1770

35   =      945 - 1020

60  =       195 -   270

85  =    -555 -   -480

11  =    1665 - 1740

36   =      915 -   990

61  =       165 -   240

86  =    -585 -   -510

12  =    1635 - 1710

37   =      885 -   960

62  =       135 -   210

87  =    -615 -   -540

13  =    1605 - 1680

38   =      855 -   930

63  =       105 -   180

88  =    -645 -   -570

14  =    1575 - 1650

39  =       825 -   900   

64  =         75 -   150

89  =    -675 -   -600

15  =    1545 - 1620

40  =       795 -   870

65  =         45 -   120

90  =    -705 -   -630

16  =    1515 - 1590

41  =       765 -   840

66  =         15 -     90

91  =    -735 -   -660

17  =    1485 - 1560

42  =       735 -   810

67  =        -15 - + 60 

92  =    -765 -   -690

18  =    1455 - 1530

43  =       705 -   780

68  =        -45 - + 30

93  =    -795 -   -720

19  =    1425 - 1500

44  =       675 -   750

69  =       -75 -     0

94  =    -825 -   -750

20  =    1395 - 1470 

45  =       645 -   720

70  =     - 105 -   -30

95  =    -855 -   -780

21  =    1365 - 1440

46  =       615 -   690

71  =      -135 -   -60

96  =    -885 -   -810

22 =     1335 - 1410

47  =       585 -   660

72  =      -165 -   -90 

97  =    -915 -   -840

23  =    1305 - 1380

48  =       555 -   630

73  =      -195 - -120 

98  =    -945     -870

24  =    1275 - 1350

49  =       525 -   600

74  =      -225 - -150

99  =    -975 -   -900

25  =    1245 - 1320

50  =       495 -   570

75  =      -255 - -180

100 =  -1005 -  -930

101 = -1035-  -960

1) The above
paper was written for "The International Institute for Jewish Genealogy

   Paul Jacobi
Center" – IIJG.       

    It was published in the International Journal for Jewish
Genealogy "

    Volume XXV, Number 4.
Winter 2009
, Washington,