Charting a historic path

The Bar-Yosef Map, New York, and the Schwarz Map, Italy: Which is the forgery?

Old map 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Old map 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
New York City, 1840. The excitement focused on a new map of the Holy Land in Hebrew, the first ever seen in the United States. An emissary from Jerusalem, Jachiel Bar-Yosef, prepared and printed this map in the holy tongue and was selling it to raise funds for the indigent of Hebron.
Who was Bar-Yosef and how could he have created such an item? We turn first to Dr. Arie Morgenstern, a historian and noted scholar. “About 25 years ago, I was in Italy and went to Trieste to pursue research in my field,” he says. “When I visited the chief rabbi of Trieste, I saw a Hebrew map of Eretz Yisrael on the wall, executed by the famous cartographer, Rabbi Yehosaph Schwarz.
“I looked at the map, and recognized immediately that this was the actual map which Jachiel Bar-Yosef appropriated in 1840 to create his map with New York ties.”
Morgenstern assumed that the Schwarz-Trieste map was given to the printer, who placed Bar-Yosef’s picture on it, along with an English title. At the bottom, several receipts in Hebrew and Arabic were stuck on for authenticity.
However, Bar-Yosef captioned them as testaments to his meaningful efforts. Morgenstern solved the mystery of the forged map, but we should know more about the 1840 man, our fellow Jew from Jerusalem.
The common practice in the 19th century was to send emissaries from Israel to various countries to collect money for the poor and needy. US Jewry, as one would imagine, was a major target.
Statistics show that by 1839, 20 emissaries from the Holy Land had visited America. After arriving, they had to receive authentication from the board of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue to solicit funds.
In 1840, the talk among many of New York City’s 305,000 gentiles and 7,000 Jews was this Hebrew map of the Holy Land.
Recently printed, the document so excited one Christian that he assumed all of New York’s Jews would immediately move to Palestine. When he visited the heart of the Jewish district, he was amazed to see the “Hebrews” were not busy packing.
The map, in black and white, measured 60 cm. by 85 cm., and depicted the wanderings of the Jews from Egypt to the Holy Land, and the tribal divison of the land. Only two copies have survived.
One made its way to Israel in the early 20th century. The only one now known to be extant is in the Library of Congress. “The Geography and Map Division of Library of Congress is the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world, numbering more than 5.2 million maps,” explains Dr. Peggy Pearlstein, head of the Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress.
Twenty-five years ago it was Pearlstein who identified the map under discussion, in the collection since 1840. “When asked to try and find Jachiel Bar-Yosef’s map, I turned to the staff of the Geography and Map Division. They quickly located the library’s copy of the rare Holy Land map, perhaps deposited on copyright in 1840,” she says.
Apart from being the first Hebrew map of the Holy Land printed in the US, it had a number of interesting features, all of which can now be attributed to Schwarz, the actual mapmaker. The most unusual shape on the map is that of the Dead Sea. The southern tip, known as the lashon (tongue), is twisted to the east – Sodom and Gomorrah are sunk in the depths of the Dead Sea, as noted in Genesis 19:25.
A publicist, Bar-Yosef took the original map and made sure that every purchaser of the map knew “who he was.” His portrait in a flowing robe, crowned with a turban, was featured. the identity of this emissary. “I found a letter from 1841 in the records of the officials from Amsterdam, who gave permission to shlihim [emissaries] from Eretz Yisrael to travel and raise money for the needy. Attached was a warning that Yehiel Cohen is a ‘shaliah [emissary] for himself.’” Morgenstern defines that term. “’A shaliah for himself’ normally collects money for his family’s own needs. However, there are some who forge the signature of rabbis and claim that they are shilihim for a specific community, such as Jews of Hebron.”
“It is not easy to prove the forgeries,” he continues. “In the US, it was even more problematic since American Jews did not recognize the signatures of rabbis from the Holy Land.”
The Jews of New York turned to the officials in Amsterdam, after the fact, to ascertain whether there was a shaliah for Hebron. The officials could say no with authority, because all the kollels (fulltime learning programs for married men) in Israel had to send a list to Amsterdam as to which of their shlihim were outside the country.
“I found a similar warning about Yosef Cohen in a letter from Amsterdam in 1847. I now know,” Morgenstern emphasizes, “that this individual lived in Jerusalem, a 27-year-old in 1839, ‘Behor Yosef Cohen,’ who was on the list to receive aid from foreign contributors.”
In 1839, Jerusalem had a population of 16,000, of which some 5,500 were Jews. When Bar-Yosef arrived in New York in December 1839, he received no assistance from the synagogue for his project.
He worked closely with G. Endicott – a New York lithographer – to produce his distinctive Hebrew map, printed in early February 1840.
THAT ONE copy of the map in Israel survived the War of Independence and was reproduced by Prof. Zev Vilnay in a book on ancient Hebrew maps of the Holy Land. My inquiries about the original map were unsuccessful since the original had disappeared.
I spoke to Vilnay before his death in 1987, and he told me he had not seen the map for at least 15 years. Maybe this article will bring the map into the open.
That forged creation, 174 years old, has again underlined the strong linkage between America and Israel in a most unusual manner. •