Tags : #copyright #talmud
Monday, August 25, 2014
History and Theory of Copyright Law – part 2
In the August 11 article I posed several fundamental questions and problems concerning the history of copyright. This continuation has proved harder to write that I imagined a couple of weeks ago. Authors and creators are entitled to protection of their intellectual property, but this was no always the case. Before printing no one cared about laws to prevent coping. Most of the copying was done by monks or other religious personnel. Until the 18th century intellectual property was not protected very well. The concept of intellectual property evolved in the 18th and 19th century. This evolution included changing the protection of publishers’ investment to the protection of the creators’ creative output. Copyright law allows a limited monopoly for exclusive rights to sell, publish, perform, translate, derive, record, etc. works that are fixed in a tangible form.
The first fundamental question concerns what is creation?
Ideas are the sparks of creation. Progress, change and prosperity resulting from novel ideas are the actions that led to every routine and breakthrough idea. Ideals based on needs are what caused humans to use fire, wear clothes, and raise plants for food. Progress in all forms relies on communications and the recording of experience. 
Origin stories try to explain how ideas began. The origin stories work fine for literature, but in the history of law and society origins are complicated. The stories have many parts and it is sometimes hard to determine what causes what. The origin story is more like a theory that explains some of what we see in today’s law.
Creation is the first act for a work to come into existence. The only creation that was created without being based on anything previous is the creation of the world. The creation of the world after the first moment is self-perpetuating creativity from within. The movement of every atom and molecule is part of this perpetual creation. As soon as God created people, they become partners in renewing and perfecting creation. Giving humans a soul and the power of language is a set of powerful tools for man to become an author and creator. Human creative activity mirrors Devine creation. This partnership has implications on creations that become copyrightable works.
The model creation story is in the book of Genesis. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God created the world in six days then rested on the seventh. Every weekday people are creating and on the Shabbat they rest from work. Creative activity is what is not performed on the Shabbat. That is fine for resting from work, but only gives a narrow view on creative work that is copyrightable. One classification of forbidden work is creation such as writing and sewing. Writing is using a tool such as a pen to put letters and words on blank paper (or its equivalent). Sewing is the act of taking pieces that are initially useless and creating something new and valuable. However, the exchange of ideas and learning happens every day including Shabbat and holidays. The spreading of ideas, while it may be something new or creative does not satisfy the requirements of copyright or the legal limits of forbidden Shabbat work. Wisdom and understanding were parts of the ten things that God needed to create the universe. Creative activity is connected to wisdom.
Ideas that are never put in tangible form are not created. A casual conversation among friends is not created. In order for the entity to be a “work” it must have a point of creation. Only a recording or written documentation of the conversation has a moment of creation. National copyright laws are the descendants of state and local statues and common law. The legal tradition in the United States and the United Kingdom (and its Commonwealth and former colonies including Israel) is public interest oriented. This philosophy is clearly stated in Article I section 8 of the constitution, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.“ In France and Germany the laws are “author-centric” protecting the intellectual property or “natural rights” of the creator. Since the creation of international copyright treaties, these two basic philosophies of protection have needed some reconciliation. The term of copyright based on the life-time of the creator is based on the French-German model. The lack of a requirement to use a copyright symbol or include a claim in the current law is European in origin.
Creativity is fluid. It begins internally and develops to the point when it can be expressed in a tangible form such as a sentence, picture or audio-visual recording. For the creative mind, the effort to push this creative juice out of the subconscious and into the world is a force that can not be fully explained or controlled. The creative effort is hard work that must be continuously revised. Sometimes the work takes over and the author or artist who becomes just a recorder of the process. The creative forces of the soul push thought into words or visuals. This creative force implies that financial reward is not the only motivator of creativity.
An ontological study in the nature of reality puts some context to the law within the culture of the origin and how that influences the law today. This helps to explain how the law should develop. Creation for literature and science is the act of taking what is known and coming up with a new idea or what of expression. In the world of realia creation is the act of taking pieces and putting them together in a way that makes the whole more valuable than the parts.
The next fundamental question concerns what is a property right? If a creator invests his/her time, wisdom, and energy into a creation, does the creator have property rights over the creation?
B. Matthews discusses opinions on bother sides of the issue as to whether or not an author has any ownership or property rights to their work. Property rights are a matter of law and the state can define and limit ownership rights. For example when the state has an interest the rights are more limited that when there is no interest. The state has little interest in what you do with your clothes. Once a shirt is bought you may wear it, wash it, sell it, rent it, or destroy it and the state won’t limit you. However, for buildings the state will have many laws or regulations concerning building codes, housing codes, contract law, zoning regulations, etc. The state wants to protect the residents from issues such as unsafe buildings or uncontrolled development. The author has a right to benefit from his creative activity. Monetary reward is only one of the types of rewards the author receives.
In per-commercial societies there was little need for complicated properly laws. The laws of contracts, torts, and damages developed to govern property rights. If someone thinks he has been “wronged,” then he can demand justice in the form of legal actions such a law suit or legal sanctions. The law has developed a way to allow people to defend their property in a way that society benefits. The law prevents vengeance and chaos. The law also facilitates central planning. In some places individuals can not own land. They only own property rights to things that can be made, built or controlled (i.e. animals). Humans could not own or control invisible or intangible property. In Jewish law an owner has to take possession of the property either with a contract, exchange or money, moving the property or occupying the property. None of these apply to intangible property.
In ancient Greece, medieval Europe, and during the Renaissance, playwrights, poets, and other authors earned their living from performances or public readings. Booksellers in ancient Rome did not pay the authors. Authors did not think this was a problem until the invention of the printing press. Preparing a book and editing the text for the early printed editions was a job for an expert. Printers were also the publishers. Since they made a substantial investment in time and money, the publishers wanted protection from pirated copies. The city of Venice issued the first copyright in 1469 for the works of Cicero. The period was five years. That began the legal protection of intellectual property.
The third fundamental question concerns who is an author.
Authorship is not always clear. If a person writes a poem or novel by himself and signs the works, there is little question as to who is the creator and author. What happens when two people collaborate and write under one pseudonym? The authors’ real names may to unknown. Who is credited as the creator? What is the creative work of an editor who brings together the work of many authors?
Commodities, i.e. physical objects, are made from raw materials. Intellectual content and creativity is based on prior knowledge and wisdom. Since knowledge is both the input and output, one must give proper attribution to the source. Attribution is established in the Torah when the author (Divine or human) of a statement is identified. In Talmudic times failure to credit a Torah insight to its source was an issue. In Avot 6:6 is listed ways of acquiring Torah knowledge. One of the ways is to repeat an idea in the name of the one who wrote it. This refers to the Book of Esther 2:22 where Esther reported an incident to the king in the name of Mordecai. The implication is that one gets reward not only for the original teaching but also when a student spreads the learning from a teacher. This learning from the previous teachers is the same as “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Before printing the transmission of knowledge was primarily oral. That is the reason the Mishnah and Talmud are part of the oral law or tradition. Even in a scholarly society, the benefit for producing novel content was not monetary gain. Harsh words were used for those who used Torah to earn a living. Most rabbis of the Talmud had occupations to earn a living.
Even in today’s society we have scholars, academics, lawyers, and even business people who share their knowledge via speeches and writings without direct compensation. Sharing knowledge may be for reasons that help the person advance his/her career or reputation, but it is not to earn a living from the endeavor. Contrast this to a business model where the audience is directly paying for the knowledge (or entertainment) of the oral, recorded, or written word.
The Talmud does not have a penalty or any way to enforce a person’s right to his words. A person could listen to a lecture and teach the thoughts later. Thus a creator of knowledge has a right to ownership of the creation.
The earliest copyright laws protected only published, written works such as books, periodicals, and pamphlets. Pre-publication manuscripts and graphic works were not protected. Later art was added. When photography was invented at first it was not considered art, but was eventually protected. The earliest moving pictures were protected by making prints of the frames and sending them to the Copyright Office. Eventually the law was changed to include protection of moving images. The lawmakers seem to never take into account creative works that were not extant when the law was written.
The French Literary and Artistic Property Act, Paris (1793) Established that authors, composers of music, painters, engravers, shall have their works protected for the lifetime of the creator and for a period of ten years after their death. The law narrowly defined limits by listing the types of works that are protected. Realia and art works such as sculpture and models, buildings, and artistic media not invented at the time are missing.
On February 16, 2012 I heard Professor Roberta Kwall, of DePaul University School of Law give a lecture entitled, “Jewish Process Thought and Copyright Policy” She examined a case, Chapman Kelley v. Chicago Park District through the lens of a law professor and Jewish process theology. The lecture covered many aspects of creation from the position of the Bible and Jewish tradition and how they relate to the case and copyright. Some aspects of library collections and cataloging cover situations that the law has yet to address. Professor Kwall said many times in the lecture that VARA (The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, Title 17 U.S.C. §106a) was too narrowly written to cover all aspects of visual art. The Seventh Circuit Court held that Kelley’s work was not protected under the copyright law.
The state has an interest in protecting intellectual property so that people are encouraged to create and spread new ideas. Since the arts and sciences need to advance to make a better society, dynamic creativity never ends. Society needs to encourage creative energies and their application so that society is entertained, learns and advances. Creators have the right to benefit from their time, creative energy and monetary investment. The right to copyright protection begins after the work is created. Opportunities to get reward for their creations benefit the creator, the publisher and society.
The study of copyright never ends because of the dynamic nature of creativity. This story will be continued in further articles.
Many of the ideas expressed in this article are not precisely cited because they come from multiple sources and synthesized into this document. One should also refer to my other articles on copyright published in this blog. Below are some of the books and articles used in the preparation of this article
Bracha, Oren. Owning ideas: a history of Anglo-American intellectual property : a thesis presented to Harvard Law School, Graduate Program. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard Law School , June 2005. Retrieved from: http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/obracha/dissertation/
Matthews, Brander. “The Evolution of Copyright” in: Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Dec., 1890), pp. 583-602. Retrievable from Jstor Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2139530
Burleson, Ken "Learning from Copyright's Failure to Build its Future," in Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 89:3, (2014) Article 6. Available at: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/ilj/vol89/iss3/6
Cass, Ronald A. and Keith N. Hylton. Laws of creation: property rights in the world of ideas. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.
The construction of authorship : textual appropriation in law and literature / edited by Marth Woodmanse and Peter Jaszi. Durham, NC : Duke University Press, 1994.
Foucault, Michel. “What is an author?” In:Textual strategies. perspectives in post structuralist criticism / edited by Josué Harari. New York: Cornell University Press. Translation of: "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?” http://www.movementresearch.org/classesworkshops/melt/Foucault_WhatIsAnAuthor.pdf
Hazan, Victor. “The Origins of Copyright Law in Ancient Jewish Law.” 18 Bulletin of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A 1970-1971 p. 23-28.
Katz, Jacob. Exclusiveness and tolerance : studies in Jewish-Gentile relations in medieval and modern times. New York : Schocken Books, 1961.
Katz, Jacob. Out of the ghetto : the social background of Jewish emancipation, 1770-1870. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1973.
Kwall, Roberta Rosenthal. “Copyright issues in online courses: ownership, authorship and conflict,” In Santa Clara high technology law journal 18 :1 (2001).
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/chtlj/vol18/iss1/1
Kwall, Roberta Rosenthal. “The Lessons of Living Gardens and Jewish Process Theology for Authorship and Moral Rights” In:Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, Volume 14:4 (May 2012) ; DePaul Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-05. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2017955
Marcus, Jacob R. The Jew in the medieval world : a source book 315-1791. New York : Atheneum, 1977.
Netanel, Neil Weinstock. “Maharam of Padua v. Giustiniani: the sixteenth-century origins of the Jewish law of copyright.” Houston Law Review, Vol. 44, 2007. UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 07-34. Available online from: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1066285
Netanel, Neil Weinstock. and David Nimmer. “Is copyright property? : the debate in Jewish law” in Theoretical inquires in law, vol. 12:1 (2011) UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 10-12 . Available online from: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1615849
Nimmer, David. “In the shadow of the emperor : the Hatam Sofer’s copyright rulings (December 3, 2009), in The Torah u-Madda Journal, 2009; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 09-33. Available online: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1517949
Patry, William. “The Bible and Copyright,” http://williampatry.blogspot.com/2007/06/bible-and-copyright.html 2007.
Privilege and property : essays on the history of copyright / edited by Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer, and Lionel Bently. Cambridge, U.K. : Open Book Publishers, 2010. See http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product.php/26
Silbey, Jessica M., “The mythical beginnings of intellectual property” Suffolk University Law School Faculty Publications. Paper 48, Jan. 2008. Retrieved from: http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=suffolk_fp
Part of: Nellco Legal Scholarship Repository. Sufflok University Law School Faculty Publications.
Silverstein, Arthur Jay. “Copyright in Jewish Law “ in Tradition, Spring 1974. 14:3 pages 28-36. Online available from: http://tinyurl.com/pxvveu7
Ungar, Daniel. “Copyright enforcement by praise and curse: the Colourful development of Jewish intellectual property (March 1, 2011). In Intellectual property quarterly, issue 01, 2011. Available online from:: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1896345 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1896345
Yen, Alfred C. “The interdisciplinary future of copyright theory.” In: The construction of authorship. pages 159-173.
Zanotti, Lauren. “Text Summary of Michel Foucault’s What is an Author?” Department of English, University of Berne, October 2008. http://laureen.zanotti.me/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/summary_foucault.pdf
 This is the eleventh article in my series on copyright. It is written in response to hearing confusion concerning intellectual property rights and legal protection of copyrights.
 The other areas of intellectual property that are protected by patent law, trademark registration, and trade secrets are beyond the scope of this discussion. The bar to earn a patent is much higher than copyright protection. Patent applicants have to prove, creativity and originality. Copyright holders do not need to prove anything be granted protection.
 Image from : “Let's Talk About It: Discussion Topics for Chanukah” http://www.learnhebrewpod.com/explore/jewish-holidays/chanukah/discuss Image location: http://www.learnhebrewpod.com/images/library/holidays/chanukah/let-there-be-light.jpg
 Genesis 1:2.
 The classifications of work that are forbidden on Shabbat are derived from the labors needed to create the Tabernacle. Some labors such as planting crops, cooking, and dying cloth have no connection to the types of creation that are protected by copyright.
 Examine Talmud Hagggah 12a : In the section that Rav Zutra bar Toviah talks about the ten things that God did to create the world one the sixth is: “By wisdom and understanding,” for it is written (Proverbs 3:19): The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; and by understanding established the heavens. העשרה דברים נברא העולם בחכמה ובתבונה.
 Here I mean the individual states that became the United States. In other parts of this article “state” is a governmental entity that can enact laws and statutes. That includes cities, counties, states and countries.
 Before 1976 the U.S law required the copyright sign © or the word “copyright” for protection. Examples of the requirement are: © 1975 or copyright 1975. Many works lost their copyright protection because they failed to include this claim.
 For more on the history of copyright see: Privilege and property : essays on the history of copyright / edited by Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer, and Lionel Bently. Cambridge, U.K. : Open Book Publishers, 2010. See http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product.php/26 for more information about this book.
 Matthews, Brander. “Evolution of copyright.”
 See the Kol Safran blog entry of February 1, 2012 : “Shoulders of Giants?” http://kol-safran.blogspot.com/2012/02/shoulders-of-giants.html footnote 1 for a discussion on the source of this phrase.
 The text and English translation may be found in: http://www.copyrighthistory.org/cgi-bin/kleioc/0010/exec/ausgabe/%22f_1793%22
 She is the Raymond Niro Professor of Intellectual Property Law and the co-director DePaul’s Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies.
 See the bibliography for the reference to the article based on the lecture.
 Legal citation for case: 635 F.3d 290 (7th Cir. 2011, cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 380 (2011). The case can also be located using Google Scholar because they index court cases.
The case dealt with the landscape job that Chapman Kelley created in Grant Park of Chicago. The works is described in the case as, “two enormous elliptical flower beds … featuring a variety of native wild flowers.” It was promoted as “living art.” Until 2004 Kelley and a group pf volunteers tended the garden, cut and planted as needed. In 2004 the Chicago Park District modified the garden, reducing it to half of the original size.
 There was a bill introduced on December 15, 2011 Congress H.R.3688, Equity for Visual Artists Act of 2011, that would have required a 7% royalty to be paid on sales of art abject sold by auction houses for more than $10,000. Part of the royalty would go to the artists and part an artists’ entity that would distribute the money to museums. The bill proposed to exempt art from copyright procedures. The bill seemed to recognize some aspects of intellectual property beyond what is copyright protected for books and other printed works. The bill was never passed into law.
Tags : #copyright #talmud
Tags : #copyright #talmud
Monday, August 11, 2014
History and Theory of Copyright Law – part 1
What is Copyright? part 10
The earliest copyright laws were written to protect the commercial interests of publishers.  They only covered printed works. The concepts of intellectual property, copyright, and plagiarism prevention are related but not the same. Copyright is a legal, government sanctioned, monopoly covering the rights such as publication, copying, derivative products, etc. Copyright has limits defined by law and treaty. If you break the law you can be sued, fined or sanctioned. Copyright laws were instituted to encourage the growth and dissemination of knowledge.
Intellectual property is the ownership of the creative efforts of an individual or group. Intellectual property is owned forever. When the copyright protection is over, works pass into the public domain and may be freely used, reprinted, and published without violating the law. However, one can not claim to have written material that was authored by someone else. Claiming authorship over something that is not yours without proper attribution or quotations, is plagiarism. Plagiarism is not always illegal. Plagiarism is morally and professional wrong and you can lose your grade in school, your reputation or your job. These concepts are frequently confused because the nature of intellectual property has changed over the years and many people think if no one is losing money why is the action wrong.
Before the printing press authors didn’t care too much about intellectual property. The great writers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were happy just to get their ideas spread to the public. Shakespeare earned his living from producing plays, not publishing the text of the plays. Even today most authors do not earn their full-time living from their writing. Many people who write for a living create works for hire with their employer getting full copyright and control over the works. For example I had a cousin who wrote hundreds of booklets for NASA. He was not even credited in most of them. My brother earns his living by wiring technical and procedure manuals for clients. He does not own the copyright to his works.
Graphics, pictures, and kinds of illustrations were not even considered for protection. Forms of art that had not been invented such as photographs and moving images were not considered with any kind of open ended legal language. Today we have enough have enough imagination to consider forms of art and recordings that have not yet been invented. In the copyright law it is written concerning what is protected: “… works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” 
There is a publication distributed in synagogues called Business Weekly  which has been devoting a weekly column since July 4, 2014 (Parashat Balak) to copyright and patents. Mostly they do not seem to understand the theory, history and practical application of copyright and the nature of intellectual property. They also do not seem to understand that copyright and patent laws are vastly different in theory and application. This paper will deal with explaining the history and theory of copyright from a Jewish point of view. I will probably raise more questions than I answer. Halacha (Jewish law) parallels the history of secular and governmental copyright protection and law as they trace their roots to the beginning of printing. Both halacha and secular law recognize that one can benefit from the fruits of one’s labor and should have a right to make a return on their investment. The author’s rights have changed over the years.
The very nature of property that one can not hold or see makes the analysis of author or owner rights and copyright a hazy subject of in case law, statutory law, and everyday application. The ease of copying and publishing electronically confuses many people as to what is actually protected. Copyright protection enables authors to have control over their creations. Even if the author does not charge for his/her creation, the work is protected and requires permission to copy.
1. Why is copyright protection needed?
2. Does halacha recognize ownership of intellectual property?
A. What is intellectual property?
B. Who is the creator of a work?
C. Who or what is an author?
D. What is ownership?
3. What are the limits of copyright protection according halacha and secular law?
4. Do the rules of protection differ based the type of work? Are Torah works protected differently than secular works? Is there a difference between music, graphic, and printed works? Are non-published works protected? Are non-recorded ideas protected?
5. Are governmental copyright laws and the Berne convention and other international treaties binding according to halacha? If a country has not accepted the international treaty does halacha say we have to respect any commercial rights?
[This is the opening of the problem. This article will only give you a taste of some of the history. A more comprehensive history is found in Privilege and property : essays on the history of copyright (see full citation in the bibliography to be published in later parts.) Some of these questions were covered in my earlier articles, but I will revisit them with a different focus. This article will be continued and published in parts.]
 This is the tenth article in my series on copyright. It is written in response to hearing confusion concerning intellectual property rights and legal protection of copyrights.
 Illustration notes: Image is from the British Library and is free of known copyright restrictions. Source is an illuminated manuscript: Haggadah for Passover (the 'Ashkenazi Haggadah'), German rite with the commentary of Eleazar of Worms. [Ulm?, Germany, circa 1460.]
A man searching for leaven in a cupboard and brushing crumbs with a feather. The miniature is place in the outer margin, next to the initial word at the beginning of the passage, 'On the day preceding the fourteenth [of Nisan] you search for leaven by the light of a lamp'.
 United States Copyright is codified in Title 17 of U.S. Code. (http://www.copyright.gov/title17/) The Constitution in Article I, Section 8 granted to Congress the power ... “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
 Title 17 U.S.C. §102a.
 Business Weekly is published by the Business Halacha Institute (BHI) Brooklyn, NY 11230. Each week they publish a two page sheet, which may be found online at: http://businesshalacha.com/content/business-weekly-previous . The online web page lists the issues according to the parashat ha-shavuah (weekly Torah portion). The form of the articles is to pose a question and then the rest of the article is the answer.
In halacha and in scholarship in general how one composes the question is an important step in getting a correct and useful answer.
 This paper is concerned with copyright law and theory issues. Copyright does not protect any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery; but they may be protected by patents (Title 17 U.S.C. §102b). Patents are more difficult to obtain and last for a more limited time than copyright. Patents need to prove originally; copyrighted materials do not need to prove or claim originality. Patents require a filing procedure and review; copyright protection is automatic and filing is optional.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
July 20, 2014
It seems that everything wears out. Last December I had to replace my microwave and this month I had to replace my clothes washer. The old washer still looked new on the outside, but inside the pump and the transmission were broken. Repair would cost more than a new washer. It was long and lingering demise. I didn’t want to replace the washer before I had to.
The repairman recommended a washer with minimal electronic gadgetry. It was also much less expensive than the fancy machines. I searched the online sites of three stores. The salesman agreed with the repairman. The washer was still on sale for the 4th of July sales. The repairman said to get the model 4800, however I learned there were two model 4800 – the CU and BQ. The CU cost $50 more, had a 3.4 cubic foot tub and fewer cycle choices. The BQ has a 3.7 cubic foot tub. I bought the BQ model. The cost was below the threshold for free delivery. I got an extended warranty for the same cost as delivery. Then delivery was included. I had to buy new water hoses to get free installation.
On Friday (July 18) the washer was installed and the old one was taken away. The delivery people said the old machine was ancient. It worked for me for more than 20 years. I didn’t want a new machine; I was forced to. The machine had to run a cycle without clothes before I could use it to make sure residue remained from the shipping or manufacture. The new machine works. It is quieter than the old one and the clothes are clean.
Good by old, leaky machine, hello new washer.
Usually in this blog I do not express personal opinions off my topic of libraries and information. Today I must share an emotional event. I was teary-eyed when I wrote the first draft.
A few weeks ago the daughter, son-in-law and their month old baby went to visit his father in Los Angeles. I have known the daughter and her family since I moved to this block. She was a toddler when I moved here. I was at their wedding in May 2013. Two weeks ago the young husband dropped dead of an undiagnosed health problem. I asked what I could do and was asked to write about her husband. I agreed even though I really barely know him. I only met him a few times. On those times I was very impressed with his kindness, friendliness, wisdom, and excitement to make a wonderful life for his family. They were indeed a wonderful couple; lucky to find each other.
Below is the letter I wrote for their infant daughter with all the personal details removed.
July 20, 2014
No one is supposed to write a letter like this. A child is supposed to grow up with the love and guidance of two parents and lots of friends and relatives. A child is supposed to see their parents grow old. At the end one is supposed to mourn the passing of parents who have led a long and meaningful life full of Torah, mitzvot and family.
I only knew your father for a very short time. I met him briefly at the engagement party and at your parents’ wedding. The wedding was so happy with everyone dancing and celebrating.
This past Pesah your parents came to Chicago in anticipation of your birth. Your father was very self-assured and your parents looked so much in love and ready to start a family. I offered to let them stay at my home. Your father’s father also came for the first days of yom tov. In anticipation, your father rearranged the guest room in my home. However they never took me up on the offer.
In the time between Pesah and June I visited your grandparents and had the opportunity to speak with your father. The topics were general friendly conversation. It was at the Shabbat or yom tov table and everyone was participating in the conversation. Your father was a true ben-Torah and mitzvot. He took his knowledge and freely shared it with others. He was a true man of the world and was not stuck in words; he was living Torah as a man of this world. He knew so much and I wish that some of that great knowledge will someday be part of you.
After you were born I could see the love of family in his eyes. Whenever he talked of you he did not have to use words, I could see that he wanted great things for you and your family. His love of family extended to your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Even to me, a friend and neighbor of your grandparents he exhibited a friendship as if I had known him all his life.
When you begin to walk and talk I hope that we will see your father in every step and in every word. May you be blessed with great knowledge and wisdom. May his eyes always shine through yours and someday you will accomplish all the dreams that he had for you.
Be strong and stand on the shoulders of giants.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
When I recently reviewed a book (Organizing Exhibitions by Freda Matassa. London, 2014) on organizing museum exhibits. One several of the check lists are items the curators need. As the book was written by a British author, several of the choices were more British than American English, but I was able to figure everything out except for the word, “plinth.” One way to figure out is from context or a glossary in the book. Here are three examples from the book and none offer clues as to the meaning. On page 47 is list of installation items, "display cases and plinths." On page 72, A wide plinth can act as a deterrent." On page 133, "Items on a plinth or shelf can be placed one metre from the edge ..." I looked for "plinth" in my colegiate dictionary and even though it had the word and a definition, the meaning was not clear.
I looked up "plinth" in the Oxford English Dictionary, which reports “plinth” is on unknown origins. It appears in ancient Latin and Greek as well as modern French, Spanish, Greek, and German. If it is a loan word, the original language is not Latin, Greek or a Semitic language. OED says the first English use was in the book, The first and chief groundes of architecture vsed in all the auncient and famous monymentes by John Shute . 1st edition, 1563. (Note in 1563 English spelling had not yet been standardized.) In folio X is a picture of column with all the parts labeled. The “Plinthus” is the solid support at the bottom of the column. In architecture it is clear that the word means the right prism (rectangular solid) used as a support for at column.
In room decoration a plinth is the base along a wall that prevents chairs from hitting the wall. An early description of the process of creating a plinth for a room is found in the article, Agricultural architecture and engineering. No. ix by R. S. Hunt page 14 in Journal of Agriculture, July 1853 (Google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=1VI523q3l2wC&pg=PA14&dq=Farmer%27s+Magazine+plinths&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YfapU-juJdi2yATXjYIg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%20plinth&f=false) Today one can go to Ikea or Home Depot and purchase material for block plinths to be used as molding or plinth that can used as a support for a post or column.
None of these uses of the word fit what “plinth” means for museum exhibits. I looked in a catalog for library and museum supplies. A plinth is a rectangular solid (right prism) that supports museum display cases. A plinth could also be used inside a display case to hold the item on display. The supplier uses “plinth” as a shape to describe the base of a display case.
“Fabric deck and back panel; glass shelves; archival materials; fluorescent light hood; 6" plinth base”
It is interesting that most of the companies that sell plinths for museums are in Great Britain. Perhaps in the US most people just use other words such as “base,” “pedestal, “ or “support?” I know what a "plinth" is but I am not sure if the word is more British than American usage. Perhaps you should ask your colleagues if they can use "plinth" in a sentence?
Yesterday I had a guest from London join us for lunch. I asked him if he ever heard of the word, "plinth" and did he think it was a British word. He said that he heard of the word because in Trafalgar Square in central London is a group of three statues. The fourth plinth was supposed to hold a statue of William IV, but they ran out of money. For 150 years the fate of the empty plinth was debated. In 1999 it was decided that it would be used for the temporary display of contemporary art.
6/30/2014 Comment received. Included with permission.
A new Brit/American usage difference to add to my list. Yes, "plinth" for Brits is the normal word for the thing you stick a statue on. I do believe we use the expression "to put s.o. on a pedestal", although you would have to check with somebody whose British English is less contaminated than mine!
Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe