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Judaica Online Exhibitions

 

The Jewish Book

Material Texts and Comparative Contexts

An Online Exhibition from the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies 2005-2006 Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania.


The Advent of the Jewish Book

The extraordinary historical circumstances, which scattered the Jewish communities around the Mediterranean basin and further eastward, northward, and westward, brought them into contact with diversified civilizations, religions, and societies. As a result, Hebrew manuscripts are cross-cultural agents and significant artifacts for studying the history of the handwritten book in all the other civilizations around the Mediterranean, predominantly those of Islam and Christianity. Due to the far flung territorial dispersion of the Jews, and their adherence to their national script, medieval manuscripts written in Hebrew characters were produced in a territorial range larger than that of their Greek, Latin, or even Arabic counterparts, as Hebrew handwritten books were manufactured and disseminated within and across all these main and other, more minor, booklore zones. In contrast to Christian society, where literacy was concentrated among clerics and aristocrats, Jewish society was largely classless, and literacy was widespread. Extensive book consumption and a remarkably high rate of user-produced books, which was initiated not by intellectual or academic establishments but privately, inevitably resulted in a relatively high rate of book production.

The number of surviving medieval books of the Jewish minority is naturally much smaller than that of extant Latin or Arabic ones. However, the extant Hebrew manuscripts probably represent only a small proportion of the total Jewish book production, very likely much smaller than the proportion of Latin manuscripts relative to total Latin book production. The loss of most of the codices was not the consequence of historical conditions alone. Hebrew books were destroyed or abandoned not only through wanderings, emigrations, persecutions, and expulsions, or confiscated and burned in Christian countries; they were above all worn out by use. Unlike Latin, Greek and, to a certain degree, Arabic books, they were not preserved either in well-protected royal or aristocratic collections or in monasteries, mosques, or religious or academic institutions, but were privately owned and used.

Moreover, the roughly 100,000 extant medieval Hebrew codices and their fragments represent the book production output of only the last six centuries of the Middle Ages. The revolutionary codex form of the book, which was adopted and diffused by Christians already in the first centuries of our era and replaced the old roll form in the areas around the Mediterranean from about 300, was employed by the Jews much later, as is attested both by findings and by textual evidence. Between the abundant finds of Hebrew books from Late Antiquity b rt of the Hellenistic and early Roman period b some eight hundred years almost without evidence of the Hebrew book, in either roll or codex form. The earliest extant categorically dated Hebrew codices were written at the beginning of the tenth century, all of them in the Middle East. However, in the structural, figural, and artistic design of the copied texts, in their harmonious scripts and shared styles, and in the mature employment of codicological practices, these earliest manuscripts demonstrate elaborate craftsmanship and regularity, surely attesting to a long-established tradition of codex design and production.

From the eleventh century on, dated manuscripts have survived also from Italy and the Maghreb, while those produced in the Iberian Peninsula, France, Germany, England, and Byzantium date from the twelfth century on. Until the middle of the thirteenth century their number, mainly produced outside the Middle East, is rather small; but it increases thereafter, reaching a peak in the fifteenth century. Thus the history of the medieval Hebrew book and of Hebrew palaeography and codicology is largely confined to the high and late Middle Ages. The dated manuscripts furnish us with solid knowledge of the crystallized types of Hebrew book scripts, scribal practices, and codicological techniques in the high and late Middle Ages in the Islamic East, where the Arabic script was employed, in the Christian West, where the Latin script was used, and in the Byzantine zone, where the Greek script was used. They enable us to unfold the rich variety of their traditions and styles evolving over space and time and to draw a firm typology of the hand-produced Hebrew book.

All the earliest extant hand-written Hebrew codices of the tenth and the early-eleventh- century are biblical. They bear witness to the large-scale project of producing and disseminating the massoretic version of the vocalized and accentuated Bible as was forged in Tiberias in Palestine by generations of experts of the transmission of the authentic text of the biblical books. The adoption of the codex form by the Jews coincided with the crystallization of the Massoretic version of the Hebrew Bible. Scribes and vocalizers in the Orient were engaged in fixing the biblical texts in codex form and disseminating them on a large scale. The remarkable scope of this production and diffusion has become known to us only recently, following the dramatic accessibility of the rich collections of the Russian National Library (formerly the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library) in St. Petersburg, where some two thousand surviving biblical codices, or their fragments, are kept, many of which have been found to date from the tenth and eleventh centuries. The text of these codices, as in those which followed them in all the other regions of the East and West, was accompanied by the Massora, lexical and grammatical annotations pertaining to spelling, vocalization, and accentuation, intended to safeguard the accurate transmission of the biblical text. These complex notations were written in detail in a minute script on the upper and lower margins, while much shorter and abbreviated notations were written between the columns and on the inner and outer margins. At the beginning, the Massoretic annotations were probably written by the scholarly massoretes themselves, as in the case of the famous Aleppo Codex, which was vocalized, accentuated and massoreted in Palestine around 930 by the most important massorete, Aharon ben Asher, himself. Soon after, the complicated task of matching the copying of the annotations to the relevant text while disposing them in aesthetic patterns was left to scribes or vocalizers, who as early as the tenth century exploited the secondary text as a decorative device. Later, scribes or vocalizers enhanced this visual manipulation of the Massora still further, sketching not only sophisticated abstract geometrical and floral interlaced ornamentation, as can be seen in plate 18, but also elaborate zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images, even illustrations to the biblical text The secondary text lost its verbal meaning altogether, and was transformed into a sheer visually expressive tool.

The earliest surviving dated manuscript of the whole Bible, which was selected for this exhibition as a remarkable representative of the early Hebrew book production, is kept in the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, MS EBP. IIB 19a, produced in Cairo in 1008 by the prestigious scribe Shemuel ben Ya'aqov. The images display the artistic and scribal craft facet of those bibles produced in the Middle East at the outset of the Jewish codex. Fol. 73v displays a decorated carpet-page of Massoretic text, while fol. 478r shows one of the ornamented parts of the multi-pages colophon of the scribe.

Malachi Beit-Arie


Jewish Letters Before the Codex

Fragments of non-biblical texts, mostly recovered from the Cairo Genizah that were committed to writing in horizontal scrolls similar to Torah scrolls seem to represent early versions of the texts they preserve, including Talmud, Midrash and other post-biblical genres of Hebrew writing. Only very few of these fragments have been published or discussed in the scholarly literature. One of these is a fragment of a very early version of Avot de-Rabbi Natan that seems to have been copied before the Islamic conquests of the Near East and may represent the earliest fragment of rabbinic literature that has so far come to light.

The second manuscript displayed here is a palimpsest. The lower Greek text seems to preserve a sixth century transcription of the New Testament Book of Acts.. The upper Hebrew text preserves an early midrash on Genesis 40:18-41:3, 46:28-47:1 copied in the 10th century or earlier. This text is similar to, but not identical with, Midrash Genesis Rabbah on the same biblical passages, and therefore represents an early and important addition to our knowledge of rabbinic biblical interpretation.

Marc Bregman


A Bible from the Genizah

These two images are the recto and verso of a single folio surviving from an early Bible codex written in the Near East in the 10th century. The folio was found in the famous Cairo Genizah in the Ben-Ezra synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo) and came to Penn as part of the Dropsie College Genizah collection acquired at the beginning of the last century.

The codex from which this folio derived is a typical example of a Masoretic Bible, known after its producers, the Masoretes or ba’alei ha-mesorah, who were also the authors of the scribal annotations known as the Masorah and whose Biblical text has become, in one of its several versions, the canonical text of the Bible. The Masoretic codices are also the earliest surviving Jewish codices, and effectively mark the transition in Jewish culture from the scroll to the book-form we use today.

The typical page of the Masoretic codex, fully represented in this folio, inscribes that moment of transition between the two mediums of book-technology. The Biblical text is arranged in three columns that imitate the traditional form of a Torah scroll, albeit on a page, and as in a Torah-scroll, the text is written in the formal square, so-called Assyrian letters. In the codex, however, the text also contains vowelization points beneath the letters as well as the te’amim, the accentuation marks both beneath and above them. In addition, the codex contains the Masoretic notes in its two traditional forms— on the one hand, the masorah ketanah (masorah parva) in the abbreviations recorded in the space between the columns; and on the other, the masorah gedolah (masorah magna), in the two lines at the top of the page and the two lines at the bottom. Both types of notes, written in micrography or miniscule writing, record and enumerate all the peculiarities and singular features of the Biblical text, presumably in order to safeguard its accurate transmission though they may also have served an early exegetical function.

The page format of these early codices provides the basic model for numerous Bible manuscripts produced throughout the Middle Ages as well as the text and the annotations preserved in the printed Bibles known as the Miqraot Gedolot or Rabbinic Bible. To this day, the Masoretic Bible remains the basic text that defines what we call the Jewish Bible.

David Stern


The Lobed Mazzot of the Birds' Head Haggadah

The oldest surviving illuminated Passover Haggadah from Ashkenaz is the well-known “Birds’ Head Haggadah” from the Upper Rhine region of Germany. Copied and decorated around 1300, it presents a close-to-complete text of the Seder ritual as it is celebrated today. The Haggadah contains mainly marginal illustrations, which not only illuminate the text, but also serve as didactic visual portrayals of the ceremony and the customs connected to it.

The anonymous artist of the Haggadah clearly distinguished between two types of mazzot: the three “precept mazzot” and those that do not serve any ritual function. He was clearly familiar with the order in which the mazzot are to be used. Appropriately, he marked them with the respective number of lobes protruding from their circumference, in perfect correlation to the minhag.

Portraying part of the ritual preceding the meal, the artist appended two marginal images to this page. The man at the top seems to be preparing, stirring or forking the bitter herbs for the maror, to be eaten while reciting the appropriate benediction. In the lower margin, the illustration depicts the ensuing ritual in the progression of the Seder. Following the eating of the maror, one is instructed to take a combination of condiments, in fulfillment of Korekh. In keeping with the tradition laid down by Hillel in the first century of the Common Era, some greens (“Leituga”, or lettuce) and a bit of the third mazzah are eaten together. The bird-headed man is shown raising both foodstuffs, about to join them and eat them together for the Korekh.

The unique form of the mazzah reflects the custom – rarely adhered to – of marking the three “precept mazzot” which are obligatory for the fulfillment of the rituals of the Seder. Accordingly, when depicting the moment in which the first mazzah is taken, the cake shown by the artist has one protuberance, while the second and third mazzot are marked respectively with two or three lobes.

First referred to in writing as “marks” or “signs” in the twelfth century, the lobed mazzot are visually manifested for the first time in the “Bird’s Head Haggadah”.

Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig


A Hebrew Florentine Manuscript Commissioned by the Medici Family

MS Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/55 contains the liturgical biblical corpus of Psalms, Job and Proverbs, named Sifrei Emet. This tiny volume (measuring 95X65 mm) made of the finest parchment was produced in mid fifteenth-century Florence by one of the most prestigious, skilled and prolific Italian Hebrew scribes known to us. Although the manuscript bears no colophon, both the elegant Italian semi-cursive writing and the manuscript's codicological and palaeographical features disclose the hand and the craft of Yitzhaq ben Ovadia ben David of Forli, who had been active in Florence for some three decades, ever since 1441. Isaac seems to have been a paragon of the Florentine bel-libro among Jewish scribes of his day: his manuscripts no doubt reflect a kinship to the beautiful but sober volumes, characterized by the highest level of both materials and execution, of humanistic Florence. Furthermore, a close study of his work seems to attest that in many aspects he led the way for Hebrew scribes in the adoption and integration of the local book-craft practices of their Christian environment, some of which had gradually become, in the course of the Quattrocento, the current practices of Hebrew manuscript production in Italy.

A salient feature of Isaac's manuscripts is their rich decoration: some, as the Israel Museum 's Sifrei Emet codex, include full-page miniatures, decorated panels, broad illuminated borders with floral and foliate ornaments, medallions, putti, birds of all sorts, peacocks, bees, lions and deers; and, in the finest manuscripts – human figures. All manuscripts belonging to this category of elaborate decoration contain gold, some bear family coats-of-arms or emblems. No doubt the typical Florentine style of the illuminated borders and miniatures indicates they had been executed by local Christian artists and workshops.

MS Israel Museum, in addition to three full-page miniatures (featuring David triumphant over Goliath, Job, and King Solomon in Judgment), encloses a richly ornamented frontispiece which holds a unique attestation to Medici ownership: at the bottom of the frame, the family device consisting of a diamond ring with three feathers, white pink and green (possibly representing the young Lorenzo the Magnificent who had just come into power) and beneath – the motto semper.

Nurit Pasternak


The Jewish Humanist Library in Italy

The banker Moisè Modena (1539-1630) owned a library, which in 1599 consisted of 100 titles of Latin and Italian books and 145 titles of Hebrew books. He was neither a rabbi nor a famous scholar or physician, but a wealthy and –probably– a cultured man. The two sons, the famous kabbalist Aharon Berechiah (1576-1639) and Salomone (1583-?) respectively of 24 and 17 years old, the former was already rabbi and the second not yet. In his library we can see perhaps some lines of the classical background of an acculturated Jew who lived at the turn of the 16th century to 17th century: from the commentaries of Rashi to Sefer Ha-Kuzari and Me'or ʻenayim, from Francesco Petrarca to Marsilio Ficino. What seems particularly interesting about the library of Moisè Modena is the possibility to distinguish a certain concrete connection between Jewish culture, the Medieval and Renaissance basic texts, and the general Italian culture of his time. In the library of Moisè Modena we can find in fact the classical works Masoret ha-masoret of ’Elie ha-Levi Ashkenazi, Diqduqe of Rashi, Sefer ha-shorashim of David Qimhi (Venice, 1542) and the rethoric treatise Nofet Sufim of Judah Messer Leone. Furthermore, we can see Jewish classic medieval works like Sefer ha-Kuzari of Judah ha-Levi, an the the late medieval book like Or ‘ammin of Obadia Sforno (Bologna, 1537), the Or ha-Shem of Hasday Crescas and a group of more Humanistic oriented books such as Minkhat kenaot of Yehiel Nissim da Pisa and the Me'or ʻenayim of Azaria de Rossi.

Moisè Modena' library shows two different cultural trends in the libraries of the Modenese Jewish intelligentsia: books on Italian rhetoric and the so-called line of “humaniores litterae”. In fact he owned Il presente libro insegna la vera arte delo excellente scrivere of Giovanni Antonio Tagliente (Venice, 1524), the Applicamento de i precetti della inuentione, dispositione, et elocutione, che propriamente serue allo scrittore di epistole latine, et volgari of Oratio Toscanella, and specifically regarding the rethoric and the so-called line of “humaniores litterae” he had bought: Prose of Pietro Bembo (nelle quali si ragiona della volgar lingua scritte al cardinale de Medici, Venice, 1525), Tabulae totius dialectices aliarum artiuminstrumenti praecepta vtilissima breuiter complectentes, ordine perspicuo digestae a Cornelio Valerio (Venice, 1564), the Dialectica Ioannis Antonii Delphini (Venice, 1555), Quattro lettere di monsig. Gasparo Contarino Cardinale (Florence, 1558), Petrarca’s Trionfi with the commentary of Vellutello (Venice, 1550), and the Tomo primo delle divine lettere di Marsilio Ficino, tradotte in toscano per M. Felice Figliucci (Venice, 1546-1548).

Federica Francesconi


The Examination of the World

In sixteenth-century Italy, philosophical and kabbalistic learning was generally conceived by Jewish intellectuals in terms of how to attain perfection as a human being. This was, in essence, the same kind of endeavor as the goal of self-improvement promulgated in ethical or moralizing literature. Philosophy and musar existed on an imagined spectrum of erudition. In fact, however, many of the authors were the same, and their works could be marketed on different levels to different audiences. It is important to understand that printers, editors, publishers, commentators aimed at a “popular” audience in the sense that they wanted the readership of printed books to be as wide as possible.

Bedersi’s Beḥinat Olam [Examination of the World], a philosophical meditation on the wonders and the vanities of the world, was written in Spain the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, and became one of the most popular works of medieval Jewish thought in the early modern period and was reprinted often from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Here, we see the opening pages of two mid-sixteenth century editions from northern Italy. In 1551/52, one of the first products of the ibn Askara press in Ferrara was a quarto edition of the work, with the text of Beḥinat Olam printed with nikud (vowel points). Along with the text, we also find new introductions and commentaries by Moses ibn Habib and Joseph Frances. This edition was presumably aimed at a scholarly audience looking for quarto editions and good commentaries. At the same time, the presence of nikud in the text alongside the learned commentaries suggests an availability of the work to a less learned audience. Four years later, the press of Jacob ben Naftali ha-Kohen in Mantua issued an edition with a vocalized text as well as a reprint of the short, anonymous commentary included in the 1484 Soncino edition. This edition, in octavo and with a shorter commentary, appears to have been intended as a popular work.Beḥinat Olam could be presented to audiences as a poetic appreciation of God’s world or as the vehicle for discussion of serious philosophical issues.

Printers and publishers also offered another kind of flexibility in an era in which texts were printed and transported unbound, and then bound by the purchaser. In 1546, the press of Cornelio Adelkind in Venice printed three medieval Hebrew texts that exist on the border of learned philosophy and popular ethics: Beḥinat Olam ; Mivḥar ha-Peninim, a collection of aphorisms, anecdotes, and parables from rabbis and philosophers--attributed to Bedersi (although actually the work of Solomon ibn Gabirol); and Qalonymos ben Qalonymos’ Even Boḥan, a moral critique of Jewish life in early fourteenth century Provence, Italy, and northern Spain. Each work had its own title page complete with the identification of the printer and the year; and each work began in a new quire (that is no sheet printed contained pages from more than one of the texts), but the three texts were paginated consecutively: folio pages 1-43 constituted Mivhar ha-Peninim; 44-56 constituted Beḥinat Olam, and 57-88 were Even Boḥan. Here, we see the title page of the Even Boḥan edition, with the folio page number clearly indicated. A short trip up Interstate 95 would reveal a copy of the Beḥinat Olam edition at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and separately bound copies of the Mivḥar ha-Peninim and the Beḥinat Olam editions at Yale University. At Harvard University, one can find a “complete” copy with all three texts bound together. Farther away, at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, one can find two “complete” copies; one copy with Mivḥar ha-Peninim and Even Boḥan together (“missing” the middle section!); and one copy with Mivḥar ha-Peninim alone. That is, one printing project in 1546 yields seven different potential “books” with five of the seven combinations attested in a survey of just five library collections.

Adam Shear


The Fourth Rabbinic Bible, Printed in Venice 1568 by Giovanni di Gara

This was a reprint of the third edition produced in the years 1547-1548 by Cornelio Edel Kind (Israel Cornelius Adelkind) in the printing house of Daniel Bomberg. These editions known as "Mikraʼot gedolot" offer a variety of Jewish commentaries to the biblical text printed together with the Aramaic version.

The fourth Rabbinic Bible was the first to be censored according to the conditions stipulated by the Venetian authorities, but was almost immediately after its publication banned from the republic under the pretense that the publishers had violated the instructions for expurgation drafted by Jacopo Giraldino and that it contained “molte pravità”. That the real motives were merely political and the action against Hebrew books in 1568 retaliation for alleged Jewish hostilities against the Republic appears from the fact that the highest authorities of the Church used this censored edition as a model for censorship and expurgation. (See Vat. Lat. 14628, 250).

Piet van Boxel


Isaac Casaubon's Midrash Samuel

This is the title-page of the second edition of the Midrash Shemuel (Venice, 1588) which was written by Samuel di Uceda, the Safed preacher and disciple of Isaac Luria (the Ari).This copy of the work belonged to Isaac Casaubon, the great Huguenot scholar (1559-1614).It is now housed in the British Library as are the majority of his extensive Hebraic and Judaic library. All the books in Casaubon’s possession not only displayed the owner’s signature, but also vividly manifested his order of reading and of taking notes.

Joanna Weinberg


Ayyelet ha-shaḥar - The Morning Star

Ayyelet ha-shaḥar is the breviary for the dawn vigil of the Shomerim la-boker society of Italian rite of Mantua. As for other groups of this kind, its members used to gather daily, about a hour before dawn, to recite prayers and penitential hymns (seliḥot). The ceremony was aimed at hastening the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple and the messianic redemption, along the teachings of Palestinian kabbalah. As stated in the title page, the breviary was compiled by the Mantuan rabbi Mordecai Reuben Jarè - who was among the promoters of the founding of the society itself - and follows the seder observed by its members. Besides a bulk of piyyuṭim by poets of the classic period and medieval Spain, Ayyelet ha-shaḥar also includes about forty compositions by modern authors, an element which greatly distinguishes it from traditional collections of seliḥot. Most of the authors who had their compositions included were directly connected with the Mantuan community and the society of watchers, like the rabbis Samuel Raphael Marli (d. 1617) and Hananiah Eliakim Rieti (d. 1623). Particularly, the piyyuṭim by Rieti are drawn on his vast collection of liturgical poetry, Minḥatḥananyah (Hananiah’s Offering), still extant in manuscript, and at the time a favourite reading among the devotional circles of Mantua. Some introductory and final notes by the people who took part in the work of compilation and printing accompany the texts, illustrating in the detail the nature of the collection and the aims of its promoters. A few occasional poems in praise of the prayer book and the confraternity contribute to the strong local imprint and flavour characterizing the compilation. For the reception, circulation and the influence it exerted on the following collections compiled and printed for the Shomerim la-boker,Ayyelet ha-shaḥar is one of the most significant among the books commissioned for these societies. The breviary was finally reprinted in 1724, at the Mantuan press of Raphael Hayyim Italia, with the addition of the piyyuṭim by Benjamin Ha-Kohen Vitale of Reggio (1651-1730) from the collection ‘Et ha-zamir (The season of the song), printed in Venice in 1707.

Michela Andreatta


Z’ena ur’ena

The Z’ena ur’ena [Hebrew צאינה וראינה, Yiddish pronunciation: tsenerene], Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi of Yanov’s Yiddish rendering of the Pentateuch, the Megillot and the Haftarot, is the most popular book in the history of Yiddish literature. It is based on a selection of versicles and topics from the biblical text treated in an exegetical and at times homiletically inclined manner, drawing from numerous sources, primarily the Midrash (first of all Bereshit Rabba) and the Talmud, Rashi and his interpreters, and many other exegets with R. Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa in the lead, with a clear preference for pshat but without refraining from combining it with drash.

The oldest extant edition of the Z’ena ur’ena, published in 1622 in Hanau (and not in Basel as stipulated in the frontispiece) mentions three preceeding editions (one printed in Lublin and two more in Cracow) already out of print. Over 210 editions have since appeared in Central and Eastern Europe, and later also in the United States and Israel.

Although originally intended by its author for men and women alike, at a certain point in time unknown to us, the book sarted to be considered as the principal and fundamental reading matter for women, and played for many generations a major role in the informal education of women and their children by broadening their knowledge of many and various Hebrew sources, leading them in the ways of Jewish thought and behaviour, and presenting them with a treasure of stories and narratives. The Z’ena ur’ena made a remarkable impact on its readers’ spiritual world, on their reading habits, on their literay taste and on their written and spoken language.

Chava Turniansky


Yiddish Books and Their Publishers: Yosef Athias’s Yiddish Bible (Amsterdam 1679)

Publishers do not sell texts (even that of the Bible) but books. In the age when books were offered to buyers without a hard-cover jacket (let alone in paperback), the title page functioned as a physical and metaphorical entrance into the book, and there the publisher was able to send out messages to diverse agents of the book that should have secured its success. Title pages, then, were not addressing the book’s potential reader alone.

Indeed, in the two title pages added to Yosef Athias’s Yiddish Bible (Amsterdam 1679) several distinct publics were targeted. The first title page contains no text but rather images. They depict two biblical scenes (giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, and most probably alluding to the publisher’s name, the meeting between Jacob and his lost son Yosef in Egypt), which are flanked by two biblical heroes: Moses and King David. These images are targeted at the Jewish reader. In the middle of the page, an emblem of the Dutch Republic is posted: it shows a lion with seven double edged spears, representing the seven provinces that composed the Dutch Republic. The emblem is accompanied with a political slogan employed in the Republic: concordia res parvae crescent (or: in harmony small states grow mightier). The inclusion of the emblem is aimed at the local provincial authorities who provided the publisher with a privilege guaranteeing his monopoly selling the book. The second title page includes two different texts: in Hebrew for scholarly readers, rabbis and intellectual leaders who would support reading (and buying) this Yiddish Bible; and in Yiddish for the actual targeted reading public.

Shlomo Berger


Jewish Book Culture and Bibliography

Shabbetai Bass was an itinerant printer and book monger, as well as commentator and author in his own right, whom Mortiz Steinschneider acknowledged as the "father of Hebrew bibliography." Bass was the first Jewish bibliographer to produce a comprehensive classified catalogue of Hebrew and Jewish literature—the Sifte yeshenim (Amsterdam, 1689). Although preceded in his endeavour by the Promtuarium; sive, Bibliotheca orientalis (Heidelberg, 1658), of the Swiss Christian Semitist Johann Heinrich Hottinger (1620-1667), Bass' work is specifically Jewish, directed to a Jewish readership, and organized using criteria specific to contemporary Jewish thought.

Nonetheless, the idea of a classified bibliography can be said to be imported from contemporary European culture. Christian and Humanist classification theories are direct heirs to Greco-Roman methods, most notably seen through the Pinakes of Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 305 BC- ca. 240 BC), cataloguer of the fabled Library of Alexandria. This tradition can be said to culminate in the Bibliotheca universalis (Zurich, 1545) and its supplemental Pandectarum sive partitionum universalium (Zurich, 1548) by the Swiss naturalist cum bibliographer Conrad Gessner (1516-1565). These two works survey and classify into portae—"doors" to knowledge—the then-known sum of the literature of the vir trilinguis ideal, comprising Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. While Gessner organized Hebrew literature into his universal bibliography, Hottinger's Promtuarium was the first work to address classification issues relating to the literature of a particular organic nature, according to language and culture.

There is evidence from the Cairo Genizah and from Jewish medieval manuscripts that notions of classification were used within Jewish cultural contexts, but these appear sporadically, with little indication of direct transmission other than that already indicated by Avot 1:1 ("Moses received the Torah from Sinai,and passed it on to Joshua; and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets passed it on to men of the Great Assembly..." implying Bible and Talmud as dual systems of Torah "she-bi-khtav" and "she-be-`al peh", each with their own respective hierarchies of commentary and super-commentary). Theories of knowledge received much more attention and were published, but it was still not until Bass that a synthesis of areas of knowledge and bibliographic organization were systematically synthesized, and the bulk of Jewish literature therein arranged by title.

In this sense, the Sifte yeshenim seems to spontaneously emerge. To be sure, Bass acknowledges the authors whose works he consulted. The closing section, entitled Sha‘ar ha-ḥitsoni, is a lengthy listing of the works consulted by Bass, nearly all of them the fruit of Christian Hebraism (Bass succinctly credits Hottinger and his Promtuarium [fol. 107a], "And here he records a great many books, placed in order according to subject." Although Gessner is nowhere cited, Bass calls his class headings "sha`arim" (gates, portals). Some 35 year later, the Sifte yeshenim would serve as the foundation for the massive four volumeBibliotheca hebraea (Hamburg, 1715-1733) of Johann Christoph Wolf (1683-1739).

What prompted this sudden appearance? From the advent of Hebrew printing in the late 1460s up to the 1670s, technological, economic, and demographic changes had contributed to utterly change the culture of Jewish letters, of how books were produced and distributed. The printing press had made vast numbers of titles and copies available. With political upheavals and ecclesiastic censorship, older collections and their contents were brought back to light, often being redistributed into new collections. It can be argued that Jewish bibliophilia began during the 16th century, as both personal and communal collections developed. Bass arrived in Amsterdam to marvel at what can be said to be the first true Jewish Library, the Ets Haim Livraria Montezinos, founded in 1616. In a Borges-meets-Canetti kind of way: every library needs its catalogue, and every printer/monger, his inventory.

Seth Jerchower


Moses in Persia

Judeo-Persian miniature paintings reflect traditional late and provincial styles of medieval Persian miniature paintings. However, from the point of view of content, they are unique as most of them illustrate biblical and midrashic scenes adorning original Judeo-Persian epics. Many of these scenes have no iconographic equivalents in western or eastern pictorial traditions.

A lovely example is a miniature painting from the late seventeenth-century Musa-namah &[#8216;Book of Moses’] of the Judeo-Persian poet Shahin (fl. 14th century). It is taken from a manuscripts from the Israel Musem (180/54, fol. 102v), and shows Moses in heaven among the angels while receiving the Torah. He holds the tablets and is surrounded by angels sporting Mongol topknots. Unlike other miniatures in this ms. which depict Moses veiled, here he appears unveiled despite the closeness to the divine Presence.

Vera Moreen


Book of the Angel Raziel

This well-known image--from Sefer Raziel ha-Mal’akh, the Book of the Angel Raziel--is an amulet designed to protect mothers during childbirth from the lethal attacks of Lilith, queen of the demons. According to ancient legend Lilith, once banished from her initial relationship with Adam, swore vengeance against the offspring resulting from Adam and Eve’s union. The strange figures at the top of the amulet represent three angels Sanvei, Sansanvei, and Semenglof who were sent to warn Lilith that she and her cohort should not disturb any laboring mother if their own images were to be found there. This tale clearly emerges as a promotion for childbirth amulets and various practices arose in medieval through early modern Ashkenaz in which these angels names would be emblazoned upon the walls of laboring rooms.

Other amulets offering protection or grace appear in Sefer Raziel ha-Mal’akh, an anthology of mystical and magical, ancient and medieval fragments, first printed in Amsterdam 1701. The book originated in legendary form, in which the angel Raziel delivers a book to Adam after the latter’s expulsion from Eden. When Adam is lamenting his fate by the riverside, God dispatches Raziel with a book that will offer protection from the wilds of nature. At some point in medieval history various forms of this book began to take shape, with its contents remaining in flux until the printing in 1701. Because one of the ancient fragments in the book claims that the owner of the book will be protected from fire and other natural and supernatural ills, the printer exploited this detail, placing it on the book’s frontispiece resulting in the book enjoying considerable distribution and success as an amulet. Following the Six-Day War, miniaturized forms of the book circulated first among Israeli soldiers and subsequently in Sephardi and Haredi sectors of the Jewish community. Indeed, miniaturization has facilitated the development of yet a further legend--that the book should not be read at all!

Joel Hecker


Nahalat Tsvi: the Popular Yiddish Zohar

From the 17th and the 18th centuries in Ahkenazi society, we observe a popularization of mysticism with the multiplication of ethical-kabbalistic texts. The translation of parts of the Zohar in Yiddish, called Nahalat Tsvi or Taytsh-Zoyer (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1711, reprinted about 50 times until the begining of the 20th Century) by Tsvi Hirsh ben Yerahmiel Chotsch shows the diffusion of kabbalistic tradition to simple Jews. The translator did not retain the esoterical and philosophical interpretations, but the ethical lessons and the narratives parts. The Zohar in Yiddish was read and commented during individual and collective readings among circles of shabbateans. This page shows the begining of the Parashat Bereshit.

Jean Baumgarten


Leghorn vs. Florence

The activity of Hebrew printing in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was initially regulated by protectionist State licenses, meant to safeguard the interests of entrepreneurs who ventured into an underdeveloped and little lucrative field. The Christian printer Francesco Moücke successfully obtained an exclusive privilege (monopolio) to print and sell texts in Hebrew and Rashi typefaces in the whole State of Tuscany on December 1, 1734 from the Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’ Medici. Moücke is well known for his activity as a printer of art and literature works, and his connections to the intellectual Florentine milieu of the first half of the 18th century. He also happened to be the first to resume Hebrew printing in Tuscany, where practically no Hebrew books had appeared since 1658. The Grand Duke Peter Leopold of the Hapsburg-Lorraine house abolished the monopoly relative to Hebrew and Rashi printing in 1767, to promote the business of printing in the same spirit of free market economy that characterized other Livornese commercial activities. While Florence never became a center of Hebrew printing, in fact, the activity developed in Livorno from 1740: slowly and discontinuously at first, but with increasing success from the 1780s on. The Livornese Jewish government, on its part, attempted to regulate and discipline the activity of Hebrew printers more than the secular Tuscan authorities. The Sefer ha-Rashbash, printed by Abraham Meldola (Livorno 1742), provides the first example of the procedure that the Livornese Jewish government went through in order to approve a text for publication: 1) the Parnassim ordered the bet din to check the text and see if they found it publishable; 2) the appointed rabbis sent back their reply to the Parnassim and agreed to write an haskamah to the text; 3) the Parnassim approved it, giving permission to the printer to publish the work and to the rabbis of the community to write their haskamah. In the same year, Meldola petitioned the Grand Duke to command the Jewish government to “give up their pretensions” at controlling his activity, and allow him to print without the previous approval of the Parnassim. The Tuscan authorities granted his plea; however, subsequent Hebrew printers apparently kept submitting their books for approval and the practice was reintroduced.

Francesca Bregoli


Toldot Ya'akov Yosef, Koretz 1780

Generally regarded as the first Hasidic book, Toldot Ya'akov Yosef illustrates some of the features that typified Hasidic books. Common for these books, its genre was homiletics (drash), based on both the weekly Torah portion and the 613 commandments. While the origin of these drashot was probably oral lessons given in Yiddish by Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef of Polonne, one of the chief disciple-associates of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (Besht), the founder of Hasidism, the book (like most early Hasidic books) was written in Hebrew. Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef is credited as author, however a printer's note at the end of the book makes it clear that the book was compiled from various notes he had written. This and the problematic state of the text (the lack of proper introduction, material that appears to be out of order, repetitions, etc.) indicate that Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef, who was approaching his death at the time of publication, did not submit a publishable text to the printer. Rather it appears that his notes were edited by one or more of the publishers (mevi'im le-veit ha-defus): his son Avraham Shimshon of Rashkov, his son-in-law, Avraham Dov of Chmelnik, Shimon Ashkenazi and Shelomo Lutzker. In this way the editor or editors were actually coauthors of the text. This is usual with Hasidic books, where the named author rarely wrote a finished manuscript. Most of the time the published book appeared after the putative author's death and represented his miscellaneous writings or oral teachings as recorded or later recalled by his associates. This raw material was then edited into a book after his death, its message shaped by the editors.

In the case of R. Ya'akov Yosef's books (there were four in all) the publisher-editors apparently wanted to emphasize to potential readers that reading these books would enable them to learn not only the teachings of R. Ya'akov Yosef, but also of the Besht himself. In a long note on the verso of the title page they stressed the relationship between the Besht and R. Ya'akov Yosef. In the book itself they typographically highlighted all of the sayings that R. Ya'akov Yosef cited as his having heard directly from the Besht or in the holy man's name, and at the end of the book they appended an additional series of Besht sayings that they found among R. Yaakov Yosef's papers.

Pictured here is the first page of the text proper, after the introductory material or paratexts. Note how the traditions originating from the Besht begin with bold letters, five in all.

Moshe Rosman


American Rabbinic Imprints, 1881-1939: The Paratext as Social History

The two neat piles of seven Hebrew rabbinic books shown here differ greatly in girth; one is of tombs “fat in flesh,” the other of volumes “lean and ill-favored.” But these 14 books were in fact assorted into two groups by a non-material, if significant, attribute. While they all were published between 1900-1910—near the middle of this study's time-frame— the set of larger 'sphorim' is a representative sample of books published in eastern Europe, the small set is representative of 'sphorim' published in America.

The striking change in the physique of traditional Hebrew rabbinical works upon the immigration of their authors to America, is only one in a series of novelties marking American rabbinic book culture. The unique features of Jewish American rabbinic books, my CAJS study suggests, can serve as a key to understanding broader social, cultural, and religious meanings of the encounter between America and traditional Jews and Judaism. It can also sharpen our understanding of the relationship between print and society generally.

The radically diminished size of the average rabbinic book in America serves to illustrate these broader concerns. A preliminary explanation would point to economic factors. And indeed, Hebrew publishing in America at the time cost roughly twice as much as in Eastern Europe, and a third more than in Palestine. But other explanations suggest themselves, and among them the seldom considered aspect of time-to-market is particularly revealing. American rabbis accumulated much less text than their European counterparts before going to the printer; and their manuscripts tended to represent more ephemeral rabbinic genres such as sermons, responsa, and polemics.

Thus, there seems to have been a sense of urgency driving American authors to publish their rabbinic works. One aspect of it may have been personal: joining a chaotic assemblage of simpletons and scholars evacuating Europe, individual rabbis tried to establish their credentials and publicize their potential competence and authority to deal with the challenges of the new social and intellectual milieu as it was taking shape. They tried to introduce themselves to, and communicate with, their new peers by means of the printing press. Other features of American rabbinic works, such as authors publishing their ordinations in their books, and other telling paratexts to the same effect, underscore this dynamic.

Moreover, American rabbis in their sermons and responsa, commentaries and polemics, were responding to the novel challenges America presented to traditional Judaism. Rabbis hurried with the recipes they proposed for religious survival to the print market, hoping to engage colleagues and public with their timely responses to the transformation of Jewish life in America.

Menahem Blondheim