Tuesday, August 16, 2005

How Many Seforim, and why too much is not a good thing

On the Main Line asks how many seforim are actually out there. Although, it is probably impossible to give an exact count there are ways to give a fairly good estimate. In Y. Vinograd's Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book, he lists by year the amount of seforim that were published. Vinograd's work, however, only covers from the beginning of printing until 1863. According to that count I came up with approxiamatly 32,503 seforim published. The CD Rom, The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book which spans until 1960, estimates that they have approximately 85,000 titles. Now both of these lists include printed books and not individual books, thus, if a book was published multiple times it is counted as such. Consequently, we can't tell how many seforim were actually written only that the number must be significantly less than those totals as many are probably reprints, siddurim, humashim and other works of no one single author.

Furthermore, this counting issue is compounded in that it is unclear what exactly would be considered a "sefer." Should we include all books printed only in Hebrew or do other languages count? In both the above counts, they include books published in other languages. Also do the seforim have to be about "Jewish" topics or is it sufficent that they were written or published by a Jew. Some seforim are about what can be considered secular topics, natural sciences, math, history etc. Again the above lists include all of these. However, what the above lists don't reflect is when multiple works are included in a single work. Should each of these works be considered a seperate work or not? Therefore, there really is no one single method to arrive at a number and all the figures have what to quibble with.

What is perhaps relevant to this discussion is R. Jacob Emden's comments on the proliferation of seforim in his time. He says "How great is the hole in this orphaned generation. Any idiot or fool who's spirit takes him can write a book, this is so even if he doesn't know mikra, mishna u'derek eretz. He doesn't have to know Hebrew nor is he congent of suta d'rabonon. He takes his stuff and displays it in the marketplace . . . and he wastes Jewish money." R. Jacob Emden, Amudi Shamyim [Siddur], Ma'amodot l'yom rishon [p. 563 Eshkol ed.].

R. Emden continued and advocated for some board or committee to oversee what should and should not be considered worthy of printing.

1 comment:

shmuel said...

Glad to see you are blogging! You should really get haloscan comments; they are much easier to deal with.
I think that what is considered a sefer needs to be better defined if we are to reach an accurate count. Would journals be included? What about seforim that have multiple chalakim, some printings have them separately and some together. Does it mean any book written in Hebrew? How about Yiddish? Is a math book considered a sefer? What if it was written by a Rav?

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