Monday, August 24, 2009

The Ancillary Benefits of Non-Jews on the Hebrew Book

The Ancillary Benefits of Non-Jews on the Hebrew Book

In the history of the Hebrew book, the books, like the Jews themselves, have been subject to external persecution.  Thus, some books and manuscripts have been totally lost.  On the other hand there are a few examples of books or, as we shall soon demonstrate, technices that are are a product of external influences. 

Abraham Ibn Ezra had a very hard life.  In his well-known formulation that appears at the beginning of his commentary to the Humash, he complains that his luck is so bad that if he were a candle maker the sun would always shine.  As Naftali ben Menachem has shown, (Inyanei Ibn Ezra, Jerusalem, 1978, 1-9 and see 132-37 for his discussion regarding the Ibn Ezra's bad luck) the Ibn Ezra's books "suffered" as well.  In particular, many of his books were unavailable for hundreds of years (as an aside, Ibn Ezra's Yesod Moreh ve-Sod Torah has recently been reprinted in an expanded format by Bar Ilan Press).  Relevant to our theme, however, are Ibn Ezra's books on astronomy.  Anyone familiar with Ibn Ezra's commentary knows that Ibn Ezra uses astronomy in his commentary with some frequency and, to properly understand his various statements regarding astronomy it is helpful to have Ibn Ezra's own statements regarding various astronomical ideas.  But, for hundreds of years, the only available editions were not in the original Hebrew but were instead "saved" in other languages (see one example here).

Another example, although this case is not one of saving but instead appropriating from non-Jewish sources, is the portrait traditionally associated with R. Saul Morteira (1596-1660). 

As Dr. S. Z. Leiman has noted (see Ali Sefer 10 [June 1982]: 153-55; reprinted in Givat Shaul, ed. Hayyim Eliezer Reich [Brooklyn, NY: [n.p.], 1991]) there is some doubt as to the veracity of this portrait. In a later article, (published in Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 6, [Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1998], 17-19), Leiman shows that this portrait is not of R. Morteria.  Indeed, its first appearance was in Wagneseil's Latin translation of tractate Sota, published in 1674.  The engraver, whose initals appear in the corner is Cornelius Nicholas Schurtz (whose initials are found in the bottom right corner) and who lived and worked in Nuremberg between 1670-90 and probably never saw R. Morteira who died in 1660 in Amsterdam. Indeed, this engraving is merely used to illustrate what tallis and teffilin look like and there is no mention of R. Morteria. [There are other illustrations by Shurtz in this volume that are also of interest including the halitzha shoe as well as others, in Sperber's article on halitzha (Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 6, op. cit., pp. 62-73, 326-33 he doesn't mention this illustration.] As Leiman notes, Schurtz's engraving was very popular and subsequently appeared in various books.

J. Wagenseil, Sota, Altdorf, 1674
Courtesy of the B. Jackson Library

Reich, in his reprint of Givat Shaul provides a different portrait of R. Morteira, also from a non-Jewish source, Rembrandt.  Although Reich doesn't provide how he knows this information, Leiman cites a Dutch book, Herman Prins Salomon, Saul Levi Mortera en zijn "Traktaat betreffende de waarheid van de wet van Mozes", eigenhandig geschreven in de portugese taal te Amsterdam 1659-1660 (Braga, 1988), which offers the suggestion that a Rembrandt portrait is that of R. Morteira.  Although, some scholars now doubt that the Rembrandt portrait is that of Morteira and instead claim it is of the Czech Protostant Jan Amos Comenius who lived next door to Rembrandt for a period of time. See here (a review of Stevan Nadler's book, Rembrandt's Jews) and here.

Two other examples, both relating to the Talmud and both concern the Vatican library.  In R. N. N. Rabinowich's Dikdukei Soferim, the introduction to Baba Batra, Rabinowich thanks God for answering his prayers and allowing Rabinowich entry to the Vatican library in preparation for this book.  Specifically, Rabinowich explains that he was allowed access to the Vatican libraries when no other outsider was allowed to use the library.  The second example concerns the Romm edition of the Talmud.  One of the most important early commentaries to the Talmud is that of the Rabbenu Hananel.  This commentary was included for the first time with the Romm edition.  The editors explain in their Afterword that the manuscript they used was the from the Vatican.

The next example, is again one in a similar vein to that of the Morteira portrait.  As S. has noted, the Brooklyn-based Jewish publishing house ArtScroll has (or purchased) a patent regarding the use of arrows to allow for an interlinear translation.  While the focus of the patent is on the arrows, the patent claims the need for the arrows is the difficulty in providing an interlinear translation from that of a right to left language (Hebrew) to one that reads from left to right (English).  It seems that this wasn't that much of an issue for at least 400 years ago (and there may be earlier examples) an interlinear bible, printed in 1609, which translated the Hebrew into Latin (a left to right language like English) was published. It seems that it worked just fine.

Biblia Hebraica, Eorundem Latina Interpretatio, 1609
Courtesy of the B. Jackson Library

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