Monday, August 31, 2009

Rabbinic Insults and Bibliographical Errors

One of the more interesting pioneers of the haskalah movement was R. Shelomo Zalman Hanau (Katz).  Hanau's works mainly concern grammar and, in that vein, corrections to the siddur.  Hanau's first book, Binyan Shelomo, Frankfort A.M., 1708 was published when he was 21.  This book focuses on grammar, but, as we have already discussed, was important in the development of the Siddur. (Additionally, see S.'s recent post on Hanau here.)  This book is now up for auction, however, I must note that there seems to be an exaggeration regarding the scarcity of a particular page. 

The catalog describes the book as follows:
The author was born in 1687 and was noted for his many books regarding the foundation of the Hebrew language . . . The author corresponded with many Torah luminaries regarding his subject of expertise.  His first book, Binyan Shlomo  . . . [a]s a young scholar he spoke sharply against many sages who preceded him by hundreds of years.  As the years passed, the author regretted his sharp language and printed a unique apology in which he notes the names of the sages whom he did not properly honor.  This list features at least five leading Torah scholars from previous generations.  To the best of our knowledge, this leaf is not extant today and is not listed in the C.D. of the Bibliographic Project.  The book itself was never reprinted and is very rare today.  To the best of our knowledge, this is the only known copy with the apology leaf.
Judaica Jerusalem, Elul 2009, lot # 144, (emphasis in original).  There are a number of corrections in order.  First, the description states that there was only one edition of Binyan Shelomo "and it was never reprinted."  That is incorrect.  Aside from two photo-reproductions done by Copy Corner and Guttman, Binyan Shelomo was reprinted in  1723.  Vinograd, in his bibliography, Otzar Sefer ha-Ivri, lists this book as extant the Annenberg Library, which, according to their online catalog, the book can still be found.[1]  Turning now to the "apology leaf." It is correct that the leaf is rare, however, it is an overstatement to say this is the only known copy with the leaf.  Indeed, the existence of the leaf is not mentioned in Vingrad's Otzar ha-Sefer ha-Ivri, Jersusalem: 1994, vol. II, Frankfort A.M. # 218. But, the leaf was mentioned already in 1865 and the fact that Hanau issued an apology was mentioned as early as 1715.  The first mention that Hanau issued an apology (although there is no mention of a special leaf) was in Johann Christoph Wolf's Bibliotheca Hebraea, Hamburg: 1715.  (S. has kindly translated the relevant passage here.) Shadal in Prolegomenon, Grimmae: 1838, 61-2 n.1, also records Wolf's comments. (See S.'s comments regarding the use of Prolegomenon here.)  The first to republish the apology leaf was Meir Wiener in Ha-Maggid, May 17, 1865, Ha-Tozfeh le-Maggid.  Wiener decided to republish the text of the entire leaf "due to its rarity."  Wiener obtained a copy from the Rosenthal library and in the catalog for the library by Roest, Yodeah Sefer, he says "that in my copy I have an extra page at the end."  Yodeah Sefer, letter Bet, # 304.  This notation was then recorded in Wiener's bibliography of St. Petersberg library, Kohelet Moshe.  Wiener says "that the extra page at the end, which Roest records and where the author asks for forgiveness for insulting various authors, is not in this copy." While it wasn't in these copies, nor is it in the copy on Hebrewbooks.org, it is in the JNUL's copy which is online here.  Additionally, we have a copy which has this leaf, making it at least two others in existence. 

We now turn to what precipitated the inclusion of this leaf.  According to the auction description, R. Hanau did this on his when "the years passed" and he "regretted his sharp language."  According to Roest, however, "it is without a doubt that Hanau was forced by the Rabbis to print this apology, just like R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato."  Roest, op cit.  Thus, according to Roest, the apology was not brought about from Hanau's own introspection but because of the Rabbis.  Indeed, Friedberg in Bet Eked, says "that the author [Hanau] was forced by the Rabbi of Frankfort A.M. and his bet din to print a special page, in a smaller format, which was appended to the work, in which the author asks for forgiveness from the authors which [Hanau] insulted in his book."  Bet Eked, letter Bet, # 1238. Similarly, Wolf states "Rabbis of Frankfurt were going to destroy it by flames" had Hanau not agreed to print the apology.  So according to these sources, Hanau was forced to print this apology.  According to a contemporary source, we can place the retraction before 1713.  This is so, because in Siddur of R. Azriel and R. Eliah of Vilna, published in 1713, they note that Hanau printed a page "asking for forgiveness."  Additionally, according to this source, the request for forgiveness was at the behest of the Frankfort bet din.  R. Azriel and R. Eliah say that the page was printed "due to the decree of the head and leaders of the holy city Frankfort A.M."  R. Azriel and R. Eliahu then continue, and mention the possibility that R. Hanau deserved to be placed under the ban due to his disrespectful words.  David Yitzhaki appears to have misunderstood R. Azriel and R. Eliah's words as Yitzhaki says "that Hanau was almost placed under a ban." D. Yitzhaki, "The Editors of the Ashkenzi Siddur & R. Shelomo Zalman Hanau and his Forgeries," in Luach Eres, Toronto, 2001, 32.  If, as it appears, Yitzhaki's source is the quote from R. Azriel and R. Eliah, that quote merely says that it was R. Azriel and R. Eliah's opinions that Hanau "should" have been placed under the ban, they never say that there was a serious consideration of actually placing Hanau under a ban.[2] Of course, according to Wolf's version, Binyan Shelomo was to be consigned to the flames, also implying a ban.  Wolf, however, provides no source for this assertion, and it seems unlikely that R. Azriel and R. Eliah would fail to mention the fact that Binyan Shelomo was almost destroyed.      

There is one more version of the story behind the retraction that is worth noting because it contains a major error.  This is a real honker.*  Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, in Sefer ve-Seif, apparently confused R. Hanau's Binyan Shelomo with another book that has the same title. Carmilly-Weinberger writes (172-73):
R. Yehezkel Landau the Noda be-Yehuda, stood with R. Yisrael Lifschitz [regarding the controversy surrounding the infamous Get of Cleves], who was in conflict with the head of the Frankfort bet din, R. Nathan Maz and R. Shelomoh Hena [sic] the author of the Binyan Shelomo.  Since R. Landau agreed with R. Yisrael Lifschitz, the enemy of R. Shelomoh Hena, [Hena] banned the work of the Noda be-Yehuda.

Carmilly then quotes a passage from the Hida's work Shem ha-Gedolim in support of the above statement:
And because of this [fight about the Get of Cleves], when the book Noda be-Yehuda was published the Goan, author of Binyan Shelomo and his bet din prohibited anyone from reading [the Noda be-Yehuda].  The Noda be-Yehuda, however, took the opposite view and he said I tell anyone who is reasonable to go ahead the Binyan Shelomo, to look and see ערות האר"ש השמנה הוא אם רזה (a word play implying that there isn't much in the Binyan Shelomo). 
Carmilly then continues, and he links the extra leaf in the Binyan Shelomo, to these statements explaining that Hana asked forgiveness for all those people he insulted.  Carmilly implies that the forgiveness related to the controversy about the Get of Cleves!  This is wrong. First, and foremost, the controversy regarding the Get of Cleves occurred in 1766, Hanau died in 1746.  Moreover, Hanau could not have counseled people not to read the Noda be-Yehuda as that was published in 1776 some thirty years after Hanau died.  Additionally, it is clear that Carmilly never saw this leaf as we will soon see, this leaf requests forgiveness from rishonim and doesn't mention anyone involved in the Get of Cleves controversy.

Carmilly confused two books with the same title, Binyan Shelomo.  The first, by Hanau on grammar which is the subject of our discussion, and the second one, is written by R. Nathan Maz, and was published in 1784.  R. Nathan Maz [3] who was involved in the Get of Cleve controversy and who was on the Frankfort bet din (something that Hanau was not), was the subject of the above discussion. What makes this error even more ironic is that Nepi-Ghirondi, in his Tolodot Gedolei Yisrael, correctly notes that R. Maz authored a work titled Binyan Shelomo.  Carmilly, however, faults Nepi-Ghirondi "incorrectly associating Binyan Shelomo with R. Maz and, instead, the correct author is R. Hanau!"   Id. 172 n.297.  Of course, if one looks at the Hida in the original, it is also apparent that he is not referring to Hanau but to a different book with the same title.

Turning to the text of the "request for forgiveness."  This text reminds me of a story I heard regarding a relative.  According to the story, A. calls C. "stupid."  A's mother then tells A. to apologies, to which A. turns to C. and says, "I am sorry you are stupid."  Hanau's request for forgiveness is similar as after offering a general request for forgiveness, Hanau then goes ahead and records every objectionable thing he said. For example, Hanau says
I erred in my ways when I disagreed with the authors.  I was too verbose and, at times, I insulted the authors . . . therefore I come to ask forgiveness: from the prince Don Isaac Abarbanel  when I wrote that "he speaks without logic and his words make no sense," and in another place I wrote about him that "this statement [of the Abarbanel] is because of his lack of knowledge and that he didn't understand what was being said" . . . Regarding the Ibn Ezra I wrote "he didn't subject this statement to logic"

While this apology my be tongue in cheek, it seems to have appeased many or, at the very least, many thought Hanau's next book didn't suffer from the same lack of respect.  In R. Yehezkel Katzenellenbogen's approbation to Sha'arei Torah, Hamburg 1717, he notes that while Hanau had in his prior work been too harsh with his language in "Sha'arei Torah, [Hanau] speaks with the appropriate measure of respect as I [R. Katzenellenbogen] have carefully checked."[4] 


Notes:
[1] Wiener, in his article in Ha-Maggid (17 May 1865), questions the existence of this edition.  He claims that there is no such edition and that the abbreviation used for the date was misinterpreted. 
[2] It should be noted that R. Azriel and R. Eliah were not dispassionate observers.  Part of the reason that Hanau wrote Binyan Shelomo was to disagree with R. Azriel and R. Eliah's opinions regarding proper punctuation of the Siddur. See Jacob J. Schacter, "Introduction," in Luach Eres, op cit., 11-12.  R. Azriel and R. Eliah derogatorily refer to Binyan Shelomo as "Hurban Shelomo."  
[3] For more information on R. Maz see M. Horovitz, Rabbanei Frankfort, Jerusalem:1972, 134-43.
[4] This did not appease everyone.  R. J. Emden really disliked R. Hanau's positions. See Jacob J. Schacter, Luach Eres, op cit., 14-25.  
* I would like to thank A. Rottenberg for calling this error, as well as numerous other errors in Carmilly-Weinberg's book, to my attention. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twenty-Five Years at the Valmadonna Trust Library

Twenty-Five Years at the Valmadonna Trust Library

by Pauline Malkiel

Librarian – Valmadonna Trust Library (London, England)

When I first walked into the library in May 1982 I was struck initially by the smell of leather, then by the rows upon rows of fine bindings in burgundies, browns, beiges and creams packed neatly and tastefully on elegant open wooden shelves.  Looking more closely I began to identify groupings: 16th century Italian locations with exciting names like Riva di Trento, Sabbionetta and Ferrara; whole areas of early Venetian printers – Bomberg, di Gara, Zanetti, each in its own space; a whole wall devoted to early Mediterranean printing in Salonika, Constantinople, and Prague, Lublin and Cracow.  Then there were vast ranges of small liturgies of many different rites – Italian, Spanish, Roman, Ashkenazic, Aleppo, Karaite - sitting chronologically on shelves in beautiful bindings.  Another area was devoted to Bibles printed in Venice starting in the year 1517.  Placed in their own taller alcoves were stately volumes of Rabbinic Bibles and Maimonides Commentaries, Mishneh Torahs, Alfassi Commentaries in different editions, and, on closer inspection of the spines, many recurring titles such as ‘Semag,’ ‘Mizrachi,’’Rabenu Bechai,’’Perush HaTorah’ and endless Responsa.  It was a thrill to see the word ‘unicum’ or ‘unique copy’ on a spine, and there were numerous slipcases containing ‘Variant 1’ and ‘Variant 2’ copies, promising intriguing revelations.  Examining the spines one could decipher an exotic array of practically unheard-of place names: Kuru Tschesme, Prostitz, Isny, Constanz, Trino, Dordrecht, Pforzheim, Alcala de Henares and then, tucked away in a corner, all the very early 16th century Latin works printed by the Soncinos in Fano, Ortona, Pesaro, Cesena and so on.  In various parts of the Library was the vast, ever-growing collection of Amsterdam printing, with a core collection of Menasseh ben Israel and Spanish printing.  In a centre cupboard was the luxurious six-volume set of the Complutensian Polyglot, and in a place of honour of its own, stood the precious 9-volume set of the Westminster Abbey Talmud, acquired 2 years before I came.  Behind the study door was a collection of books on blue paper.  In another area was the Indian collection, consisting mainly of dozens of small and even smaller delicate, fragile books.

My duties in the first few years consisted in the main of checking auction catalogues, dealing with binders and restorers and keeping very careful track of the books going in and out of the library for binding, titling and refurbishing, as well as cataloguing, ordering photocopies of missing pages and correspondence – much of it in Hebrew.  When a delivery came from our binders Bernard Middleton or Aquarius it was an occasion to rejoice.  A book might have disappeared for months or even years – the record being the Yosippon, Mantova which celebrated its 12th anniversary at the binder’s – and been meanwhile forgotten, then it would reappear spruced up and in a magnificent new binding, hailed as a long-lost friend and be given pride of place on the shelves.

There was always great excitement when a special or rare book purchased at auction or from a dealer arrived on the table. It had to be assessed physically to decide who would restore it and which binder would rebind or refurbish it before it would take its place with its companions.  Or the new arrival might complete a set, or help complete our holdings of specific printers (Bomberg, di Gara, dei Farri), places (such as Bombay or Calcutta, or Riva di Trento where we have all the books printed except one), or fall within certain dates (such as our collection of Jerusalem printing between the years 1840 and 1890, as recorded by the bibliographer Shoshana Halevi).

Hebrew books were beloved objects which were passed down from generation to generation, and heavily used by their owners.  In addition, due to the vicissitudes of Jewish life over the centuries, they were frequently subjected to censorship and destruction, and the surviving copies are therefore damaged or incomplete.  Our aim was always to complete these books and make them whole again.  If a book lacked pages, it would be a challenge to see if it could be located in other libraries. Sometimes there would be no other copy so the book must remain incomplete, giving it an unfinished air, a question mark for the future, an aura of speciality like the Venice Siddur with the large type and without a title page which has been around as long as I can remember and remains an unsolved mystery.  Such books may even turn out to be unique copies (of which we have several).  In the case of odd fragments, such as pages of rare tractates and liturgies, I have always been amazed by the ability of certain dealers (Mr. Weiser and Mr. Fekete, for example) to take one look at a page and recognise exactly where it comes from.  In this way Mr. Weiser managed to identify and piece together 2 fragmentary pages of an Incunable with Rashi’s commentary printed in Rome, which had been used to patch up torn pages of the Constantinople Pentateuch of 1522. 

A rare but ravaged book may come back from restoration almost unrecognisably restored, and this is a delight.  An incomplete book may be reunited years later with its second half, or we may be able to add another 100 pages from a different source.  Examples that come to mind are the Mahzor Aleppo Rite, Bomberg, Venice 1527, the Karaite Mahzor, Bomberg, Venice 1529, the Constantinople Pentateuch of 1522 with the 2 variant rites of the Haftarot (Spanish rite and Karaite rite), the Cracow Talmud of 1602-5 and the Salonika 1520 Pentateuch.  I remember the restorer Stephanie being brought down from Scotland to discuss restoration of the Constantinople Pentateuch and then taking it back by train in a suitcase.

It is most exciting to identify a book that has mystified us for years by locating another copy.  For many years I tried to find the first 10 pages of a Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, di Gara, Venice 1574 for our set but the nearest I could get were the imperfect facsimiles taken from the JNUL copy, which also lacked the title page.  Then suddenly one day there appeared on the table a perfect, complete copy of the Shulchan Aruch which had come from somewhere in the Crimea and had been brought to us by a dealer.  The Avudraham, Fez 1521, which we bought at the Schocken sale (December 1993), was beautiful but lacking the first leaf and a few pages at the end.  Again I went on the hunt and wrote to the Rosenthaliana where, to their great dismay, they found that their copy, which was supposed to be complete, was lacking at the beginning.  Eventually I tracked down the only surviving first page at JTS.  Another little book, Yichus Kol  ha-Zaddikim, printed by Soncino in Salonika in 1527, is almost unique.  Our copy was perfect except it lacked the first page – the HUC copy, described as the ‘only known copy’ was missing the last page!  Our Incunable Perush al Neviim Acharonim, Guadalajara 1482 lacked one page in the middle but had 2 duplicated pages. The Merton College, Oxford copy had the page we needed but lacked 3 others.  How hard we tried to do an exchange, but we didn’t succeed! 

For years we tried to acquire a copy of the Cremona Pentateuch in Yiddish – then, suddenly, two copies turned up in the same year.  Dealers would occasionally surprise us with great discoveries.  In the eighties Chaim Schneebalg would make a grand entrance on a Sunday morning in full Vizhnitzer regalia holding a scrappy plastic supermarket bag containing some new treasure.  He was also known to have pursued the custodian in similar fashion to a health farm in Sussex, and a holiday resort in St Moritz, with an important item that just couldn’t wait.  An Italian dealer once turned up with a bundle of wall calendars which were starting to decay, but these turned out to be a unique collection of Venice and Mantova wall calendars of almost consecutive years from the mid-16th century, practically unknown.  They were sent instantly to the paper restorer in Scotland and treated with the utmost respect and care, each one encapsulated on its return and recorded for posterity.

Another major acquisition was the Prague Mahzor on vellum, 1605-6, which belonged to the Taz Synagogue, Lemberg, destroyed in W.W.2.  Although there was a problem with the dealer on account of precious manuscript notes it was acquired without hesitation, as was the Prague Haggadah of 1590 with its beautiful print and layout.  The Indian collection was and is a source of great pride.  We bought some Bombay and Calcutta rarities from a private collector in Belgium in 1991.  Then our already outstanding collection was greatly enriched by the acquisition in 1999 of the Sassoon Indian and Baghdad collections, whereby we improved on existing copies, adding many variants as well as the unique collection of Indian journals and single leaves.

The most important sales in which Valmadonna was involved took place before my appointment, but it is necessary to highlight that some of the greatest treasures of the library emanated from the Sassoon and other sales that took place at Sotheby’s, London in 1970-71, in Zurich in 1975 and 1978 and in 1981 in New York.  Subsequently the Custodian and I attended various auctions, in London, Israel and New York.  I remember well the unusual atmosphere at the Judaica Collectors auction in late autumn of 1989.  It was like a club, exclusive to book enthusiasts some of whom had travelled from London, Manchester, New York and Holland, many of them ‘characters.’  They all knew each other, coffee and refreshments were on the hob, and various family members and curious onlookers were wandering in and out.  Occasionally a shouting match broke out during the bidding when somebody was overlooked, or somebody else failed to keep his promise to stand down on a coveted item.  A noisy controversy arose over a place of printing which was said to be on the Russian border, disputed by a professor at another table.  Another argument took place over the pronunciation of the Jerusalem printer ‘Bak’ or ‘Be’k.’  Throughout the auction there was pervading noise, cigarette smoke, eating, drinking, discussions, interruptions, a black mass of eager Chassidim in the corner, the auctioneer joking, Jack Lunzer wise-cracking and merrymaking.  When Jack Lunzerfailed to get an item he really wanted, after putting up a good fight and our next bid was soon to come up, he got up, walked up to Toperovich who, it was said, was bidding for Friedberg in Canada (who had given him a free hand to bid up to $30,000 for an Incunable estimated at $9-12,000) and told him to go for a walk – he needs some fresh air!  All these comments were going on in faltering Hebrew, or Yiddish, or English, or French (to Sara Frankel).  At one point Jack Lunzer sang a Sephardi melody across the room to Meir Benayahu and later pretended to indulge in a fist-fight with him.  The informality was overwhelming.

Sometimes we couldn’t make it to an auction and had to bid over the phone from London.  I remember one occasion when the phone lines were open for three hours and Mr. Dzialowski senior and 2 other dealers came along to join in the excitement, cheering us on or commiserating as the case may be.  There were one or two major auctions which were anticipated for months in advance and much work went into their preparation.  Perhaps the most memorable of these was the Schocken sale at Sotheby’s, London in 1993, where we acquired some very important items.  Others were the Mehlmann Auction in Tel Aviv (which included a delightful side-trip to Bill Gross to see some of his treasures), the Shane sale at Christie’s, New York in June ’98 and the Christie’s Bet Din Sale, again in the sweltering heat of New York in June ‘99.  On these occasions intense concentration was maintained, and our catalogues are full of exclamation marks and heavily underlined notes like ‘Want,’ ‘Need,’ and ‘Must Have!’  On rare occasions Jack Lunzer has been known to greatly exceed his mandate.  This happened at an auction in Geneva in the late eighties where we bought a unique little Bomberg liturgy at twice the estimate and three times the price the Trustees had authorised.  But he didn’t regret it and fortunately managed to persuade the Trustees to back his decision.

A Sotheby auction in New York in the summer of 1984 produced 8 exciting Incunables for the library.  I remember taking them all one day to the British Library for checking.  On another occasion I had to make a special trip to Oxford to have a newly-acquired Franco-German manuscript carbon dated.  The verdict was 10th-11th century.  In the eighties I had the responsibility of bidding at London Auctions, such as Mr. Schwarz’s Anglo-Judaica Book Exchange at Hatton Garden and at Bloomsbury Book Auctions, occasionally for the odd item at Christie’s, and at Judaica and Asufa Auctions in Jerusalem, the latter continuing right through the nineties.   

I would make regular journeys to the British Library first in Store Street, then at the India Office near Blackfriars from 1991 until they moved to St. Pancras in 1997, and occasionally to the Bodleian for checking.  During these years we also made a number of trips to other libraries.  We looked at rare items at Merton College, Oxford in 1994 and had a delightful visit to Eton College Library.  We went to Westminster Abbey Library in October 1996 to see their copy of ‘Akedat Yizhak’ whose wrongly titled spine ‘Talmud Babylonicum Bomberg’ had set Jack Lunzer on the original trail to the discovery of the Talmud.  After Brad Sabin Hill discovered another Talmud set at Sion College in the early nineties I went there to make a detailed analysis of their edition.  I did the same in Vienna in the winter of 1996 when the temperature inside and out was close to zero.  I was shown some treasures in Prague by the head of restoration when I brought the precious Constantinople 1522 Pentateuch and 2 other items to be expertly restored there.  Finally we had two very special trips – first to Parma in January 2000, where under the guidance of Chimen Abramsky and with special permission of Nice Ugolotti we examined the treasures of the Biblioteca Palatina, and then in February 2001 to the Royal Library, Copenhagen in the company of Christopher de Hamel – a rare privilege indeed.

During the mid-nineties we went on a rather exotic mission to the south-eastern corner of Europe to rescue a few thousand Hebrew books.  Our task was to select the most important of the remnants that had survived and to create a new library in Sofia,  arranged and stored for future generations.   They had survived untouched in a village outside Sofia for 30 years and were in danger of being destroyed by the damp conditions of winter.  In the course of several visits to Bulgaria, with the help of the State Archives and with the constant assistance of Becca Lazarova, Jack Lunzer organized truckloads of these books to be brought from the village to the Municipal Archives in Sofia where we sat and spent hours and hours sorting them by condition, by type and by place of printing.  They were mostly printed in Salonika, Constantinople and Izmir, with a fair number from Venice, Amsterdam and Vienna and parts of Bulgaria.  Most were incomplete, some were in tatters, but the excitement consisted in seeing what each new dusty black box would reveal.  Amongst the battered Mishnayot, endless Zohars and Chok l’Yisraels and fragments of Tractates and Responsa missing at both ends we might discover a rare liturgy with the first page torn out and replaced with something else.  Or the dried-out splitting old bindings could be stuffed with pages of an incunable or early fragments of Rashi’s Commentary on the Pentateuch.  It became a fascinating task to try to recognize a book that had lost its title page by its type, or by emblems and small illustrations.  We had to determine whether the printing was late or early, whether a tall section belonged to an Alfassi printed in Sabbionetta or by Bragadin in Venice, whether it was part of a tractate or the Mishneh Torah.  Our work was very intensive and if we got tired of sorting and needed a break, Jack Lunzer would stop and pick up a liturgy and try to decide if it was Sephardic or Ashkenazic.  Or he would start reading a familiar opening passage from a tractate.  Sighs of approval would accompany the discovery of something interesting or special, such as a uniformly bound set of a periodical in Ladino dating from about 70 years back, which was then put in one of the special purpose-built cupboards of Ladino and Bulgarian imprints.  Sometimes there were owner’s signatures and inscriptions, well-known family names, even photos pasted inside the covers, testifying to centuries of history of the Jewish communities of the Balkans, particularly that of Salonika which, so tragically, was almost entirely annihilated in the Holocaust.  As we sorted through hundreds of books a day thoughts would go through my mind that we were paying tribute to those who had prayed and studied from them so that their memory should live on through the books they had possessed, inscribed and used.      

Another part of my work has been the careful preparation of books for exhibitions.  The first of these consisted of the highlights of Valmadonna exhibited at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York in February 1989, with its special catalogue prepared by Brad Sabin Hill.  This involved much work and thought and it was quite painful having to eliminate some of the most beautiful imprints from the final choice of 50 exhibits.  We were flown out, together with Margaret and Myra (two of Jack Lunzer’s daughters), Bernard Middleton, Brad, George from IDC and myself, and met by a limousine that sped through the night to the Pierre Hotel, Manhattan, for a short but glittering trip to the opening.  This was followed, in the early nineties (June ’92) by a smaller exhibition at University College London organized by Myra.  Every so often we loaned out books for other exhibitions – a Soncino printing exhibition in Soncino in 1995, an exhibition of Yiddish printing in Italy in Milan in 1996, a Baghdad exhibition at the Jewish Museum, London, and exhibitions at the Israel Museum.  Finally there were two major exhibitions in London for which 100 books and manuscripts were specially selected by Christopher de Hamel, first for the International Society of Bibliophiles at the Guildhall in September 2003, and then again at Sotheby’s for Jack Lunzer’s 80th birthday in September 2004.

There were a number of changes in the library during the eighties and nineties.  First, having obtained permission to build a brick surround for the three oil tanks in the garden during an oil crisis, permission was subsequently granted to convert this out-building into a book store known as Chatterley.  All the books stored in vaults in the City, including the many duplicates, were gradually brought to Fairport, the Incunables, manuscripts and books printed on vellum put in a vault, and the Livorno, Jerusalem, latter Constantinople and Salonika and Indian and Baghdad collections housed in Chatterley.  With the reinforcement of our Byzantine holdings and the acquisition of the Sassoon India and Baghdad collections, the latter became greatly augmented and the Indian journals had to be kept on new bookshelves, as were latter Salonika and Constantinople.  There was now a large collection of books printed in Marathi only – for the use of the Bene Israel community in India - and these had to be identified with the help of staff at the Oriental section of the British Library.  There were large numbers of newly acquired books to be indexed, and a hundred and twenty new slipcases were made for the variant copies by a retired old gentleman who lived nearby.  New cupboards were built on a separate floor for the coloured paper collection and for the less valuable manuscripts.  We also decided to give special attention to the broadsheets, comprising 650 or more, and each was carefully restored, encapsulated, put in folders and subsequently indexed at the JNUL.

Around this time we decided on cut-off dates for Jerusalem (1920) and to dispose of London, Paris, Metz, latter German and eastern European and Yiddish printing.  A great deal of time was therefore spent with dealers and sending boxes of books to various auction houses.  Concurrently parts of the collection were growing through the acquisition of significant items either privately (the Mehlmann and Sassoon collections in Jerusalem, the Perlberger collection in London, a Gibralterian lady in Maida Vale, Toperovich in Bnei Berak, Chaim Dzialowski and Mr Schwarz in Jerusalem) – all of which entailed visits to their homes (where in Mr Schwarz’s case, I would leaf through books with delicious Hungarian cooking smells wafting in the background), or through dealers who came to Fairport, or by auction.  During the eighties we made acquisitions at Bloomsbury Book Auctions, Swann Galleries, Christie’s (Amsterdam), Sotheby’s (London, New York & Tel Aviv) and Judaica, Jerusalem.  Gradually others came on the scene – Kestenbaum (New York), Baronovich (New York) and Asufa, Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem catalogues would appear three times a year sometimes comprised over 600 Lots, but each item had to be carefully checked.  I would be kept busy by an array of binders, some of them short-lived, others like Bernard Middleton and Kerry Bate who have been with us for over 30 years, and meticulous records had to be kept of all items which left Fairport. 

Occasionally there was a great panic when we couldn’t find a book.  There might be a breathless telephone call in very serious tones late at night about a rare book that had disappeared, which would cause us both very disturbed nights until it turned up – usually having slipped behind or been mis-shelved during the annual Passover dusting.  Many years ago Jack Lunzer was in a frantic state for days about a tortoiseshell binding that had gone missing.  He phoned every binder and paper restorer we knew, including those we had stopped using, to search their workshops, turned the library upside down and made everybody feel worried and guilty.  He finally gave up the search and claimed insurance.  About 3 years later, while checking something in his late wife’s safe, he found the precious tortoiseshell binding!  Of course, the insurance money was returned.  Another time we were searching high and low for a rare miniature Venice Psalter and eventually discovered it sitting in the middle of a quarto-size box specially made to protect it from getting lost.

Another ongoing part of my work has been to deal with specialist enquiries, often as part of scholarly research leading to publications, such as those of Prof. Benayahu at Yad Harav Nissim or Marvin Heller, who is presently working on a volume dealing with 17th century Hebrew printing.  Scholars would come to Fairport to see our copies of Meshal ha-Kadmoni, Meor Einayim, Nishmat Chayim, or to study the typography and ornamentation in early Mediterranean printing, or the writings of Solomon Twena, Samuel de Medina, the Bene-Israel, and the Samaritan sect, to see our special bindings, and so on.  Way back in the eighties, Jack Lunzer had a very special request from Princess Margaret to see a ‘Hebrew Incunable’.   A meeting was set up at Kenwood House where an Incunable was inspected, and both parties returned from the meeting duly charmed. 

Other meetings were arranged, to comply with specialist requests.  A calligraphy group had a very enjoyable meeting at Fairport where they viewed a selection of manuscripts, their favourite being the early 15th century illuminated Yemenite Pentateuch. In June 2006 a group of 20 scholars who were in London for a Judeo-Spanish Conference spent a morning at Fairport with twenty books they had specially selected.  There were 2 Conferences of UCL in which we participated by hosting receptions at Fairport.  The first was in June 1995, entitled ‘Jews of Italy – Memory and Identity,’ and the second in June 1997, on ‘Jews of the Low Countries,’ during which Prof. Chimen Abramsky gave a lecture one evening at Fairport about Menasseh b. Israel and his printing, illustrated by examples from our collection, to a room packed with people.  More recently we have been involved in an annual one-day seminar co-sponsored with the Institute of Jewish Studies, UCL.  The first of these was in September 2004, coinciding with Jack Lunzer’s 80th birthday and an exhibition arranged by Camilla Previté at Sotheby’s, entitled ‘The Valmadonna Trust Library and early Hebrew printing.’  In December 2005 the theme was the 350th anniversary of the re-admission of the Jews into England (entitled ‘Jews at the end of the Earth’), and in December 2006 ‘Hebrew bibliography – Steinschneider and after.’ 

Two students from the London College of Printing came one summer to clean and polish all the bindings.  In the winter of 1993 an Israel producer came to Fairport to interview Jack Lunzer for a programme to be televised in Israel on the theme of an unusual library, and in the autumn of 2006 a French film-maker came over for the day to make a programme for French TV about the Talmud for which a considerable amount of preparation was required.  In the summer of 2004 Esra Kahn spent 3 months making a card index of the ‘bibliography room’ on the second floor, which had never before been catalogued.   This collection of bibliographical works, ranging from the standard to the very rare, is in itself an important part of the Valmadonna Library and one for which Jack Lunzer holds great affection.  On many a sleepless night he has burnt the midnight oil in the company of Moses Marx or Moritz Steinschneider, or more recently, Marvin Heller.  As for the computerization of the Library itself, the bulk of the work was done by the Librarian’s son Solomon, who between the years 1989 and 1998 entered 9,200 records into the system.  I took over in the early 2000’s, in the meantime constantly correcting and updating the computer records and printouts with a view to eventually producing a Valmadonna catalogue which would be a vital Hebrew and English bibliographical tool for worldwide reference.

In 2004, IDC Publishers in Holland microfilmed our Baghdad collection at Fairport and made available on microfiche almost 350 titles, including the earliest lithographs, unrecorded Judeo-Arabic books and rare treasures from the Sassoon collection, with an introduction by Brad Sabin Hill.  In the summer of 2006 they filmed our unique Indian collection, so that a cultural legacy of over 730 items from Bombay, Calcutta, Poona and Cochin, including texts in Judeo-Arabic, Marathi and Malayalam, a Hindustani drama in Judeo-Urdu, works by Yemenite authors, unique Indian lithographs, rare liturgies, and many unrecorded items has now also become available to worldwide bibliography.

We hope that in future this work will continue, starting with the microfilming of our entire collection of Byzantine printing including Constantinople, Salonika and Izmir.  Meanwhile, we are working on a publication based on our extensive holdings of 16th-19th century wall calendars and similar ephemera such as edicts, decrees, odes and poems.  These have been described with the help of Isaac Yudelov and Ariel Viterbo at the JNUL, and will be published in book form and profusely illustrated.  The next project will be the publication of our holdings of incunabula, numbering approximately 70, edited by Dr A. Offenberg of the Amsterdam University Library, together with an important collection of books printed on vellum.

It has sometimes been hard to catch Jack Lunzer with library work amidst his dizzying travels around the globe, mostly on business and diplomatic matters during the eighties and nineties, as well as a range of other activities and family engagements.  We would sometimes work in the evenings, but always on Sunday mornings when he was in town, and I was often frustrated by the incessant telephone calls.  I was, however, frequently amused by the strange assortment of people at Fairport, especially on Sundays.  There might be two Chassidic book dealers in one room, an African lady visitor in another, a third book dealer in a different room, a Rabbi on a charitable mission in another, the gardener waiting for instructions outside, two waitresses coming to discuss breakfast arrangements for the overnight Shavuot study, the pedicurist and the electrician, while family members would be dropping in to see their father, grandfather or uncle.  All the while Dillon, the handsome golden labrador known as ‘the boy’ and a very prominent member of the household during the eighties, would be having a field day dancing around each visitor with his brown towel flapping in his paw.  Jack Lunzer was unperturbed by the transitions between all these people, with his astonishing ability to switch from business to family to book matters, while constantly being interrupted by telephone calls.  Sometimes he would carry on two conversations on two phones, and once I actually heard him speak in 7 languages in the course of one evening.  However there would always be time and enthusiasm for the books, which were treated with love and respect and often referred to as ‘old friends’ or ‘children.’  The library is a quiet, beautiful refuge from the fatigue of aeroplanes, travel and business, and each item holds its own story which is waiting to be read and put in its perspective of our history, liturgy, bibliography and typography.

I myself feel immensely privileged to have been part of the preservation for posterity of this extraordinarily rich and tangible part of the history of our people, extending as it does to towns all over the globe – from Cochin to Curacao, from Irkutsk to Guadalajara – and in time from manuscripts 1,000 years old, to printed books over 500 years old and unique journals of the 20th century.  After 25 years I continue to find my work exciting, in its scope and variety, and highly rewarding, and it is my wish, together with that of the Custodian, Jack Lunzer, to be able to see the transition of the Valmadonna Library as an intact and permanent collection to its next home, so that it should always remain a testimony to the history and culture of the Jewish people.

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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