Conservation and book repair, historical and modern

The Conservation Department at Columbia University Libraries is an often unsung hero of the libraries.  The work of their talented conservators encompasses all areas of the library, and ensures that our collections, both modern and ancient, will endure for years to come.

Many times, in a routin16049_BT_29e conservation activity, hidden aspects of books come to the fore.  This was the case of a commentary on the Bible by Rabbenu Bahye, printed in 1514 in Pesaro by Gershom Soncino.  The Conservation Department had received the book because the text block was broken, and they planned to repair the book and box it for protection.  While assessing the book, however, the conservators noticed an additional oddity. As shown below, two pages from another edition of the same book had been pasted together inside the book to replace a missing page.  The owner then crossed out the first few lines of the replacement page, so that text would be continuous from the original edition.  The owner did the same for the end of the added pages, again ensuring continuity for the reader of the text.  As you can see here, the text block was separated right at this point16049_BT_14 in the book.  The added pages had weakened the book, and so the pages needed to be separated in order for the book to be stabilized.

Once the pages were separated, the question then was: how to maintain the integrity of the history of this book, without compromising its stability?  The decision was made to line the versos of the replacement pages (which had previously been glued to each other and were thus hidden) with a translucent material, so the text 16049_BT_15would show, but only lightly, indicating that this had not been the original way that the book was used.  A note describing the treatment was also included with the book, so a reader could understand how the pages had initially been glued together.

The amount of thought and effort that goes into conservation work is incredible.  The conservators think about all aspects of the book, physical, 16049_DT_09intellectual, and historical, before making a decision about treatment.  Many thanks to Emily Cohen and Alexis Hagadorn for their fantastic work on this book!

Save the date! Alexander lecture with Jenna Joselit Weissman, November 1

We are very pleased to announce that Jenna Weissman Joselit, Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History, and Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at George Washington University will be giving the annual Norman E. Alexander Lecture this year, on November 1, 2016.  The title of the lecture is: “Rock Solid:  America’s Relationship to the Ten Commandments.”

More information will be forthcoming.  We hope you will join us!

NEA Library Spring 2016 Newsletter

Our latest newsletter is up!  Click here to download our Spring 2016 newsletter (with live links).

Highlights include: details about the Jewish collections included in the Global Studies exhibition in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library; updates on the digitization of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry; links to the video for the most recent Norman E. Alexander Lecture with David Ruderman (University of Pennsylvania); digital humanities labs for Jewish Studies courses and more!Newsletter 2016-1 final

Three kabbalistic “brother” manuscripts identified: Paris, London, and New York

The British Library is working on digitizing their complete (and incredible) collection of Hebrew manuscripts.  In the process of doing so, they have been asking scholars, experts in their various fields, to write articles on various aspects of the Hebrew manuscripts.  This was the case with a recent article written by noted Kabbalah scholar Yossi Chajes dealing with the British Library manuscripts.

When I saw the article, I was shocked!  One of the manuscripts described in the article, Add MS 27091 (created 1588), looked exactly like a Columbia manuscript, MS X893 C81 (created 1579)!  (See images below.)  Because the Columbia manuscript had been in the Hebrew Manuscripts exhibition in 2012, I had ready images available to compare the two images, and indeed, they looked nearly exactly alike.  The manuscripts were most likely created by the same scribe, nearly 10 years apart.

A scholar at the University of Haifa working on the Ilanot Project, Dr. Eliezer Baumgarten, then informed us that there was yet a third manuscript – of the same work, with the same images and style, produced by the same scribe – at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France (PARIS BN 864, created in 1577).

The full discussion took place on Twitter, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of some interesting scholarly work!

British Library’s Add MS 27091, f. 26r

120017_010, 1/23/12, 3:53 PM, 16C, 2942x3637 (1273+3805), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/60 s, R66.1, G33.2, B43.8 CUL, Mac Pro, 10.6.7, Better Light 8K-2, Viewfinder 7.4.4, HID, TTI 45ei, Rodenstock 90mm/f5.6, ColorChecker

Columbia MS X893 C81 (32a-r)

Update: A fourth was identified in the Ilanot database (Bodleian Library MS Mich. 342), 1681!

Jewish Studies materials to be featured in Global Studies exhibit, April 4-June 24, 2016

Six items from the Jewish Studies collections will be featured as part of an exhibit featuring Global materials in Columbia’s Special Collections (more information about the general exhibit below).  Included in the Jewish Studies portion will be a manuscript copy of Spinoza’s Opera Posthuma; a Jewish elegy for Maria Theresa of Austria; a scroll of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller’s Megilat ‘Evah; a “dialogue,” or debate, between a Jew, a Muslim, a Catholic, and a Protestant; and two works by the 16th century historian Joseph ha-Kohen, one in manuscript and one in print.

The Joseph ha-Kohen manuscript, written in 1557, is a translation of a Portuguese book describing the discovery of America which, until recently, had been unusable because its ink had migrated through the pages, rendering them stuck together.  Thanks to a generous grant from the Berg Foundation, we were able to conserve and digitize this manuscript, and it is now available for research use.  The printed Joseph ha-Kohen book was a recent donation, and describes the history of the Jews until the mid-16th century.

Please stop by the Chang Octagon Room in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library beginning April 4 to see these and other wonderful materials!

Imagining the World 7

Opening the week of April 4, 2015, in the Chang Octagon of The Rare Books & Manuscripts Library, a new exhibition will offer researchers an opportunity to view a sampling of the rare and the unusual in Columbia’s Global Studies collections.  The items on display until June 24, range in date from 1454 CE to 2014 CE, in a variety of formats, including books, manuscripts, maps, photos, posters, scrolls, sheet music, stamps, and typescripts, and encompassing more than 19 languages or scripts:  Arabic, Czech, English, French, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Latin, Malayalam, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Tamil, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Wolof.  This small exhibit represents only a fraction of what is collected by the Libraries to support global studies research and teaching.

A reception to celebrate the exhibition, with refreshments and keynote speaker Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam, will be held in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, 5:30-7:00 pm

Adventures in the Stacks: Everything Old is New Again

The wonderful thing about Columbia’s rare Judaica collection is that there is so much yet to be discovered – and rediscovered!  A brief foray into the RBML rare stacks always yields wonderful stories.  A couple of weeks ago, I began looking at some of the very largest rare Hebrew books, trying to see if any of them contained clues to the collection’s history.  Opening a Mahzor (Call number: B893.17 J68 F, published 1599, Venice), I B893.17 J68 Fsaw an extensive listing of family history, in what looked like two hands, covering half a century, from 1801-1857.  Intrigued, I saved the image, bearing in mind that I’d want to do further research at a later time.

Today, however, in doing other research about Joseph Almanzi (whose collection was sold to Temple Emanu-el in 1872 and gifted to Columbia in 1892), I found an article by former Professor of Rabbinical Literature and the Semitic Languages at Columbia, Richard Gottheil, which discussed this exact book and its handwritten contents!  The article (written in 1893 in the Jewish Quarterly Review and accessible to Columbia affiliates via JSTOR) carefully lists the Almanzi family’s dates of birth and death, as noted by father Barukh and son Joseph:

“Birth: Giuseppi Al., 25 Marzo, 1801.
Rosa Al., 27th Feb., 1802.
Ja’qob Elisha Al., 2nd Feb., 1804.
Died 19th Feb. 1853.
Ribhka Al., 19th Feb., 1806.
Miriam Al., 28th June, 1810.
Hanna Al., 12th August, 1812.
Died 1830.
Writing of Baruch up to No. 8, who died 12th May, 1837.
The writing of Giuseppi on his mother, who died 2nd Feb., 1857.”

Joseph (Giuseppi) died a short three years after his mother, in 1860.  His collection, of course, lives long after him.

New Acquisitions: Prague history, 15th c. Yiddish medicine, and Italian Broadsides

It has been a busy year for Judaica acquisitions at the Columbia RBML.  Three important acquisitions have been added to our collection:

  1. A collection of forty Italian Broadsides depicting regulations on various communities (including Ferrara, Padua, Ancona, and others), only one of which is in the extensive Valmadonna collection of broadsides.  We plan to digitize this collection to add to the already significant corpus provided by Valmadonna.  Regulations include prohibitions on throwing candy, talking in the synagogue and shouting, as well as financial matters such as taxes.
  2. A late 18th century manuscript describing the history of the Jewish community of Prague from the perspective of the author, Yosef Yitshak Ha-kohen Poppers.  Particularly interesting from a visual perspective is the addition of a printed engraving pasted on to the title page.
  3. Our most recent acquisition is a 15th century Sefer Refu’os, in Yiddish (with Italian words for herbs, and, citing at least one Ladino incantation), of remedies and cures for all sorts of things, including teeth whitening, various remedies for wounds, an incantation for revelation of one’s destined wife, and many more.  This manuscript is unique in both content and language, and we invite scholars to work on it!  The manuscript is in the process of being digitized, and will be made available online after digitization.

 

5th Annual NEA Lecture: David Ruderman on “Missionaries, Mushumadim, and Maskilim

We are pleased to announce that David Ruderman (University of Pennsylvania) will be presented the 5th Annual Norman E. Alexander Lecture in Jewish Studies.  His topic will discuss a unique instance in Jewish history where Maskilim (Enlightened Jews) defended traditional Judaism against missionary Alexander McCaul.  Reception to follow the lecture.  Alexander Lecture 2015 Additionally, our brand new NEA Library tote bags (generously sponsored by the Norman E. Alexander Foundation) will be available at the lecture.  Tote bags are currently available at the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, and the Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies’ office.

New Databases for the new academic year! Hebrew books and Talmud Index

Just in time for the beginning of the Fall semester, I am pleased to announce the purchase of two new databases for Columbia’s Judaica collection:

1. Otzar HaHochma – a database of 72,700 digitized Hebrew books, from the 15th century to the present day.  Includes books from the presses of Mossad HaRav Kook and Mekhon Yerushalayim.  Note that the interface is mostly in Hebrew.

2. Lieberman Index of References Dealing with Talmudic Literature – an index of resources, both modern and ancient, that reference the Talmud.  Organized by Talmudic page, this is an incredible resource for anyone doing research on the Talmud.

Salo Baron on building up Columbia’s Judaica manuscript collection

As cited in Tablet Magazine, from David L. Langenberg, ed., Of Many Generations: Judaica and Hebraica from the Taube-Baron Collection.

“Columbia at that time had only a small collection of Hebraica and Judaica, largely donated by Temple Emanu-El. This collection was valuable from an antiquarian standpoint, but could hardly be of any use to a class of predominantly unprepared students. Because all this took place during the Great Depression, when prices generally were going down, I was confidant that the amount set aside out of the Miller Fund would suffice for a presentable Jewish collection. In fact, not long thereafter I was approached by a distinguished Galician rabbi, who was also a dealer in Hebrew books. He informed me that he had for sale a collection of precious manuscripts from various parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. I suggested to the President the purchase of the whole collection. Thus Columbia, which at that time had on its shelves only a little more than 400 various Hebraic manuscripts, now got an additional 600 items. With its expansion to 1,000 or more titles, the University’s holdings had become one of the leading collections among the country’s universities.”

For more information on the history of Columbia’s rare Judaica collections, see the RBML Hebraica and Judaica collections page.