Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Acquisitions: Personal Prayers and Kashrut

According to the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Tkhines, or “supplications” were a “private devotions and paraliturgical prayers usually in Yiddish, primarily for women, published beginning in the early modern period.”  While one of our recent acquisitions definitely falls under the category of Yiddish prayers for women, it was not published, but rather produced by hand, that is, in manuscript.

This small but lovely volume was created for a women called Pearl, the daughter of Phineas and the wife of Abraham Deutsch.  The scribe, Jacob Segal, was clearly a talented writer and decorator.  The text is clear and large, and the illustrations beautiful.  This was clearly a manuscript to be used in heartfelt prayer and devotion.  The manuscript is currently on exhibit as part of “Yiddish at Columbia” in the Chang Octagon Gallery in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library until June 15, and can be found under call number MS General 286.

A second new acquisition is a colorful collection of illustrated laws on ritual slaughter, or shehita.

This volume deals specifically with “bedikot,” the laws of checking the animal after slaughter to ensure it is kosher.

The manuscript thus includes a detailed illustration of the animal’s innards, so the shohet (ritual slaughterer) would be able to identify various flaws or defects that would render it treif, or unkosher.

The volume was written in Italian (with some technical Hebrew terms) and illustrated by Israel David Luzzatto in Mantua around 1804.  Israel David was the uncle of Samuel David Luzzatto, who is well represented within our manuscript collection. (Many thanks to Shimon Steinmetz, who identified the connection between the two Luzzattos!)  The manuscript also includes a certificate affirming Luzzatto’s knowledge of the laws he describes.

There are many illustrations throughout the manuscript.  Some are whimsical, like the bird on the right.  Others are more practical, like a table of colors that identify the kashrut status of the animal based on examination of its internal organs (certain shades of black would render the animal treif, while another color, like red, would indicate that the meat was kosher and could be eaten.

Paint would have been carefully mixed to produce the correct color for the samples, as this would have been used as the exemplar for legal decisions, and so the color needed to be unfading and clear.  (The color labeled “green” in Hebrew is  correctly yellow here, as that is the color meant by the word “yarok” in the shehita literature.) This manuscript is available for use as MS General 285.

George Arthur Plimpton and Hebrew Manuscripts

George Arthur Plimpton (1855-1936) was a man of many passions, including book collector, founder of Columbia’s “Friends of the Libraries” and Barnard trustee.  He donated his collection on the history of mathematics (among many other things) to Columbia shortly before his death. We know of a few Hebrew manuscripts that were included in his collection, classified under the MS Plimpton Hebrew heading. (Plimpton collected Hebrew books as well, including a Hebrew-Latin treatise on astronomy and arithmetic, and Sefer ha-Mispar, on arithmetic)

MS Plimpton Hebrew 004 is a scroll in Hebrew describing a trip made by a Dutch Jew to India, where he met the “black and white Jews of Malabar and Cochin.” Interestingly, we have another manuscript in our collection from a different acquisition that describes a similar trip, also by a Dutch Jew.

Another manuscript in the collection is a fragment of a 14th century Torah codex that had been used as part of a book binding,

Thanks to the intrepid work of Jane Siegel, we have been able to identify two additional pieces of Hebrew manuscript, included in a handbook (PLIMPTON MS 093.93 1630) of handwritings (writing samples was one of Plimpton’s many collection strengths).  Both are handwriting samples from Amsterdam.

The first begins with an inscription: “For the memory and a guard, in the hand of Master Joannes Wilmet, who learned from [lit. by] me the Hebrew language, the year 526 [i.e. 1766].” It ends “thus is the song of my beloved for my dear friend, here in Amsterdam, the writer Eliezer Zusman.”  Joannes Wilmet was a Dutch “Orientalist,” who was known for his work on Hebrew, Arabic, and ancient languages.  It seems that the Jew Eliezer Zusman may have been one of his teachers of Hebrew.

The second writing sample is beautiful as well, with the letters embellished as if on a Torah scroll.  This one was written by David Friedrichsfeld, who was part of an 18th century movement to revive the Hebrew language called the Me’asfim (so-called for their periodical, ha-Me’asef). This document includes copious praise upon “the Prince Wilmet” (perhaps the same as the one described above)

Who knows what other Hebrew treasures may yet be found within the deep and vast Plimpton Collection?

Exhibition: Yiddish at Columbia (Chang Octagon Gallery, March 5-June 15)

As part of the celebration of the digital publication of the data for the LCAAJ, we will be launching a small exhibition in the Chang Octagon Gallery at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which will be on display from March 5-June 15, 2018.  The exhibition will feature a variety of themes including old Yiddish, Ritual, Yiddish Theatre, Yiddish Press, Yiddish in the Academy, and the LCAAJ. 

Launching the Digitized Data for the Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ)!

Columbia University Libraries is very pleased to announce the launch of the website for the digitized data of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. An accompanying guide to the use of the digitized materials with many supplementary materials is also available.

The LCAAJ archive is an extraordinary resource for research in Yiddish studies that can shed much valuable light on language, ethnography, literature, folklore and music, anthropology, linguistics, Germanic and Slavic studies, and aspects of Central and East European history. The archive consists of over 600 interviews conducted between 1959 and 1972 with native speakers of Yiddish during a long-range comparative study to document the effects of physical, linguistic, and cultural channels and barriers on the geographic fragmentation of the Jewish and diverse non-Jewish populations that coexisted in Central and Eastern Europe before World War II. The LCAAJ project collected its interviews at essentially the last moment, when a diverse body of native speakers was still alive, aiming to address both the challenge of an endangered linguistic and cultural legacy, and the special potential that Yiddish provides for studying language and cultural contact and change.

This two-year project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, digitized approximately 140,000 pages of interview documents containing data from the interviews, carried out optical character recognition (OCR) and mark-up of the printed responses to enable their content to be searched and manipulated, and made all the digitized content freely available to scholars via the Digital Library Collections at Columbia. Additional work, funded by the Libraries, allowed for complete reprocessing of the full LCAAJ archive for scholarly use. This source for historical, literary, or anthropological research, for the study of languages in contact, and for the evolution and differentiation of language communities, is now available to a worldwide community of scholars.

The written materials accompany more than 5,700 hours of recorded interviews that Columbia Libraries has already digitized through generous support from NEH, private foundations, the New York State Conservation/Preservation Program, and Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies (EYDES, a project of the German Förderverein für Jiddische Sprache und Kultur), through which the audio is publicly available. The long-term goal is to eventually link the written content to the audio recordings of the interviews and make the entire audio and written corpus available to students and scholars in an integrated form.

The interviews contain a wealth of comments about Jewish culture and history from a place and time that is largely out of our reach today. Bringing the LCAAJ archive into the digital environment will exponentially increase its value to historians of Jewish Studies and European history, linguists, anthropologists, and students and teachers of Yiddish. The availability of this data will greatly facilitate the online work of scholars to continue and enhance the important mapping work begun in the first three volumes of the printed Atlas, which were published by Niemeyer in 1992-2000.

As part of the launch of the project, an exhibition called “Yiddish at Columbia” will be on display in the Chang Octagon Gallery in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library from March 5-June 15, 2018. Additional events will be announced at a later date.

New Acquisition: Pitigliano Pinkas

Title of the pinkas

The city of Pitigliano, in Tuscany, has a long history of Jewish inhabitants.  There was a continuous Jewish community in Pitigliano until World War II, and the Jewish population there was so well-known that the town was known as “little Jerusalem.”  Its synagogue, still intact, was built in 1598.

Our newest acquisition is a Pinkas book for that community from the years 1772 to 1818, which includes takanot for the specific community, as well as information about visitors to the community.

One of the better known visitors to Pitigliano was Hayim Yosef David Azulai (HIDA), noted rabbi and bibliographer, who traveled the length of Europe and North Africa collecting funds on behalf of the Jewish community  of Hebron. The HIDA’s inscription can be found in this pinkas, as he clearly stopped in the city over the course of his travels. Another note on the same page indicates the year, 1774 (which was the year his bibliographical magnum opus, Shem Ha-gedolim, was published in Livorno).

HIDA signature

This book holds many inscriptions and signatures in both Hebrew and Italian, and is an important new resource for the history of the Jews of Tuscany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

New Acquisitions: Amsterdam, Shadal, Broadsides, Booklists, and more!

It’s been a busy few months! The following items have been recently added to Columbia’s rare Judaica collections:

  1. 18 Letters from the Jewish community of Amsterdam: These letters will join our collection of manuscripts relating to the Jewish community of Amsterdam.  The new collection spans from 1764-1922 and covers topics as varied as kosher cheese, the Jewish community of Suriname, and Hebrew poetry.
  2. Samual David Luzzatto’s manuscript commentary on the book of Ezekiel now sits with his commentaries on Jeremiah, the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes, and others of his intellectual works.
  3. Shemuel Zanvill Segel’s booklist is another item of interest.  This book collector, from 18th century France, painstakingly noted each book he owned, as well as its publication place and dates. Another bookish collection of note in the RBML is the Judaica Book Trade Archive.
  4. A manuscript broadside bemoaning synagogue absenteeism has been added to the collection of Jewish Community Broadsides and will be digitized and added to the rest of the materials in the Italian Jewish Community Regulations collection in our Digital Library Collections viewer.
  5. A facsimile copy of the 1272 Worms Mahazor has also been added to our collection.  Accessible in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this copy provides an amazing glimpse of a historic manuscript owned at the National Library of Israel, which includes (among other things) the first appearance of Yiddish.

How to repair books in the early modern era

Between the years 1557 and 1559, the printer Ya’akov Kohen mi-Gazolo worked on producing a mahazor, the standard Jewish prayerbook which included prayers for all holidays, in two volumes, in his Mantua printshop. He produced two editions of the prayerbook; one in large format (folio), perhaps for the prayer leader, and one in smaller format (octovo) for personal use.

Interestingly, Ya’akov used the same plates to print both the large and small format books, perhaps to save on typesetting costs.  Instead of having to reset the entire book to fit the larger page, Ya’akov simply printed the large format book in two columns, so he could use the type that he had set for four separate pages of the smaller version to fill a single page of his larger version.

Columbia’s copy of the title consists of one of each: the first volume is present in the large format (below, open), and the second, in small format (below, closed, on the right).

Volume 1 of this copy, however, is most unusual.  It seems that the owner of the first volume realized that his prayer book was missing the first eight leaves.  Clearly not having access to additional leaves of the large format volume with which to replace them, this owner took two copies of the small format volume and pasted them together to form the large sized page.  Page 1 was pasted above a copy of its verso, in order to allow the text to flow directly to what would have been (in the small format) page two.

Once the owner reached the eighth leaf of the book, where his large format copy began, he was able to cease his work (hence the differing colors in the leaves in the picture above – one has glue under the page and one does not).

The book was censored by the famed Jewish convert and censor Domenico Irosolimitano, in Italy.

Next to the censors’ mark is an inscription of an owner, who notes the date (17 Heshvan) and year (unclear) that he purchased the book.  Was this the same owner who creatively* re-used additional copies to repair his own?  Unfortunately, a modern rebinding of the book obscures the complete owner’s inscription, and so we are left wondering.

*Disclaimer: Columbia University Libraries does NOT condone the ripping apart of books to repair other books.

Wandering in the Stacks: the Americas, Spanish & Portuguese, and Christian Hebraists

As part of the follow up on the fantastic work that was done by Kelilah, Hannah, and Avinoam, I have been revisiting some of the interesting materials that they came across while working on cataloging our rare Judaica imprints.  Below is just a sampling of some of the wonderful materials that we have in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library:

  • It isn’t surprising, given the strong  history of Hebrew at Columbia since its inception,  that we have a copy of Judah Monis’s Grammar of the Hebrew Tonguethe first book to be printed using a significant amount of Hebrew type in the Americas. Due to lack of Hebrew type availability, Monis convinced Harvard to order the type specially from London (prior to this printing, students had to copy his textbook by hand for his class). Columbia’s copy was owned by someone (perhaps one of Monis’s students) as early as 1737 (see photo above), and there is a description of Monis and his work on the flyleaf facing the title page of the book, as pictured on the right.
  • An earlier book with American-Hebrew connections is the Arte Hebraispano, printed in Lyon, France, in 1676.  The book’s author, Martin del Castillo, was a “calificador” (an expert consultant) for the inquisition at the Monastery of San Francisco in Mexico City.  Not having access to the necessary type in Mexico City, he sent his manuscript to Lyon for printing.  The author includes an apology, noting that, as the book was printed so far away, there were many errors made in printing. Columbia’s copy had been previously owned by Monastery of San Cosme in Mexico City. This seems to be the oldest Hebrew grammar written (but not printed!) in the Americas. [Many thanks to Dr. Francois Soyer, who explained to me the difference between an Inquisitor and a calificador. Thanks to Dr. Jesús de Prado Plumed for clarifying that this is a solely Hebrew grammar, not a Judeo-Spanish book.]
  • Another book comes from a century earlier.  Printed in 1523 by the famed Venetian printer Daniel Bomberg, this Sefer Ha-hinukh was missing some pages.  The book’s owner painstakingly copied the Hebrew type to fill in the missing leaves.  Can you tell which was printed and which was handwritten?
  • Jews traveled for many reasons: persecution, trade, marriage, to name just a few.  The owner of this Sefer ha-Rokeah (an ethical work, this one printed in 1505) apparently traveled often, but wanted to bring his book of ethics along on his journey.  At the end of the front matter, right before the text begins, the owner wrote Tefilat Ha-derekh, the Wayfarer’s prayer, as shown below.
  • We know from owners’ marks that the kabbalistic text, Ṿe-zot ha-sefer ha-Nefesh ha-ḥakhamah was owned by Ya’akov Yisrael Levenshtat.  Not much is known about Levenshtat himself, although about 85 of his books were included in the collection donated to Columbia by Temple Emanue-l in 1892. This book was bound in a piece of parchment that included a list of names. The front board (partially obscured by the bookplate given by Columbia to the Temple Emanu-el books) was the top of the document, reading (in Portuguese), Pauta dos Yrmãos, or List of Brothers.  It is a list of the founders of a “pious organization” from late 17th century Amsterdam. Some of the names mentioned include:
    • Ischac Nunes Carvalho
    • Rephael Nunes Carvalho
    • Eliau Gaon
    • Mordochay Lumbrozo

[Many thanks to Dr. Aron Sterk for his assistance with identifying this document.]

  • The last item, a Hebrew Bible, was probably owned by a Christian interested in studying the text in its original language.  The owner had a special binding made for the book to allow for his study.  Between each leaf of the original book, the binder inserted a much larger paper for comments and notes. This way, the owner could add his extensive glosses to the text without interfering with the original.  The binding nearly doubled the size of the book, as shown here.

Benjamin Kennicott’s Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum (the Columbia connection)

Benjamin Kennicott is probably best known today for the incredible illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library at Oxford that bears his name.  However, his magnum opus was a two-volume print edition of the Hebrew Bible, based on extensive research from various manuscripts.

We have discussed here earlier the great interest in Hebrew texts by various faculty in the early days of King’s College, and so it is not surprising that Kennicott turned to the College for help in borrowing a  manuscript in the course of his research for the Bible.  The manuscript was owned by Sampson Simpson (famous for presenting a Hebrew address at the Columbia College commencement in 1800),

Reference to Simson ms, Vetus Testimentum, v.1, p.82

with King’s College President Myles Cooper serving as courier for the loan (see article from “The Gazette of the United States, July 7, 1802).

Kennicott apparently kept up his conversations with administrators at King’s College, and, shortly before the Bible was printed, wrote  Cooper to say that he would “be honored with any Subscription from your Territories,” Indeed, King’s College, New York, is listed on the subscriber list.

Additional Fellows at King’s College in New York were very interested in the Bible, and other subscribers from Columbia’s predecessor are listed among the subscribers as well.  (I was surprised to see that Harvard College, where the first Hebrew grammar in America was printed, was not on the list.)

The Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum has been digitized and is freely available on the Internet Archive.

Exposing the Hidden: Highlights from CUL’s rare printed Hebraica

Happy New Year!

December 2016 marked the end of a three year project to catalog Columbia’s rare Hebraica and Judaica collections.  While Columbia has been collecting Judaica since its inception (with a donation from Kings’ College founder Samuel Johnson that included his Hebrew-Latin Psalms), many of the books were left uncataloged due to lack of expertise and Hebrew knowledge among the Library staff over the centuries.

This was rectified with the creation of the Norman E. Alexander Library in 2010.  The NEA Library hired three successive students from 2013 to 2016: Kelila Kahane (BC ’14), Hannah Vaitsblit (BC ’16), and Avinoam Stillman (CC ’17).  The students were trained in copy cataloging (that is, the identification of pre-existing records that matched the books they analyzed) and copy specific cataloging.  The students examined the shelves that included Judaica, book by book, and checked CLIO to see if there were any electronic records for the books.  If not, they created a record for the books and added copy specific information (unusual bindings, owners’ marks, bookplates, etc.).  It was this project that identified a book in Columbia’s holdings formerly owned by Isaac Newton, and many other significant previous owners were identified as well.

The project included both Hebraica non-Hebrew Judaica, but the work done is best exemplified with the Hebrew imprints: We have over 2,200 books containing Hebrew printed from the invention of moveable type until 1800 at Columbia.  By the end of the project, over 1,000 records had been added or significantly updated to describe copy specific information, such as owners’ signatures, to the records.

Many gems were discovered over the course of the work, including the Newton book identified above, but also many other important previous owners, such as:

Some work remains, such as the creation of a detailed catalog record for Columbia’s 22 volumes of the Bomberg Talmud, but that should be completed by the end of the Spring semester.

Many, many thanks to the great work of Kelila, Hannah, and Avinoam – thanks to them, our “hidden” collection of Judaica imprint is no longer hidden, but is now completely open for scholarly use!