Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 ben Joseph Simson (an uncle of the Sampson Simson who presented 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.

*Thanks to Dr. Theodor Dunkelgrün for correcting my conflation of the two Sampson Simpsons. (April 23, 2019)

Postscript (April 28, 2019): Thanks to Yisrael Dubitsky in the Manuscripts Department at the National Library of Israel, I learned that the manuscript borrowed by Kennicott is currently at the British Library. Tipped in the end of the manuscript (ff. 417 recto and verso in the digitized editions) is the letter from Kennicott to Simpson asking to borrow the manuscript for the term of 12 months.  It is unclear whether the manuscript ever made it back across the Atlantic Ocean.

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!

Hasidic Autographs in the RBML

Guest post by Avinoam Stillman, CC ’17.  Avinoam, a CC senior, has just completed a project to catalog our rare printed Judaica collection.  The post below is highlights some of Avinoam’s discoveries.

Although Columbia’s campus has had its share of Hasidic celebrity since Hasidic pop star Lipa Schmelzer enrolled at GS, maybe the best place to find authentic Hasidic autographs is in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

As a student intern in the Judaica and Hebraica collections, I have come across several books owned and autographed by scions of distinguished Hasidic dynasties. Hasidism was (and is) a Jewish religious movement marked, among many other things, by charismatic spiritual leaders, known as tzadikkim (righteous ones) or, more popularly today, “Rebbes”. Originating in Ukraine with the Ba’al Shem Tov and his students, the Hasidic movement spread throughout Eastern Europe around the turn of the 19th century. The movement quickly became subdivided into hereditary dynasties associated with tzaddikim who are referred to by the names of their various locales.


The town of Opatow in central Poland gave its name to the Apt Hasidic dynasty, founded by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel, known as the “Lover of Israel” (Ohev Yisrael) after his hasidic homilies of the same name. He was also the namesake and forebear of the renowned Polish-born American scholar and activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who taught just up the street at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

I found the following owner’s mark in R. Joel Sirkes’ שו”ת בית חדש החדשות, Responsa Bayit Hadash HaHadashot, Koretz 1785 (call number B893.1NL Si79):

The owner’s mark reads, as far as I can tell,​​

“מירושת כבוד אאמו”ר הגאון הקדוש זלה”ה… יצחק מאיר בן… מוהר”ר אברהם יהושע העשיל זלה”ה מאפט”- “From the inheritance of his honor my master and father, my teacher and rabbi, the holy genius may his memory be a blessing, Yitzhak Meir son of our teacher and rabbi Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, may his memory be a blessing, of Apt.”

This book belonged to the son of the “Ohev Yisrael” and was passed down through the generations of the dynasty. This is also consistent with the stamp I found in the book:

The stamp reads: חיים מנחם בהרב ה”ר זושא העשיל מזינקוב, Hayyim Menahem son of the rabbi Rabbi Zusha Heshel of Zinkov. I quote the following from the YIVO encyclopedia:

“Only one of Heshel’s two sons, Yitsḥak Me’ir (ca. 1776–1855) of Zinkev, Podolia, became a Hasidic rebbe… After Yitsḥak Me’ir’s death, his son, Meshulam Zusya of Zinkev (ca. 1813–1864), took his place. In the generation of Meshulam Zusya’s sons, the dynasty split into three main branches… The second branch of the dynasty was headed by Ḥayim Menaḥem (ca. 1837–1893)…”

Here’s a photo of Rabbi Hayim Menahem:


It’s also worth noting that the book was published by the publishing house in Koretz, a center of early Hasidic printing.


One of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s scholarly projects were his sensitive biographies, in Yiddish and English, of the famous Kotzker Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. Morgenstern was known for his zealous, uncompromising devotion to truth and authenticity. He was almost an anti-rebbe; he provoked his followers and critiqued his contemporaries mercilessly, and withdrew into seclusion for the final decade of his life.

Eerily enough, it was the Kotzker’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death,  when I found Marpe le-Nefesh of Refael Norzi (1520–1583?), Amsterdam 1757 (call number BJ1287.N6 C7 1757). This book was owned by Moshe Yerucham Morgenstern, the son of Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Kotzker Rebbe! It is marked both with his signature and his bookstamp:

Here’s his gravestone, with his and his father’s names:


Perhaps most interesting to me is that this book is a philosophically inclined ethical treatise, a genre of literature that the Kotzker disdained, focusing instead on Talmud study (again, unlike many Hasidic rabbis).

Several weeks later, I came across the 1655 edition of זהרי חמה by Avraham Azulai (call number BM525A59 A9 1655). It’s missing the title page, but also contains the book stamp of R. Moshe Yerucham Morgenstern, son of the Kotzker Rebbe.

On the top of the front leaf, there is clearly the signature of Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. While this is the name of THE first Kotzker rebbe, I think it’s probably more likely that it’s a son of R. Moshe Yerucham.

Interestingly, this is a commentary on the classic of Kabbalah, the Zohar, another book which was deemphasized in the Kotzker curriculum.

NEA Newsletter, Fall 2016


The live links are available via PDF (Newsletter 2016-2 (PDF)) or below (note that if you’re a regular Jewish Studies @CUL reader, you might find some of them familiar!):

Since 1754: The study of Hebrew at Columbia (and a new acquisition)


Samuel Johnson’s Psalms

From its inception in 1754, the founders of Columbia University felt that the study of Hebrew was critical to understanding the classics.  Columbia’s collection includes founder Samuel Johnson’s own copy of a Hebrew-Latin psalms with the Hebrew alphabet written in his own hand.

Another professor in the 18th century was Johann Kunze, who taught Hebrew at Columbia from 1784-1787, and from 1792-1794.  Professor Kunze was well-known for his Hebrew scholarship far beyond Columbia.  He was also close with Gershom Seixas, a Columbia trustee (appointed 1784) and important Jewish figure of the colonial era.

While Kunze was in New York (he had previously taught Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania), he was also the pastor of the Trinity and Christ Church, the city’s only Lutheran house of worship.  Kunze authored the first Lutheran hymnbook in English.

When he was teaching Hebrew at Columbia College, the only Hebrew type to be found was at Cambridge, where another professor of Hebrew (at Harvard) had brought in from England so he could print his textbook.  In New York, however, Hebrew type was not easily attainable.  It seems that Professor Kunze handwrote a Hebrew grammar for his class (in Latin), from which a student copied (and translated) a copy for himself in May of 1796.

We are pleased to announce the acquisition of this manuscript to the Columbiana collection of the University.  This new manuscript is item 209 in the Columbiana manuscripts collection.

Research tips: CLIO filters and new Jewish Studies books

Are you interested in recent acquisitions in your area of interest?  CLIO has the ability to search all books in the collections, by date, subject, and even date acquired!  Knowing how to use CLIO filters can help you to see the most recent books that we’ve acquired for the collections.

  1. Begin a “blank” search in the Catalog (don’t put any words in; just click your cursor in the text box and hit Enter.  You’ll get the 10 million or so books that we currently have in the collection.
  2. From there, the fun begins. Look on the left at the filters.  If you scroll down, you’ll notice that there’s a filter called “Subject (Region).”  If you click on the “more” option, you’ll see one for Israel.  Click on that, and you’ll see the 17K records that we have for books about Israel
  3. Looking back at the filters, you’ll see another filter called “Acquisition Date.”  That filter will give you books cataloged within the last week, last month, last 6 months, or the last year.  If you choose 6 months, for instance, you’ll see that there were 400+ books about Israel added to the collection in the last six months.

Interested in what’s being published generally about the Jews?  Click on the filter for Subject “Jews,” and then go to the top and click the “x” on the subject for Israel – you’ll get everything that is listed with Jews in the catalog record, and you’ll see the 300+ books acquired in that area in the last six months.

You can also set up an RSS feed for the search by clicking on the orange RSS symbol next to the “Previous/Next” buttons above the search results.