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.

Isaac Newton’s Josephus (and others) at Columbia

Columbia’s printed Judaica collection is composed of many different books, each with their own story to tell.  Unfortunately, however, only about 1/3 of our books were actually in our online catalog.  To rectify this, we hired Hannah Vaitsblit, a Barnard student who has been carefully checking every Judaica book in our rare stacks to make sure that they are cataloged and thus accessible and known to any potential users.  One of the things that Hannah has excelled at is marking instances of provenance, that is, notes indicating ownership of the book throughout its existence.  One of the books that Hannah found was a Latin copy of Josephus’s De Bello Judaica (Wars of the Jews), printed in Cologne in 1559.  Hannah indicated the presence of the bookplate shown here, noting the presence of the “Philosophemur” Newton plateshield as well as the Case information below it as she entered the record for the book into CLIO.

The record was discovered by Newton scholar Professor Stephen Snobelen, who contacted us asking for more information about the book.  He asked us if there was an indicator of “A3-21,” which was the classmark for this book in the Musgrave library (one of the libraries that owned Newton’s books).

A note on Professor Snobelen’s depth of research: Hannah had originally transcribed the last word in the text on the bottom of the plate as “Barusleer.”  Since Prof. Snobelen is well versed in the travels of Newton’s library (described further below), he asked if it was possible that the text read “Barnsley.”  A careful viewer can see that either reading is possible, but we know now that it was the latter.

After Isaac Newton’s death, John Huggins, his neighbor, purchased the library for £300.  (His bookplate can be seen peeking out underneath the “Philosophemur” plate.)  The collection went from Huggins to his son Charles, and from Charles Huggins to James Musgrave, whose bookplate is seen above, with the family motto, “Philosophemur.” The library remained in the Musgrave family for generations, moving with them in 1778 to Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, where the new classmarks were added in ink (on the bottom of the plate).  The library was partially sold at auction in 1920, when it is likely that this book entered the market, ultimately ending up at Columbia in 1922.

Columbia has several other bound works already known to have belonged to Newton (note that the first codex includes five volumes bound together):

SMITH 512.2 1690 R18: (a) Analysis aequationum universalis seu ad aequationes algebraicas resolvendas methodus generalis, et expedita, ex nova infinitarum serierum doctrina deducta ac demostrata, by Joseph Raphson (London, 1690).  This book was presentated to Newton by the author, and includes the author’s inscription and initials (b) Methodes nouvelles et abbregees pour l’extraction et l’approximation des racines et pour resoudre par le cercle et la ligne droite, plusieurs problemes solides & sursolides by Thomas Fantet de Langny (Paris, 1692) (c) Christiani Hugenii…Astroscopia compendiaria, tubi optici molimine literata, by Christiaan Huygens (Hague, 1684) (d) (d) Reglement ordonné par le roy pour l’Académie royale des sciences du 26 de janvier 1699 (Paris 1699) (e) Abregé des observations & des reflexions svr la comete qui a paru au mois de decembre 1680, & aux mois de ianvier, fevrier, & mars de cette anneé 1681, by Giovanni Cassini (Paris, 1681)

SMITH 930 1587 Z75: Historia rervm in Oriente gestarvm ab exordio mvndi et orbe condito ad nostra haec vsqve tempora (Francof. ad Moenum, 1587)

PLIMPTON 520 1651 W72: Harmonicon coeleste : or, The cœlestiall harmony of the visible world (London, 1651)

You can read the stories of some other discoveries of Newton books at the Huntington Library (Mede’s Works), at the King’s C ollege Library (interestingly, a Hebrew lexicon), at the University of Michigan‘s library, and at Cardiff University.