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:

(Source: http://www.ivelt.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=215545)

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:

(Source: http://cemetery.jewish.org.pl/id_84122/info/back_1:0/__Morgenstern.html)

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.

Italian Jewish Community Broadsides – now digitized!

As posted earlier this year, we had acquired 40 broadsides and other pamphlets containing regulations pertaining to the Italian Jewish community.  I am pleased to announce that these pamphlets have now been digitized, and are fully available in Columbia’s Digital Library Collections. Each item is searchable with the first words (in Italian) of the document, as well as an English summary.  Dates and locations were included where known.

Included in the collection are regulations regarding Jewish firefighters, merchants, taxes to be paid by Jews, talking in the synagogue, throwing of candy (!), and much more!

If you’re interested in broadsides relating to various Jewish communities, be sure to also take a look at the Valmadonna Broadsides collection, which contains over 500 broadsides (only two of Columbia’s broadsides are duplicated there).  We look forward to making more unique broadsides available in the future.

CUL, Mac Pro, OS X, 10.6.8, Phase One P40, Capture One 7.1, Profoto Strobes, Schneider 80mm LS /f2.8, ColorChecker

Venice, 1731.  Jews are prohibited from shouting

New Acquisition: Kotar (Hebrew e-books from Israeli presses)

A collaboration of leading Israeli publishers, Kotar is a large collection of reference materials, scholarly books, biographies, and other materials related to Israeli and Jewish topics. Kotar aims to provide students, teachers, and scholars with the best sources of information published over the last 50 years in Hebrew, along with an online work environment. Kotar resources span Israel studies; Israeli culture, literature, history, education, and sociology; and other selected topics in the humanities and social sciences.

It is now available here: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio11895583 to Columbia affiliates with a uni and password

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