Tag Archives: American

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.

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.

Eight early American Jewish Newspapers, now available digitally!

I am pleased to announce that the following Early American newspapers are now available digitally through the following links.  With the exception of the American Israelite and American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger, all newspapers are freely available through the Historical Jewish Press website

Columbia is very proud to have been involved, with New York University and the New York Public Library, in helping the American Jewish Press to be added to the Historical Jewish Press’s corpus.  We look forward to continuing this collaboration in the years to come.

In English:
  1. Occident and American Jewish Advocate: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/The-Occident-and-American-Jewish-Advocate.aspx
  2. B’nai Brith Messenger: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/BBM.aspx
  3. Chicago Sentinel: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/Sentinal.aspx
  4. American Israelite: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio11136600
  5. American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio11136586

In Ladino:

  1. La America: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/la-amirica.aspx.
  2. El Progreso: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/epo.aspx

In Yiddish:

  1. Morgen Zjournal: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/The-Jewish-Morning-Journal.aspx
  2. Die Wahrheit: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/Die-Warheit.aspx

Keep an eye on the Jewish Press in the USA section of the site, as there will be more newspapers added in the future!

Primary sources in American Jewish History

The Penn Libraries have launched a new website, the Gershwind-Bennett Isaac Leeser Digitization Project, featuring access to the personal papers and publications of Isaac Leeser, widely regarded as the foremost American Jewish leader in antebellum America

The Leeser site, developed as an international partnership over the course of seven years, is the first of a number of planned digital initiatives as part of the Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project.  The Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project, founded in 2006, is an international initiative to integrate digital technologies into the way we study early American Jewry.  Its primary goal is to create an open access digital repository or “genizah” of physically dispersed primary sources that document the development of Jewish life in the western hemisphere from the 16th-19th centuries.

This looks to be a wonderful new primary source resource in the history of the Jews in the Western Hemisphere.

New Resource: Early New York Synagogue Archives

Early New York Synagogue Archives

Synagogue records, as records of a particular community in a particular place, can contain tremendous gems for scholarship in Jewish history.  Thanks to a wonderful collaboration between the The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish Historical Society, the records of five of the most important synagogues in New York City are being made available freely online via the Early New York Synagogue Archives portal.  The portal contains records from the Sherith Israel, B'nai Jeshrun, Ansche Chesed, Kane Street, and Eldridge Street Synagogues and date from the 1730s through the 20th century.

Updated Resource: The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People

"The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) were established in 1939. They hold the archives of hundreds of Jewish communities, as well as of local, national and international Jewish organizations and the private collections of many outstanding Jewish personalities. The Archives now hold the most extensive collection of documents, pinkassim (registers) and other records of Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the present day."

The Central Archives, located in Jerusalem, is a tremendous resource for the history of the Jews all over the world.  In the past, however, it was sometimes hard to find what the collection held, as the collections are so vast and deep.  Recently, the Central Archives has put together some wonderful new finding aids (by creator organization, by Jewish community location, and by donor) which should make the search for Jewish community records much easier.  See below for an important list of recently processed (and soon-to-be processed) collections.



- Polish Sources at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People – a digital updated version of the 2004 printed guide (16th - 20th Century)

A-L: http://cahjp.huji.ac.il/webfm_send/1005 

M-Z: http://cahjp.huji.ac.il/webfm_send/1006 

- Guía de documentos de Comunidades e instituciones en el Archivo Central de la Historia del Pueblo Judío, Jerusalén http://cahjp.huji.ac.il/sites/default/files/Judaismo%20Latinoamericano.pdf


Algeria – Jewish Communities, 1795 - 1962 (244 files) http://cahjp.huji.ac.il/webfm_send/1007

Argentina – Jewish Communities and Organizations, 1894 - 2008 (380 files)

Brazil – Jewish Communities, Organizations and Schools, 1886 - 1979 (260 files)

Ecuador – Jewish Communities and Organizations, 1915 - 1972 (200 files)

El Salvador – Communities and Zionist Organizations, 1935 - 1975 (39 files)


Floss Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (Germany), 1687 - 1938 (147 files)

Izmir (Smyrna) Jewish Community (Turkey), 1760 - 1970 (ca. 1000 files)

Le Tribunal Rabbinique de Mogador et sa Region (Morocco), 1919 - 1966 (26 files)


American Jewish Organizations, 1866 - 1972 (300 files) http://cahjp.huji.ac.il/webfm_send/793

Gesamtdeutsche Organisationen, Verbände und Vereine, 1844 - 1970 (272 files)


Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund (D.I.G.B.), 1868 - 1930 (47 files)

JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization), Bavaria – Community Property (221 files)

JRSO Berlin – Administration, 1947-1974 (579 files)

JRSO Hessen – Community Property (426 files)


Elias Tcherikower, 1917 - 1928 (575 files)

Ismar Freund Library



- Colombia – Jewish Communities and Organizations

- Venezuela – Jewish Communities and Organizations

- Worms Jewish Community (Germany)

- Thessaloniki Jewish Community (Greece)

- Judah Leib Magnes Private Collection

- Ismar Freund Private Collection

- Yitzhak F. Baer Private Collection

Digital Exhibition: Leaving Europe: A New Life in America

Cambridge, MA, USA / The Hague, Netherlands, 18 December 2012 – 

To mark the beginning of a unique digital collaboration, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Europeana are pleased to announce the launch of Leaving Europe: A new life in America.


The all-new virtual exhibition tells the story of European emigration to the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Jointly curated by the two digital libraries, the exhibition uses photographs, manuscripts, broadsheets, paintings, letters, audio, government documents and other unique materials to chart people's journeys across the European continent and their settlement in the United States. The digital items displayed are from U.S. and European libraries, museums and archives and the accompanying narrative has been commissioned specially for the exhibition from U.S. and European experts.  
The DPLA and Europeana—guided by a common mission to make the riches of libraries, museums, and archives openly available to everyone in the world—collaborated regularly with curators, content partners, project staff, and others to design and build the exhibition cooperatively. Leaving Europe: A new life in America represents the starting point of a significant long-term relationship between the two digital libraries.

Over 30 million Europeans, from as far north as Scandinavia and as far south as Sicily, set sail to America in the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. The exhibition, organized across seven major themes, describes the experiences that different groups of hopeful immigrants from across Europe faced. The exhibition allows the virtual visitor to accompany them on their often difficult journey from their native region and country, across the Atlantic and into the ports, cities and local communities of the United States.

Leaving Europe: A new life in America is presented in French and English and features over 100 rare digitized items, many of which have not been made available before. Europeana's contributing partners to the exhibition include the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Jewish Museum of London, the Royal Library of the Netherlands, the Saxon State Library and the Norwegian Photo Archives. The DPLA's contributors include the New York Public Library, Harvard University, The (U.S.) National Archives and Records Administration, and the University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center.
Some of the stories told in the exhibit include:
The Homeland of Migrating Groups
Departure and Crossing: Ports of Departure and Shipping Companies
Life in America: Work

November 8: A Bundle of Comics: Graphic Narratives from The Jewish Daily Forward’d Bintl Brief

On November 8, at 6 PM, Liana Finck will be discussing and showing her graphic artistry based on the letters to the editor from the Jewish Daily Forward's Bintl Brief.  A poignant collection of stories from the early 20th century, the Bintl Brief was the "letters to the editor" that highlighted the immigrant Jewish experience in America.  Also speaking will be Samuel Norich, the publisher of the Forward, and Rutgers University Professor Edward Portnoy, an expert on Yiddish popular culture.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Jewish Daily Forward.

Online Resource: JDC Archives online

The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has been helping Jews around the world since its inception at the onset of World War I in 1914.  Its archives have long been a resource for scholars researching Jewish immigration, anti-semitism, Jewish aid, geneology, and many other topics.

Now, for the first time, the JDC Archives from 1914-1932 are available online here.

According to the website, "The vast digital collection contains searchable text collections from 1914-1932, a detailed interactive timeline, historically-themed exhibitions, over 45,000 photographs, findings aids, educational resources, relevant archives news and more. The JDC Archives houses one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history and attests to JDC's relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities from its inception in 1914 to the present."

The archive includes a text-searchable document database, photographs from over 70 countries, and a timeline of Jewish (and JDC) history by decade.

General Grant and the Jews: The Election of 1868 and the Origins of Jewish Politics in the United States

Alexander Lecture 2011 - Poster

Please join us for the very first Norman E. Alexander Lecture in Jewish Studies on October 3. 

Jonathan Sarna was named the "Official Historian" of the 350th Anniversary of Jews in America, and we are very excited to be hosting him at Columbia. 

We are very grateful for the generous gift of the Norman E. Alexander foundation, which established the Norman E. Alexander Library of Jewish Studies, and will be supporting this event.

Update: You can now see the lecture here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yvrxX7r14w