Tag Archives: Bitton_Yoram

Hebrew mss @ CUL: The Whole Megillah

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Purim (March 8), here is a Megilat Esther from Columbia's Smith Collection.  Professor David Eugene Smith, a professor at Columbia's Teacher's College from 1901-1926, was a scholar in the History of Mathematics who went around the world collecting manuscripts and rare books related to his topic.  He spent a lot of time in Persia, studying the Persian system of mathematics.  While there, he also purchased some Hebrew manuscripts, like the Esther Scroll shown here, which he then donated to Columbia University.  The story of Esther, of course, takes place in ancient Persia, or present day Iran.

While other such decorated cases exist, it is rare to find one in such good condition due to the fragility of the ivory.

The second image, below, is the portion of the text with the names of the ten sons of Haman.



Thanks to a project with the National Library of Israel's Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, the manuscript can be viewed in its entirety here:


Hebrew Mss @ CUL: The Pope, the Sun King, and a Hebrew prayerbook in Southern France

Throughout the centuries leading up to the French Revolution, the Jews of France were alternatively expelled and invited back many times (the 14th and 17th centuries were particularly confusing in this regard).  Throughout this time, however, there were four cities that remained consistently safe for Jews.  Ironically (but perhaps not too surprisingly for those familiar with the history of the Jews of Rome), these were the papal territories of Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon, and Lisle-sur-Sorgue.  (While most remnants of these Jewish communities are gone today, the community of Carpentras is still known for the oldest synagogue in France.)

In gratitude to the various popes for allowing them to stay in their French territories, the Jews of these communities included a special prayer on Simhat Torah for the welfare of the Pope. 

[A bit of a tangent: Richard Gottheil, the first professor of Rabbinical Literature and the Semitic Languages at Columbia, would spend his summers in France, his wife’s homeland.  During his 1906 visit, Gottheil purchased some 32 mahzorim, 13 ketubot, and 11 community record books, all handwritten.  Columbia thus has a substantial collection of materials relating to these isolated communities.]

In 1688, due to various disagreements with Pope Innocent IX, King Louis XIV of France (also known as the Sun King), invaded the papal territories in southern France.  Thus it was that for two years, until Innocent died in 1689, the Jews prayed for the King rather than for the Pope.  A manuscript depicting this, from 1689, was recently up for auction.

Thanks to the generosity of the Alexander Foundation, you can now see this unique manuscript at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University.

Hebrew Mss @ CUL: Travels to India

Relacion delas noticias delos Judios de CochinThe manuscripts relating to Jewish Studies in the Columbia University Libraries are not limited to those in Hebrew.  This manuscript, written in Spanish in the 17th century, describes one of the far-flung communities of the Jewish diaspora: that of Cochin, India.  The author of the manuscript, Moses Pereyra de Paiva, traveled to Cochin with his friends, and wrote the story of his travels in this book, called Relacion delas noticias delos Judios de Cochin.  The printed edition first appeared, in Portuguese, in the city of Amsterdam, in 1687, followed by a Spanish translation.

CUL has a number of Spanish and Portuguese manuscripts produced in Amsterdam by Jews and Crypto-Jews who fled the Iberian Peninsula after the Expulsions in 1492 (Spain) and 1497 (Portugal), and throughout the period of the Inquisition.  (Keep an eye out for a special announcement relating to manuscripts in this genre!)

This is manuscript MS X893.19 P41, found in CLIO here: http://clio.cul.columbia.edu:7018/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=7518883.  Another manuscript describing the community of Cochin (in Hebrew) is a scroll, written about 100 years later, in 1781 (MS Plimpton Hebrew 004)

Image photography by Ardon Bar Hama.

Update: Due to discussion in the comments, I have added an image from MS Plimpton Hebrew 004, a manuscript which describes the Jews of Cochin in Hebrew, below.


Hebrew mss @ CUL: Pardes Rimonim

X893 P212 (1)Kabbalah, the subject of Jewish mysticism, is one discussed by many but understood by few.  One of the important Kabbalists of the 16th century was Moses Cordovero.  Moses Cordovero was a student of Joseph Caro, and one of the teachers of the famed Isaac Luria in Safed.  His first work, written at the age of 27, was the one you see above, called Pardes Rimonim.  This book contains a summary of Kabbalistic lore, and is a very important resource in the field.  (We also have three manuscripts of ‘Asis Rimonim by Samuel Gallico, which is a commentary on Cordovero’s text.)  The CUL Hebrew manuscript collection contains around 300 early Kabbalistic manuscripts.

This manuscript (call number: X893 P212) is particularly interesting, even to non-mystics, for the hunting scene depicted on the first leaf of the manuscript (click on the image to see it enlarged).  Did you notice the two faces peering out from the letters of the title?

Hebrew mss @ CUL: Notes on Incunabula

Nofet Tsufim 1The word manuscript comes from a combination of two Latin words (manu, meaning "hand"; and script, meaning "writing").  In the literal definition of the word, a manuscript is anything written by hand (as opposed to printed).  The manuscript you see in this post would not be found as part of our "Hebrew manuscript collection," but is a manuscript nonetheless.  This manuscript is one of four leaves bound with a printed book in RBML, the Nofet Zufim, by Judah Messer Leon, printed in Mantua between 1474 and 1476 (Call Number: Goff Heb-62).

Nofet Zufim is a unique work in its own right as a Hebrew incunable (one of the first books printed from the invention of the printing press through 1501), and is the first book printed in Hebrew during the lifetime of its author.  It was extremely controversial, a philosophical text which used texts from the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate Aristotelian rhetoric.  (Its author was later expelled from Mantua, after an argument with the famous 15th century rabbi, Joseph Colon, also known as the MaHaRIK). 

Columbia has 29 Hebrew incunabula in RBML.

But this series is supposed to discuss manuscripts, not printed works, and so I digress.  What’s fascinating about the manuscript attached here is that it’s a discussion of the history of early Hebrew printing.  You may notice the word in brackets, in Latin script, "Piobe de Sacco" – one of the two places that claim the very first dated Hebrew book, in this case an Arba Turim by Jacob ben Asher, which was completed on July 3, 1475 (the poem listed at the bottom of the manuscript comes from the colophon of the Arba Turim of Piove di Sacco).  This page has been dated to the 19th century, which gives us a glimpse into the research that was known at the time about early Hebrew printing.  Another page bound in with this book has been dated to the 18th century.

It also tells us a little bit about one of the owners of this book – at one point, this copy of the Nofet Zufim was owned by someone who was interested in it, not as a book of rhetoric, but rather as a rare specimen of the early days of Hebrew printing.

Ah, the stories books could tell, if they could but speak to us…

‘Ot Ha-berit

MS X893 T71, 10v-11r (Ot Ha-berit)

MS X893 T71, 11v-12r (Ot Ha-berit)

In 1824, a mohel and doctor named Yeḥezḳel Trish living in Lipník nad Bečvo (in the Czech Republic) received a gift from a man named Yonah Ḳaṿo.  It was a small manuscript book, which contained prayers and exquisitely detailed illustrations relating to his craft, that of circumcision. 

Two of the spreads are shown here.  The first image is one of Jerusalem, just below the prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Grace After Meals (which would have been said after the customary meal following the circumcision). 

The second image is the very last page of the manuscript, which seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the content.  This page contains a micrographic image of Solomon, seated, with three of his books (Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs) on the column in front of him.  Both Solomon and the column were drawn using the words from Song of Songs.

MS X893 T71, ‘Ot Ha-berit, is a very small manuscript, only 13 x 9 cm, but is certainly a breathtaking one.


Corfu Ketubah

MS X893 K51991 (Ketubah) smallOn Wednesday, February 23, 1820 (8 Adar 5580), Abraham son of Hayyim Shaptai and Esther, daughter of Jacob were married in Corfu.

This Ketubah (MS X893 K51991) is one of about 50 ketubot in the Columbia collection, of which about 20 are from Corfu.

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Jews have been known to live in Corfu from the 12th century until the present day, but the community was particularly vibrant from the 16th century until 1944, when 1800 Corfu Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

New “Series”: Hebrew Manuscripts at CUL

In recognition of the amazing work being done by Yoram Bitton, our Hebrew manuscript cataloger, and to let our users know about the wonderful treasures that we have hidden in our collection, Jewish Studies at CUL will be periodically posting an image and/or some information about a manuscript or rare book that we have in our Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Do you know about a manuscript that you’d like to hear more about? Let us know, and we’ll post on that one next!