Tag Archives: Hebrew_printing

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.

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!

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.

Discoveries in the vault – a book collector’s book

One of the wonderful things about being the first librarian for Jewish Studies at Columbia is the constant discovery that takes place as I research and document the history of the Judaica collection.  In the process of reviewing a list of Hebrew books in the Columbia Manuscript Room (which included both rare printed books and manuscripts) circa 1922, I discovered a note on this record for a 16th century mahzor of the Roman rite:

“Parchment leaf before t.-p. of v. 2 contains a poem in ms. by Moses Benjamin Foa.”

First page of Foa’s poem

Well, who was Moses Benjamin Foa?  It turns out that he was an important 18th century bookdealer and collector in Reggio Emilia (Italy), who not only sold books to the ducal library of Mantua, but also bought and donated to his home community of Reggio Emilia the library of Israel Benjamin Bassano, another noted book collector and scholar.

Considering Columbia’s recent purchase of an entire archive of early 20th century Hebrew book dealers’ letters and documents, it is nice to know that Columbia’s book dealer collection goes back at least two hundred years earlier.

Any further insight into Moses Benjamin Foa or Israel Benjamin Bassano (perhaps Bassani?) would be greatly appreciated.

Second page of the poem.

Update: More information about Moses Benjamin Foa (in Italian) can be found here.  Many thanks to Francesco Spagnolo of the Magnes.

Lecture: “Defining a Field: Jewish Books in the Age of Print”


All programs are in Room 523, Butler Library, on the Columbia campus.  Start time is 6:00 PM.

For more information about the Book History Colloquium, please contact Karla Nielsen (kn2300@columbia.edu)

April 19, 2012

Emile Schrijver (University of Amsterdam)

"Defining a Field: Jewish Books in the Age of Print"

The study of the Jewish book since the invention of printing has developed from a rather traditional, descriptive bibliographical discipline into an independent field of research in which the book is studied as an expression of Jewish culture and as an instrument for the transmission of Jewish and non-Jewish knowledge. The foundations for this new field were laid in medieval book research, in the fields of Hebrew codicology and Jewish art, to be more specific. In particular the leading medievalists Malachi Beit-Arié and Colette Sirat have defined new fundamental research questions, which are closely related to, and often precede modern research into non-Jewish medieval books. Their research is based on the careful study of large corpora of carefully selected primary source material, but is not limited to descriptive work. They have produced a number of monographs in which more fundamental research questions have been dealt with. For the centuries since the invention of printing a comparable development may be observed, but the results are not as definitive yet as those achieved for medieval Hebrew manuscripts. This lecture will address some of the pertinent methodological issues.

Emile G.L. Schrijver  is curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish special collection at the University of Amsterdam. He is also a curator of the private Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books in Zurich, Switzerland. He is an expert of post?medieval Hebrew manuscripts and printed books and has published and lectured extensively on both topics. He has written a number of introductions to facsimile editions of Hebrew manuscripts and has published numerous auction and exhibition catalogues, most recently (2009, co-edited with Evelyn M. Cohen and Sharon Liberman Mintz) A Journey through Jewish Worlds. Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books. A German version of this catalogue, entitled "Schöne Seiten: Jüdische Schriftkultur aus der Braginsky Collection", accompanies an exhibition in the Landesmuseum in Zurich (25 Nov 2011 – 11 March 2012). He serves on boards and advisory committees of numerous Jewish cultural organizations in and outside the Netherlands.

RAMBI: The Index to Articles in Jewish Studies

One of the first things to do before embarking on any research is to check the current work on the topic being studied.  In many cases, this can be very daunting: How do I find what has already been done?  Sure, I can check CLIO to see if there are books published in my area of interest, but it can be hard to tell from the title or subjects listed in a CLIO record whether a book is relevant to my research.  This can become especially hard with journals or edited volumes, which don’t include the titles of every chapter or article in the CLIO record.

For example:

Let’s say I am interested in finding out more information about a book printed in Mantua in 1474, called Nofet Tsufim.  A search of CLIO for "Nofet Tsufim" as a keyword leads to seven books, two of which are relevant.  It turns out that the two records are really for the same book, one of which is at Burke, and one at Butler.  Okay, this is definitely a start.  The book is a reprint of the original, with some comments in the introduction that are helpful for understanding the background of the book’s printing.  But where do I go now for more information?

The answer is RAMBI.  RAMBI has indexed (i.e. created a catalog record) for nearly every article or chapter dealing with Jewish Studies.  When I put the same keywords in my search in RAMBI ("Nofet Tsufim"), I got 5 results, all of which were relevant to my research, and all from books/journals that I never would have picked up otherwise in my searching (Frank Talmage Memorial Volume, Prooftexts, Rhetorica, etc.).  The results list the year and page numbers where my articles are found, and so all I have to do is check CLIO to see if we have it, and if we don’t, I can request a PDF copy of the chapter or article via Interlibrary Loan.

New Resource: Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book

I am pleased to announce that Columbia University Libraries has recently purchased the Vinograd Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book.  This database, available only on DVD, is a very-much updated version of the print edition (located in Butler Reference: R016.4924 V56).  This searchable database lists of all books printed in Hebrew characters from 1468-1948 (including Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic).

The database lists title, author, publication information (date, place, and printer), and pagination, as well as the source for the identification of the book (sometimes this is a reference work; sometimes it is a physical library).  Additional notes, indicating language (if other than Hebrew) and previous auction sale information, are very useful.  It is a very good resource for finding and identifying Hebrew-script books, and, used in conjunction with the Bibliography of the Hebrew Book (available only from a Columbia computer), is invaluable for research in the Hebrew book.

The DVD can be accessed by contacting Michelle Chesner, Librarian for Jewish Studies (mc3395@columbia.edu; 212-854-8046).

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…

The Jewish Book: Past, Present, Future (Symposium at CJH)

What makes a Jewish book?

Who are the People of the Book?


How have Jewish books changed with changes in technology?


The "history of the book" is a lively field of historical scholarship that looks at authorship, publication, and dissemination of texts of all kinds as windows onto culture and society in different periods and places. Book history also plumbs the relationships between writers, scribes, printers, and readers. Join us on April 3 at 1 PM as an international group of scholars examine the contours of Jewish identity through the study of texts in Hebrew and other Jewish languages, and of the Jews and non-Jews who produced and consumed them.




What was a Jewish Book? Perspectives from Three Periods in History

Moderator: Adam Shear, University of Pittsburgh

Panelists: Katrin Kogman-Appel, Ben-Gurion University

Menahem Schmelzer, Jewish Theological Seminary

Gennady Estraikh, New York University


Texts and Cultures: Three Case Studies

Moderator: Marjorie Lehman, Jewish Theological Seminary

Panelists: David Stern, University of Pennsylvania

Elisheva Carlebach, Columbia University

Jeremy Stolow, Concordia University


The Future of the Jewish Book

Moderator: Jonathan Karp, American Jewish Historical Society

Panelists: Jeffrey Shandler, Rutgers University

Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine

Eliyahu Stern, Yale University




The program will be followed by a wine and cheese reception and viewing of the exhibition Zero to Ten: First Decades/New Centuries: Highlights from the Collections at the Center for Jewish History


Ticket Info: $20 general; $15 CJH, partner and Association for Jewish Studies members; $8 students and seniors


Presented by CJH Lillian Goldman Scholars Working Group on the Jewish Book.  This program is made possible by the generous support of Amy P. Goldman and the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust and presented by the Lillian Goldman Scholars Working Group on the Jewish Book in collaboration with the Jewish Book Council, the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University and the Columbia University Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies.


For more info, or to order tickets, go here: http://www.cjh.org/event/1759


New Database: Bibliography of the Hebrew Book

I am very pleased to announce the addition of a new database to Columbia's Jewish Studies collection, the Bibliography of the Hebrew Book.  This exceptional resource is a detailed database of approximately 90% of the books printed in Hebrew letters between 1470 and 1960 (Ladino and Judeo-Arabic books are all included; Yiddish books are not – although the database does include books printed in both Hebrew and Yiddish)   The database includes more than 141,000 titles, often with extensive bibliographic information (textual variants, unique pagination, etc.) about the individual books included in the records.

Much of the database, including the records themselves, are in Hebrew.  For help with the site, feel free to contact the Jewish Studies Librarian (jewishstudies@libraries.cul.columbia.edu).

At this point, a proxy (for offsite access) is not yet available.  From a Columbia computer, you can access the site at http://www.hebrew-bibliography.com/loginform.aspx. (I will update when off-site access has been established.)

Update: The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book is now freely available online through the National Library of Israel.