It has been a busy year for Judaica acquisitions at the Columbia RBML. Three important acquisitions have been added to our collection:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The past few months have been busy for us, as we’ve acquired a number of new rare books and manuscripts for the Columbia RBML:
1. Divre Rivot – A compilation of various disputes and discussions relating to customs that took place in Mantua in the late 16th and 17th centuries. The wealthy members of the community took it upon themselves to arbitrate disputes and wrote copious records about them. An excellent resource for research in early modern Mantua (Hebrew with some Italian).
2. Adding to a number of autograph manuscripts that we have by the 19th century Italian philosopher Samuel David Luzzatto is a treatise on theology and Aramaic grammar. (Italian with some Hebrew)
3. We are very grateful for a donation of an Ilan Kadosh (see image, left) to our manuscript collection. Information about this scroll will be added to the Ilanot Database.
4. A manuscript describing a massive fire in the city of “Cairo” (קירו), in Italy in 1768 and praising God for the miracles that occurred there (nobody was harmed, the fire was out before Shabbat, etc.)
5. Mid-19th century letters of recommendation for a charity collector from Tzefat (Safed) who traveled to Italy and France and received recommendations in many towns throughout (towns mentioned include Genoa, Ferrara, Firenze, Livorno, and Sabbioneta). The collector also included his own diary of his travels, beginning with the day that “I travel to Italy.”
In 1733, a man from Firenze, in Italy, named Moise (Moses) Vita (Hayyim) Cafsuto (Cassuto) set off on a journey to the Holy Land. He kept a diary of his travels throughout the Middle East, where he noted interesting sites (specifically Jewish ones, like graves and synagogues) and scenes along his journey. We recently acquired a copy of this manuscript, in Italian with Hebrew blurbs for sites of Jewish interest. It is an interesting journey of travels in general, but also specifically for Jewish "Biblical tours." In one instance, for example, the author describes how he and his fellow travelers found "Har Ha-har," the site of the Biblical Aaron's burial. He describes the site as containing a "cave, where there are writings said to be in Arabic on a great stone of marble, and there is an everlasting candle…"
I am pleased to announce the acquisition of manuscripts from the archive of the Franchetti family. The Franchettis were hatmakers, originally from Mantua, who moved to Tunis and established their hat business there. The business quickly became global, with connections in Leghorn/Livorno and Izmir. This new collection includes 8 volumes of business correspondence and records.
The Franchetti family is also mentioned as members of the Scuola Grande of Mantua in the archives of the synagogue, which are also held here at Columbia.
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."
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.
Update: More information about Moses Benjamin Foa (in Italian) can be found here. Many thanks to Francesco Spagnolo of the Magnes.