Tag Archives: kabbalah

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.

Three kabbalistic “brother” manuscripts identified: Paris, London, and New York

The British Library is working on digitizing their complete (and incredible) collection of Hebrew manuscripts.  In the process of doing so, they have been asking scholars, experts in their various fields, to write articles on various aspects of the Hebrew manuscripts.  This was the case with a recent article written by noted Kabbalah scholar Yossi Chajes dealing with the British Library manuscripts.

When I saw the article, I was shocked!  One of the manuscripts described in the article, Add MS 27091 (created 1588), looked exactly like a Columbia manuscript, MS X893 C81 (created 1579)!  (See images below.)  Because the Columbia manuscript had been in the Hebrew Manuscripts exhibition in 2012, I had ready images available to compare the two images, and indeed, they looked nearly exactly alike.  The manuscripts were most likely created by the same scribe, nearly 10 years apart.

A scholar at the University of Haifa working on the Ilanot Project, Dr. Eliezer Baumgarten, then informed us that there was yet a third manuscript – of the same work, with the same images and style, produced by the same scribe – at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France (PARIS BN 864, created in 1577).

The full discussion took place on Twitter, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of some interesting scholarly work!

British Library’s Add MS 27091, f. 26r

120017_010, 1/23/12, 3:53 PM, 16C, 2942x3637 (1273+3805), 100%, bent 6 stops, 1/60 s, R66.1, G33.2, B43.8 CUL, Mac Pro, 10.6.7, Better Light 8K-2, Viewfinder 7.4.4, HID, TTI 45ei, Rodenstock 90mm/f5.6, ColorChecker

Columbia MS X893 C81 (32a-r)

Update: A fourth was identified in the Ilanot database (Bodleian Library MS Mich. 342), 1681!

Recent rare acquisitions in Judaica @ CUL

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)

Ilan Kadosh3. 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.”

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?