Tag Archives: manuscripts

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.

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!

New Acquisitions: Travels of Moise Vita Cafsuto

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…"

Yosef Yerushalmi Papers: Processed and available for research

The papers of noted Columbia professor, Yosef Yerushalmi, have now been processed and are mostly (with the exception of some closed correspondence) open for use in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Many thanks go to Jacob Goldwasser and Carrie Hintz for their tremendous work on the archive.

More information can be found in the finding aid, here: http://findingaids.cul.columbia.edu/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_6892527/summary

Yosef Yerushalmi was a Jewish historian and a professor of Jewish history, primarily at Harvard University and Columbia University. This collection includes most of his academic records and many of his personal records as well. This includes research, correspondence, and notes.

The collection varies greatly in its constitution. It contains some very personal correspondence, such as an anniversary card from Yerushalmi’s father in the late 1960s. It also contains some or Yerushalmi’s meticulous personal records, including a journal of his own experience undergoing psychoanalysis and various date books. It has a very full and comprehensive assortment of professional correspondences, including hundreds of hours of meeting minutes for “A Psychoanalytic Study of Anti-Semitism” and all of Yerushalmi’s correspondences as the president of the Leo Baeck Institute. The collection has very specific logistical information, even records of transportation for lectures and financial records.

The majority of the materials in the collection are in the form of correspondence. Even much of Yerushalmi’s research was correspondent in nature, as he often requested various materials from individuals and archives around the world. The other major component of the collection is Yerushalmi’s personal notes. This includes thousands of pages of lecture notes, class notes, and publication drafts. Yerushalmi lectured all around the world, but mainly at universities in the United States and Israel, and most of these speeches are well preserved in the collection. After a long and fruitful teaching career, Yerushalmi produced reams of notes to himself about what to discuss in class. In addition to his personal notes, there are actual tests that he administered to his students in the collection, as well as syllabi and grading sheets. He even saved some student papers and letters of recommendation. Yerushalmi was also a prolific writer, and draft upon draft of his publications lie in the collection.

The publication materials are in a few formats. In terms of linear feet, corrected drafts of manuscripts comprise the bulk of them. For each of the books that Yerushalmi wrote—and he wrote several—there are many versions, often in many languages, sent between him and his editors, with corrections from both entities. Some were reprinted in different editions, which begot even more manuscripts.

In order to produce these works, Yerushalmi relied heavily on research from primary sources for the most part. Much of his research was on the Jewish communities of the Middle Ages, and he saved thousands of photocopied primary documents, as well as photocopies of letters the Freud wrote used as research for Yerushalmi’s work Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable.

Hebrew Mss @ CUL: New Acquisition: Franchetti Family Archive

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.

New Database Acquisition: Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud text databank

I am pleased to announce the acquisition of a new database for the study of Talmud at Columbia, the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud text databank.  The databank includes typed transcriptions and images of nearly all of the critical manuscripts and early printings of the Talmud, to allow scholarly research of variants and alternate readings of the text (including the Columbia Talmud and the 10th century Menahot – shown here – from Columbia's collection).

The ultimate goal of the databank is to "encompass all primary textual witnesses of the Babylonian Talmud, including the manuscripts of the tractates of the Babylonian Talmud of Oriental, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, or Yemenite provenance, and first printed editions. It will include hundreds of Cairo Geniza and European binding fragments of the Babylonian Talmud, many as both text and digital image."

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

David Stern Lecture: The Lives of Jewish Books

As we near the close of physical version of The People in the Books (the online version will, of course remain online), we look forward to one more lecture dealing with Hebrew manuscripts.  On January 22, as part of the Grolier Club's Bibliography Week, Professor David Stern (University of Pennsylvania) will be speaking at Columbia on "The Lives of Jewish Books." 

The lecture will highlight two medieval manuscripts – one Ashkenazic and one Sephardic, and will describe the stories that they represent.  All are welcome to 523 Butler Library at 6 PM for the lecture.

Remember, the exhibit will close on January 25!  Hours for the exhibition are 9-4:45, Monday through Friday.

New Acquisitions: Bookdealers and Sabbateans


I am pleased to announce two new acquisitions for the Judaica collection at Columbia:

1) A small collection of materials from Judaica bookdealers around the world in the first part of the 20th century.  A brief description:

Collection of letters and ephemera relating to the Judaica book trade, most from 1926-1955.  The collection includes correspondence from all over the world, including Vienna, Lisbon, Italy, the United States, and Palestine/Israel.  It is notable as a rare glimpse into the world of pre-Holocaust collecting, as well as the early history of Jewish settlement in Palestine.  Notable bookdealers and collectors include Biegeleisen (New York), David Frankel (Vienna and New York), Yochanan and Abraham Rubenstein (Haifa), Efraim Keizer (Pressburg) Yehuda Idil Bialistotsky (Slonim), Rubin Mass (Jerusalem), etc.  The majority of the collection is in Hebrew, but other languages include English, German, and French.

This collection is very important for the study of the Jewish book trade in the pre-WWII era, when book dealers throughout the world were in constant communication with each other as well as other collectors in order to build libraries of Judaica.

2) A collection of letters relating to the controversy around Nehemiah Hayon, a 17th century Kabbalist who was accused of being a follower of the false messiah Sabbetai Zevi.  The controversy swirled around Italy and Holland, and many prominent rabbis were involved in the case.  An interesting letter in the collection also deals with "a woman of loose virtue."

Another manuscript dealing with the Sabbetai Zevi affair can be found in the current exhibit, "The People In the Books," which remains open through January 25 (note that the library will be open 12/26-28 for those who would like to visit during the holiday break).

As always, we welcome scholars to utilize our collections, especially our new acquisitions.


The People in the Books: Now open at Columbia and online

It is with great pleasure that I announce that Columbia’s exhibition of Hebrew and Judaic manuscripts, The People in the Books, is now open, through January 25, 2013.  The exhibit is free and open to the public during all RBML hours of operation. Entry is free, and handicapped accessible. Please bring valid government-issued photo ID for entry to Butler Library through the Library Information Office, just inside the front door. For entry on Monday evenings after 6:00, please have the Butler Door Guard call the RBML Reference Desk, (212) 854-5590.

For those who cannot make it to NYC, the exhibit is also available online here.  Note that the best way to view the exhibit is through both the online and the physical exhibitions.  A miniature Torah scroll in its own wooden case and a handwritten description of and cure for scurvy, for example, did not make it into the online exhibition, while the image shown here, of David playing the harp for King Saul, cannot be seen in the physical version, because the book in which it appears is open to a different page.

For more information about the exhibit or any of the manuscripts, please contact Michelle Chesner, Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies, at mc3395@columbia.edu or 212-854-8046.