Tag Archives: manuscripts

Hebrew mss @ CUL: The (Raphael Jesurun de) Spinoza autograph

The advantage to working in a collection such as Columbia's, with its very deep and diverse resources, is that new and interesting materials pop up almost daily.  A couple of months ago, I received a phone call that someone wanted to come and look at our Spinoza autograph. 

Columbia is home to the Oko-Gebhardt Spinoza collection, with nearly 4,000 volumes by and about Barukh/Benedict Spinoza.  Until the phone call, however, I did not know that any autographs by the controversial philosopher himself were present in our collection.  I hurried over to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where I saw the volume shown here.  It seemed a bit strange, as the text, Sefer ha-hinukh, is a work about the commandments of Judaism, but I speculated that perhaps this was something he owned very early in life, perhaps even as a child.

I emailed Professor Adriaan Offenberg in Amsterdam about the find, knowing that Professor Offenberg has done a tremendous amount of research on the subject, and that the only known autographs by Benedict Spinoza were in Amsterdam.  His response was tremendously helpful, and told a totally different story:

The signature shown here is actually in the hand of Raphael Jesurun de Spinoza, born around 1617, and also known as Bartholome Rodrigues Henriques.  His name is mentioned in the Portuguese Community of Amsterdam's archives between 1657 and 1673.   There are at least six known books that contain his signature, one of which, a Bible, caused a tremendous controversy in the 1950s, when a scholar published its manuscript notes assuming that it had belonged to Benedict Spinoza.  Dr. Leo Fuks, the librarian of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana at the time, published a very strong rebuttal in Dutch, in Amstelodamum (November 1959), which proved that the signature was not Benedict's.

No doubt Raphael Jesurun de Spinoza was an interesting figure as well, even if he wasn't the philosopher that I had hoped he would be.  Through him I learned a fascinating story about scholars and scholarship, and of the importance of thoroughly researching a topic before jumping to any conclusions.

Many thanks to Professor Offenberg for his help in demystifying this enigma.

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.

Online Resource: JDC Archives online

The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has been helping Jews around the world since its inception at the onset of World War I in 1914.  Its archives have long been a resource for scholars researching Jewish immigration, anti-semitism, Jewish aid, geneology, and many other topics.

Now, for the first time, the JDC Archives from 1914-1932 are available online here.

According to the website, "The vast digital collection contains searchable text collections from 1914-1932, a detailed interactive timeline, historically-themed exhibitions, over 45,000 photographs, findings aids, educational resources, relevant archives news and more. The JDC Archives houses one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history and attests to JDC's relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities from its inception in 1914 to the present."

The archive includes a text-searchable document database, photographs from over 70 countries, and a timeline of Jewish (and JDC) history by decade.

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: New Aquisitions in History

In February of 1988, the Library Columns, the publication of the Columbia University Libraries, had a note about a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Schaefler.  The donation described, among other items, "…fourteenth-century documents pertaining to commercial transactions of the Jewish community at Apt in Provence, France."  Six of these manuscripts have been digitized, and are now part of the Digital Scriptorium, a database of medieval and renaissance manuscripts from around the world.

This group of manuscripts was cataloged as Western MS 41A-F.

A month ago, thanks to the Alexander Foundation, the library was able to acquire six more "notarial documents relating to fourteenth century Jews of Apt, in Provence, France."  These documents have been added to the original group.

The new documents describe loans owed to specific Jews between 1382 and 1445.  These are important records for the economic interactions between Jews and Christians in Provence during this period.

Two new digital manuscript sites: Dead Sea Scrolls and Maimonides

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd exploring a cave in the Judean desert came across a fantastic treasure trove of Hebrew documents from the third to the first centuries BCE.  The Dead Sea Scrolls, as we now know them, are now the oldest known Biblical manuscripts in existence.  While they can be viewed today at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, or through various facsimile publications, they had never been accessible to the entire internet-connected world.  Until today.  As part of a project to make cultural artifacts accessible to everyone, Google has teamed up with photographer Ardon Bar Hama (who has worked with Columbia to photograph some of our most important manuscripts as well) to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls.  You can see the site in its glory here.

A second exciting digital project, also produced by Ardon Bar Hama, is the Maimonides project at the Bodleian Library, at Oxford University.  Oxford is the proud owner of a portion of Maimonides’ own copy of his legal corpus, the Mishneh Torah.  Following the wishes of a former owner, Eleazar, son of Perahya, that the manuscript "be kept available so that all scholars can correct their own version against it," the manuscript can now be viewed in its entirety online.

Hebrew Mss @ CUL: New Acquisitions in History and Literature

CUL is proud to announce the recent acquisition of two new manuscripts, both dealing with Sephardic Jewry, which were sold at a recent Kestenbaum and Company sale as part of the Alfonso Cassuto collection.

GEN_MS_221_012bThe first manuscript, from 1506 (left), is critical for the history of the Jews in Portugal.  The manuscript contains a register of properties owned by the "Count of Viana and Governor of the City of Septa."  This Count owned the areas which had been settled by the former Jewish community of Lisbon before their expulsion from Portugal only nine years earlier.  The manuscript describes the locations of the synagogue and other community buildings that were used by the Jewish community.  It is a critical manuscript for research in the pre-expulsion history of the Jews of Portugal.

This manuscript has recently been digitized to allow scholars from around the world to be able to use it in their research. 

It has been cataloged as General MS 221.

The second manuscript is a satire called Entermientos Gustozos, o Dialogos Burlescos, Entre un Judio, Turco, Reformado, y Catolico.  Authored by Abraham Gomez Silveira, a poet in Amsterdam in the early 1700s, the text describes a debate between a Jew, a Turk, a Protestant, and a Catholic, where each attempts to prove the supremacy of his own religion.  This manuscript was cited by Columbia professor Jonathan Schorsch in his Swimming the Christian Atlantic: Judeoconversos, Afroiberians and Amerindians in the Seventeenth-Century Iberian World (available electronically here or in Butler stacks: BR440 .S46 2009).

The manuscript has been cataloged as General MS 222.

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.


“New” old books at CUL

While Columbia’s collection of Jewish Studies materials in its Rare Book and Manuscript Library is already extensive, we are still actively collecting "new" materials for our collection.

Two recent purchases were made with the help of the Rabbi Nathan Stern fund for Semitic Studies:

1) A manuscript "Commonplace book" from America, c.1825, which includes  "the beginning of a projected substantial Latin-Hebrew dictionary of verbs; Hebrew added only through "C"."  The Hebrew language was an important subject at Columbia from its founding.  The University Archives has a Hebrew-Latin Psalms owned by Samuel Johnson, with Johnson’s handwritten notes in Hebrew square letters.  Johnson was an advocate of the study of Hebrew in the 18th century.

(Call Number: Ms General 199; http://clio.cul.columbia.edu:7018/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=8088878)

2) "Duo volumina epistolarum obscurorum virorum : ad Dominum M. Ortuinum Gratium, attico lepôre referta, denuò excusa, & à mendis repurgata : quibus ob stili et argumenti similitudinem adiecimus in calce dialogum mirè festiuum, eruditis salibus refertum."

This book, written in Latin and published in 1581, is also about the Hebrew language.  It is a series of satirical letters (written anonymously, but attributed to Crotus Rubeanus and Ulrich von Hutten according to recent scholarship) defending the study of Hebrew.  All authors, readers, and disseminators of this book were excommunicated by Pope Leo X.

(Call Number (temp.): 8640042; http://clio.cul.columbia.edu:7018/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=8640042)