Tag Archives: Primary Sources

Exposing the Hidden: Highlights from CUL’s rare printed Hebraica

Happy New Year!

December 2016 marked the end of a three year project to catalog Columbia’s rare Hebraica and Judaica collections.  While Columbia has been collecting Judaica since its inception (with a donation from Kings’ College founder Samuel Johnson that included his Hebrew-Latin Psalms), many of the books were left uncataloged due to lack of expertise and Hebrew knowledge among the Library staff over the centuries.

This was rectified with the creation of the Norman E. Alexander Library in 2010.  The NEA Library hired three successive students from 2013 to 2016: Kelila Kahane (BC ’14), Hannah Vaitsblit (BC ’16), and Avinoam Stillman (CC ’17).  The students were trained in copy cataloging (that is, the identification of pre-existing records that matched the books they analyzed) and copy specific cataloging.  The students examined the shelves that included Judaica, book by book, and checked CLIO to see if there were any electronic records for the books.  If not, they created a record for the books and added copy specific information (unusual bindings, owners’ marks, bookplates, etc.).  It was this project that identified a book in Columbia’s holdings formerly owned by Isaac Newton, and many other significant previous owners were identified as well.

The project included both Hebraica non-Hebrew Judaica, but the work done is best exemplified with the Hebrew imprints: We have over 2,200 books containing Hebrew printed from the invention of moveable type until 1800 at Columbia.  By the end of the project, over 1,000 records had been added or significantly updated to describe copy specific information, such as owners’ signatures, to the records.

Many gems were discovered over the course of the work, including the Newton book identified above, but also many other important previous owners, such as:

Some work remains, such as the creation of a detailed catalog record for Columbia’s 22 volumes of the Bomberg Talmud, but that should be completed by the end of the Spring semester.

Many, many thanks to the great work of Kelila, Hannah, and Avinoam – thanks to them, our “hidden” collection of Judaica imprint is no longer hidden, but is now completely open for scholarly use!

Since 1754: The study of Hebrew at Columbia (and a new acquisition)

johnsons-psaltorum-uncat

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.

Adventures in the Stacks: Everything Old is New Again

The wonderful thing about Columbia’s rare Judaica collection is that there is so much yet to be discovered – and rediscovered!  A brief foray into the RBML rare stacks always yields wonderful stories.  A couple of weeks ago, I began looking at some of the very largest rare Hebrew books, trying to see if any of them contained clues to the collection’s history.  Opening a Mahzor (Call number: B893.17 J68 F, published 1599, Venice), I B893.17 J68 Fsaw an extensive listing of family history, in what looked like two hands, covering half a century, from 1801-1857.  Intrigued, I saved the image, bearing in mind that I’d want to do further research at a later time.

Today, however, in doing other research about Joseph Almanzi (whose collection was sold to Temple Emanu-el in 1872 and gifted to Columbia in 1892), I found an article by former Professor of Rabbinical Literature and the Semitic Languages at Columbia, Richard Gottheil, which discussed this exact book and its handwritten contents!  The article (written in 1893 in the Jewish Quarterly Review and accessible to Columbia affiliates via JSTOR) carefully lists the Almanzi family’s dates of birth and death, as noted by father Barukh and son Joseph:

“Birth: Giuseppi Al., 25 Marzo, 1801.
Rosa Al., 27th Feb., 1802.
Ja’qob Elisha Al., 2nd Feb., 1804.
Died 19th Feb. 1853.
Ribhka Al., 19th Feb., 1806.
Miriam Al., 28th June, 1810.
Hanna Al., 12th August, 1812.
Died 1830.
Writing of Baruch up to No. 8, who died 12th May, 1837.
The writing of Giuseppi on his mother, who died 2nd Feb., 1857.”

Joseph (Giuseppi) died a short three years after his mother, in 1860.  His collection, of course, lives long after him.

New Acquisitions: Prague history, 15th c. Yiddish medicine, and Italian Broadsides

It has been a busy year for Judaica acquisitions at the Columbia RBML.  Three important acquisitions have been added to our collection:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

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.

Isaac Newton’s Josephus (and others) at Columbia

Columbia’s printed Judaica collection is composed of many different books, each with their own story to tell.  Unfortunately, however, only about 1/3 of our books were actually in our online catalog.  To rectify this, we hired Hannah Vaitsblit, a Barnard student who has been carefully checking every Judaica book in our rare stacks to make sure that they are cataloged and thus accessible and known to any potential users.  One of the things that Hannah has excelled at is marking instances of provenance, that is, notes indicating ownership of the book throughout its existence.  One of the books that Hannah found was a Latin copy of Josephus’s De Bello Judaica (Wars of the Jews), printed in Cologne in 1559.  Hannah indicated the presence of the bookplate shown here, noting the presence of the “Philosophemur” Newton plateshield as well as the Case information below it as she entered the record for the book into CLIO.

The record was discovered by Newton scholar Professor Stephen Snobelen, who contacted us asking for more information about the book.  He asked us if there was an indicator of “A3-21,” which was the classmark for this book in the Musgrave library (one of the libraries that owned Newton’s books).

A note on Professor Snobelen’s depth of research: Hannah had originally transcribed the last word in the text on the bottom of the plate as “Barusleer.”  Since Prof. Snobelen is well versed in the travels of Newton’s library (described further below), he asked if it was possible that the text read “Barnsley.”  A careful viewer can see that either reading is possible, but we know now that it was the latter.

After Isaac Newton’s death, John Huggins, his neighbor, purchased the library for £300.  (His bookplate can be seen peeking out underneath the “Philosophemur” plate.)  The collection went from Huggins to his son Charles, and from Charles Huggins to James Musgrave, whose bookplate is seen above, with the family motto, “Philosophemur.” The library remained in the Musgrave family for generations, moving with them in 1778 to Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, where the new classmarks were added in ink (on the bottom of the plate).  The library was partially sold at auction in 1920, when it is likely that this book entered the market, ultimately ending up at Columbia in 1922.

Columbia has several other bound works already known to have belonged to Newton (note that the first codex includes five volumes bound together):

SMITH 512.2 1690 R18: (a) Analysis aequationum universalis seu ad aequationes algebraicas resolvendas methodus generalis, et expedita, ex nova infinitarum serierum doctrina deducta ac demostrata, by Joseph Raphson (London, 1690).  This book was presentated to Newton by the author, and includes the author’s inscription and initials (b) Methodes nouvelles et abbregees pour l’extraction et l’approximation des racines et pour resoudre par le cercle et la ligne droite, plusieurs problemes solides & sursolides by Thomas Fantet de Langny (Paris, 1692) (c) Christiani Hugenii…Astroscopia compendiaria, tubi optici molimine literata, by Christiaan Huygens (Hague, 1684) (d) (d) Reglement ordonné par le roy pour l’Académie royale des sciences du 26 de janvier 1699 (Paris 1699) (e) Abregé des observations & des reflexions svr la comete qui a paru au mois de decembre 1680, & aux mois de ianvier, fevrier, & mars de cette anneé 1681, by Giovanni Cassini (Paris, 1681)

SMITH 930 1587 Z75: Historia rervm in Oriente gestarvm ab exordio mvndi et orbe condito ad nostra haec vsqve tempora (Francof. ad Moenum, 1587)

PLIMPTON 520 1651 W72: Harmonicon coeleste : or, The cœlestiall harmony of the visible world (London, 1651)

You can read the stories of some other discoveries of Newton books at the Huntington Library (Mede’s Works), at the King’s C ollege Library (interestingly, a Hebrew lexicon), at the University of Michigan‘s library, and at Cardiff University.

NEH grant to digitize LCAAJ (Yiddish language archive)

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) has received an award of $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize field notes and linguistic surveys from the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ) archive.

The LCAAJ archive is an extraordinary resource for research in Yiddish studies that can shed much valuable light on language, ethnography, literature, folklore and music, anthropology, linguistics, Germanic and Slavic studies, and aspects of Central and East European history.  The archive consists of over 600 interviews conducted between 1959 and 1972 with native speakers of Yiddish during a long-range comparative study to document the effects of physical, linguistic, and cultural channels and barriers on the geographic fragmentation of the Jewish and diverse non-Jewish populations that coexisted in Central and Eastern Europe before World War II.  The LCAAJ project collected its interviews at essentially the last moment, when a diverse body of native speakers was still alive, aiming to address both the challenge of an endangered linguistic and cultural legacy, and the special potential that Yiddish provides for studying language and cultural contact and change.

The two-year project funded by NEH will digitize approximately 140,000 pages of interview answer sheets that contain data from the interviews, carry out optical character recognition (OCR) and mark-up to enable their content to be searched and manipulated, and will make all the digitized content freely available to scholars on the Internet on a Columbia website. This source for historical, literary, or anthropological research, and for the study of languages in contact, and the evolution and differentiation of language communities, will then be available to a worldwide community of scholars.

“The Atlas archive is a treasure-house of voices from a vanished world, bearing irreplaceable—heartbreakingly irreplaceable—information about Jewish life, language, and culture,” said Jeremy Dauber, Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture and director of Columbia’s Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies. “It needs to be shared with the world, and we’re delighted—and honored—that the National Endowment for the Humanities is enabling the Libraries to do so.”

The written materials accompany more than 5,700 hours of recorded interviews that CUL/IS has already digitized through generous support from NEH, private foundations, the New York State Conservation/Preservation Program, and EYDES (Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies, a project of the German Förderverein für Jiddische Sprache und Kultur), through which the audio is publicly available.  The long-term goal is to eventually link the written content to the audio recordings of the interviews, and make the entire audio and written corpus available to students and scholars in an integrated form.

The interviews contain a wealth of comments about Jewish culture and history from a place and time that is largely out of our reach today.  Bringing the LCAAJ archive into the digital environment will increase exponentially its value to historians of Jewish Studies and European history, linguists, anthropologists, and students and teachers of Yiddish.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 12 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 21 libraries and various academic technology centers, including affiliates. CUL/IS employs more than 450 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.

See original release here: http://library.columbia.edu/news/libraries/2015/2015-03-31_National_Endowment_for_the_Humanities.html

Free resources on Hebrew language and Israeli elections

In preparation for the elections in Israel, to be held next week on March 17, I’d like to highlight two new freely available resources.

The first, created by the National Library of Israel, relates directly to the upcoming elections.  The NLI has created an online portal to the “Election Chronicles,” an online exhibit and information page documenting elections in Israeli history up to the present.  The website includes basic information about Israeli elections and politics, as well as historic materials (archives, media, political cartoons, and more) from past elections.

Another resource recently made freely available in Israel is Ma’agarim: The Online Database of the Historical Dictionary of the Hebrew Language.  Formerly a subscription database, this project, created by the Academy of Hebrew Language, is now accessible to the public.  The dictionary cites the first existence of words in the Hebrew language, from the Bible through the Gaonic period, and in Hebrew literature from the 18th century through 1948.  This is a powerful resource for the study of Hebrew language.

(Cross-posted on the Global Studies Blog)

Eight early American Jewish Newspapers, now available digitally!

I am pleased to announce that the following Early American newspapers are now available digitally through the following links.  With the exception of the American Israelite and American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger, all newspapers are freely available through the Historical Jewish Press website

Columbia is very proud to have been involved, with New York University and the New York Public Library, in helping the American Jewish Press to be added to the Historical Jewish Press’s corpus.  We look forward to continuing this collaboration in the years to come.

In English:
  1. Occident and American Jewish Advocate: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/The-Occident-and-American-Jewish-Advocate.aspx
  2. B’nai Brith Messenger: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/BBM.aspx
  3. Chicago Sentinel: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/Sentinal.aspx
  4. American Israelite: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio11136600
  5. American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio11136586

In Ladino:

  1. La America: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/la-amirica.aspx.
  2. El Progreso: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/epo.aspx

In Yiddish:

  1. Morgen Zjournal: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/The-Jewish-Morning-Journal.aspx
  2. Die Wahrheit: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/Die-Warheit.aspx

Keep an eye on the Jewish Press in the USA section of the site, as there will be more newspapers added in the future!

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.”