Tag Archives: Rare_Books

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-Jewish 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 for 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. One might wonder just how many crypto-Jews there may have been in Mexico City to necessitate the expense of printing of a book detailing the Judeo-Spanish language.  Columbia’s copy had been previously owned by Monastery of San Cosme in Mexico City. [Many thanks to Dr. Francois Soyer, who explained to me the difference between an Inquisitor and a calificador.]
  • 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.

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!

Conservation and book repair, historical and modern

The Conservation Department at Columbia University Libraries is an often unsung hero of the libraries.  The work of their talented conservators encompasses all areas of the library, and ensures that our collections, both modern and ancient, will endure for years to come.

Many times, in a routin16049_BT_29e conservation activity, hidden aspects of books come to the fore.  This was the case of a commentary on the Bible by Rabbenu Bahye, printed in 1514 in Pesaro by Gershom Soncino.  The Conservation Department had received the book because the text block was broken, and they planned to repair the book and box it for protection.  While assessing the book, however, the conservators noticed an additional oddity. As shown below, two pages from another edition of the same book had been pasted together inside the book to replace a missing page.  The owner then crossed out the first few lines of the replacement page, so that text would be continuous from the original edition.  The owner did the same for the end of the added pages, again ensuring continuity for the reader of the text.  As you can see here, the text block was separated right at this point16049_BT_14 in the book.  The added pages had weakened the book, and so the pages needed to be separated in order for the book to be stabilized.

Once the pages were separated, the question then was: how to maintain the integrity of the history of this book, without compromising its stability?  The decision was made to line the versos of the replacement pages (which had previously been glued to each other and were thus hidden) with a translucent material, so the text 16049_BT_15would show, but only lightly, indicating that this had not been the original way that the book was used.  A note describing the treatment was also included with the book, so a reader could understand how the pages had initially been glued together.

The amount of thought and effort that goes into conservation work is incredible.  The conservators think about all aspects of the book, physical, 16049_DT_09intellectual, and historical, before making a decision about treatment.  Many thanks to Emily Cohen and Alexis Hagadorn for their fantastic work on this book!

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 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.

New Acquistions: Old Yiddish printed books (digital)

The Columbia University Libraries has recently acquired a database of 400 digitized Yiddish books from the Hebraica and Judaica of the Tychson Collection at the Rostock University.

According to the publisher's description:

"The nearly 400 titles of this edition offer a cross-section of the history of Yiddish books up to the 19th century. There are numerous rarities and unica, including the first Yiddish printing, Mirkevet ha-Mishne, Krakau 1534. Among translations and paraphrases of the Bible the collection contains the Konstanz-edition (1544) as well as translations by Blitz and Witzenhausen. Three of the existing editions of the Tsene-rene (Frankfurt a.M. 1685, Sulzbach 1702) were first discovered in Rostock, and the third of those (Fürth [Pseudo-Amsterdam] 1761) is apparently to be found nowhere else. One of the rarities among the prayer-books is a Hebrew Siddur. It contains Yiddish passages and was published in 1560 in Mantua."

This resource provides access to some of the oldest and rarest printings of Yiddish materials in existence.

We will soon be adding records with direct links to each of the titles in CLIO for easier searching.

Note: The site is in German.  To view a list of titles, go to: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio10264881, and then click the link for "Titel" after "Die Hebraica und Judaica der Sammlung Tychsen und der Universitätsbibliothek Rostock" in the "Collections" box.  You can also search by keyword.  To access the PDF, click "Details" under the title that interests you, and then click "PDF" under "komplettes Werk."   The link to PDF will then change to "Herunterladen," and you can click that to download the file.

Discoveries in the vault – a book collector’s book

 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.

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.