Tag Archives: RBML

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.

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.

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 Acquisitions: All this has come upon us…

We are very pleased to announce the recent acquisition of a haunting and beautiful portfolio of exhibition prints entitled All this has come upon us…, created by Dr. Mark Podwal.  This series of images was created for an exhibition at the Terezin Ghetto Museum from April to July 2014.  The series includes images relating to all aspects of Jewish history, with a verse from Psalms on the facing page which exemplifies the event.  (The image on the left represents the 1899 Polna Blood Libel.)  The portfolio will be housed in the Book Arts Collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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.

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.