The missing Breslau incunable

As we have mentioned time and again in the last seven months, we have been working hard in 2018 to gather data on the movements of Hebrew incunabula (that is, books produced from the invention of moveable type until the year 1501).  As of today, we have 1226 records for books from this era, and the data continues to grow. We have already ingested data from the Jewish Theological Seminary’s extensive collection, the collection at Yeshiva University, the University of Pennsylvania, and many others.  Still more are in process, and will be added soon to our corpus.

One of our in-process batches is based on Dr. Adri K. Offenberg’s list of Hebrew incunabula missing after World War II.  Dr. Offenberg painstakingly scoured lists of pre-WWII European collections to find incunabula, and followed up with those that remained extant to find what was lost.  Unfortunately, many libraries (and their caretakers) had been destroyed, and their collections scattered to the four winds.  One of these collections was the library of Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (modern-day Wrocław, in Poland), and some of its items have been appearing in Footprints search results.

To my delight, one of these was an incunable, the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra on the Bible (Naples, 1488), and one of the books listed as missing in Dr. Offenberg’s list!  The book can be found today at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and its Breslau provenance is duly cited in Iakerson’s catalog of incunabula at JTS, number 47a.  Slowly but surely, our work on Footprints is (virtually) reuniting collections long thought lost to the world.

A family of collectors comes (back) together in Footprints

Over the course of Footprints work, it is not unusual to find relatives within one specific collection.  A good example of this can be found in the Columbia collection, with the books of Ya’akov Emden.  Among his books are books that were formerly owned by his father, Tsevi Hirsch ben Ya’akov Ashkenazi (aka Hakham Tsevi), and his grandfather, Ya’akov of Vilna.  But that is hardly surprising, as family collections often remain and travel together.

Rabbi Nethaniel Weill

More exciting is when families begin to appear in scattered collections, their books re-connecting virtually via the Footprints database.  A recent example was just discovered, thanks to Footprints contributors Chaim Meiselman and Tali Winkler.

Signature of Nathaniel Weill

In his work on the Meyerhoff Collection of Judaica at Towson University, Chaim Meiselman discovered the signature of Nathaniel b. Naftali-Hirsch Weill (Stühlingen 1687- Rastatt 1769), Av-Beth-Din and head of the Rabbinate at Kahrlsruhe on a volume of Pri Hadash, which was printed only a year before his death (Furth, 1768).

Nathaniel Weill first gained fame in Prague, but history would have it that his rabbinate would ultimately move to a regional one in Germany, the “Scwarzwald,” headquartered in Mühringen, an area in Rheinish-Neckar, or Neckar in the Rhineland.  It was here that he completed his magnum opus, Korban Netanel, a commentary on the Perush Rabbenu Asher on the Talmudic orders of Mo’ed and Nashim.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Korban_Natanael.jpg

Example of full t.p. (Wikimedia)

This title is elaborately decorated, and includes detailed documentation of his rabbinic life.  It was printed in Kahrlsruhe because he had moved there to head the Rabbinate of that area, a position he held until his death.

“Netanel Weill … A.B.D. (Av-Beth-Din) de-medinot Durlakh u-medinot Baden … ve-lifnim hayah A.B.D. be-medinot Schwarzwald … ve-epelendt (?) (s.i.c.; i.e. rabbinical judge) be-k.k. Prag ha-birah, tivneh ve-tikon”. Following is a dedication to Karl-Friedrich (Charles Frederick), margrave elector of Baden-Durlach.

Signature of Tiah Weill

Tali Winkler, a Footprints collaborator who worked on footprints in the collection of the Spertes Institute for Jewish Learning and Scholarship in Chicago, learned of the above signature, and and pointed out that his son, Tiah Weill, is represented in Footprints as well, as owner of a copy of his father’s book, Karban Naftali (Kahrlsruhe, 1755).

In continuing his work at the collection at Towson, Chaim Meiselman then discovered a footprint for Tiah’s son (Nathaniel’s grandson), who is now also represented in the database. Nathan Weill (Prague 1721 – Kahrlsruhe 1805) owned a copy of Menorat ha-Ma’or (Sulzbach, 1757) in Karlsruhe, around 1800.

image

Signature of Nathan Weill

With this, three 18th century collectors from three generations of the rabbinic dynasty reunited (virtually, at least)!

Special thanks to Chaim Meiselman for his work on the history of the Weill family for this post.

Guest post: Latin and Greek inscriptions in Chaim Meiselman’s library collection

Editor’s note: Chaim Meiselman is one of our most active contributors to Footprints, adding data from his own collection as well as from others, and he has assisted in identifying many of the difficult hands from the “can you help?” footprints.  He reads a plethora of languages, including German, French, Latin, Hebrew, Yiddish, as well as Dutch, Polish, and Italian.  Meiselman writes below about some items in his personal collection that are documented in Footprints.

Over the course of book collecting, I have begun entering data and inscriptions from my library into the Footprints Project.

Jacob Friedrich Reimmann

I hope to share some of the Footprints in this space occasionally. I will begin this endeavor with some Latin and Greek sourced items from my collections.

Liber Cosri (Kuzari): Basel, 1660

I will begin with a long inscription with a traceable owner. Jacob Friedrich Reimmann (1668 – 1743) of Hildesheim, was a Lutheran Theologian and historian.  Included in his works are philosophy (and history of Philosophy), German religious poetry, and even a history of atheism.

In my volume of ‘Liber Cosri’, the edition printed by Johann Buxtorf in Basel in 1660, Reimmann wrote a long description of the volume, and even compliments Buxtorf in Greek (perhaps a sign of fellowship among men of letters). In my Footprints entry on this inscription, I transcribed the entire inscription.

Here it is, beginning with my introduction:

Below I will transcribe the entire Latin inscription, because it is historically valuable. Reimmann was a friend (or peer) of Gotthold Wilhelm Leibnitz, Christian Wolff, Gottlieb Stolle and included in his correspondence Pierre Bayle, Johann Franz Buddeus, and other contemporary scholars.

Inscription

“Liber Cosri vel potius Hachosari Ebraice et Latine cum notis Buxt. – Buxtorfii Basel 1660. Auctor est R. Jehuda Levi filius Saulis Hispanus – qui vixit Sec. (Saeculum) XII et huc colloquim Theologicum – Philisophicum. Regis Coser cum eruditis, Sive verum Sive dictum. scrip sit Arabice, et veritatem religionis Judaica defenderet, et contra insultus Ethnicorum et Karaitanum, vindicaret unde eadem tempentate in unquam obruam translatius R. Jehuda Aben Tybbon. Feranatensi, et Cohanstantinnopli primum ,tum Venetiis et tandem Basilea editum dignum omnino quod accurate et studiose abii lectitetur. qui quid satis in Synagoga Judaorium insit, ωζ ξν ςυγομπ mens picere gestiunt.

J. F. Reimannus

Superintendens Hildesiensis

M.DCC.XXiii”

Translation:  Book (called) Cosri or better, Hachosari [printed] Hebrew and Latin, with [editions] addition of Buxt. – Buxtorf [;] Basel 1660. Authored by Judah b. Saul halevi in Spain – who lived c. 12th century among the theological and philosophical [scholarly] colloquium there. King Coser, the learned and erudite.. Written in Arabic as [for use of] true Judaic religious defense against the attacks of the foreigners and from within by the Karaites; R. Judah Aben Tybbon’s [translation] was not understandable to other translation.  [Printed first in] Feranatensi [Fano], and Cohanstantinnopli [Constantinople] for the first time, next Venice, and I am most satisfied now with the studious and dignified one latest at  Basil was published. The one who is able to satisfiy with Synagoga Judaicum is in here [i.e. the translator and commentor], ωζ ξν ςυγομπ (and more so, Greek) he has studied [looked at – lit.] carefully their time.

J. F. Reimann

Superintendant – Hildesheim

M.DCC.XXIII

This volume was also in the collection of another Lutheran Theologian, Johann Hilpert (1627-1680) in Coburg. This is the inscription:

“Liber Cosri inter Christianus esse rari stium   verbit J. Hilpertur un disquis. de mutuam itus e.s.p.d. scribet et.al. hic Hilpertus A.C. 1696 quo tem pocc a Buxtorfi nondum erat editas.”

Hilpertus is likely speaking of Johann Hilpert (1627-1680) , a Lutheran theologian from Coburg.  Since he was dead at the date of this writing likely the note is of an inventory of his theological books.

Finally, this volume met a censor later in the 18th century. Here is the information:

Text from inscription: L. Purarx  in speciam hic sor nab. p. 384 .

Post script: In preparing this post for publication, Footprints co-director Michelle Chesner realized that there may yet be another footprint to be identified, based on the stamp from the Jews’ College Library in the image above.  Chesner knew that there had been sales of books from Jews College Library at Kestenbaum and Co. in the early 2000s, and she checked her backfile of Kestenbaum catalogs (which Chaim Meiselman did not have) to see if it appeared there.  Sure enough, this book (confirmed by the description of the binding) was Lot 115 in Kestenbaum Sale 23, March 2004.  This is just another example of how allowing multiple people to access the same data can allow for much more “value added” in the long run.

Book 2: Yalkut Shim’oni, Livorno 1649-50

Contrast the previous detailed inscriptions with a copy of the large tome Yalkut Shimoni, published in 1649-50 in Livorno. My copy is without complete inscriptions or more traditional Footprints. However, it is clearly ex-library, and a fine copy; so I looked deeper.

Censorship

The book is censored only for the beginning chapter of Genesis. That already gave me a clue that it wasn’t a traditional case of censorship; likely it was an aspect of ownership in the volume.

On close inspection, I found something very minute but telling.

On the opening chapter of Numbers, the text reads from the Midrash on the Well of Miriam. Thematically, the Midrash recounts that sustenance ended at the death of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

… והבאר בזכות מרים – והיכן היו עשויה כמין סלע/ the well, in the merit of Miriam, was composed ‘like a rock-form’.

Ascon

The interpretation of this passage differs; as an example, Rashi writes that it was rock-hard, and it would roll along as the nation traveled.

Between the lines of my copy, this volume was inscribed with one word: ‘Ascon’. This is a Greco-Latin word directly referring to natural sponge-material;  the meaning being that the owner interpreted it as not being a rock at all, but a natural absorbent (which was used to give off and store water in the desert).

No other inscriptions are on the entire volume.

Guest Post, Shevi Epstein: Art History in the Binding

Shevi Epstein, an MLS student at Rutgers’ focusing on Archival Studies, has been working on entering Footprints at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She describes her experience – and discoveries – below:

Sefer Tehilim Wittenberg, 1576

The library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies holds a Sefer Tehilim, or Psalter, printed in Wittenberg Germany in 1576. The text of the book is translated from Hebrew side by side into Ancient Greek and Latin. Books formatted in this fashion were typically meant to help teach Hebrew to Christians.  The layout assumed that the reader would be able to read Latin and/or Greek and would be able to infer the meaning of the Hebrew text from these translations. However, it is not the content of the book that is intriguing to me, but rather the cover.

When the book was printed, the original owner, likely a non-Jew, would have selected the binding and any decorative motifs for adornment. The image that they selected for the front cover of this book is of Judith beheading Holofernes from the Book of Judith. This somewhat gory choice is interesting, given that the image has no connection to the contents of the book. So, why was this particular image chosen?

Though the Book of Judith was accepted as canonical by the Church and was accepted in the Vulgate, the Catholic Church’s official Latin version of the Bible from the 14th century, it is not the most popular or well known story. Whether or not the owner was well versed in the story or aware that it had no connection to the text of the Psalms, the image of Judith with her sword and the decapitated head of Holofernes would have likely been familiar to Germans by the 1570s.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Germany 1530

In the 1530’s , the image of Judith beheading Holofernes became a popular subject for German painters. Judith was typically dressed elegantly in the German fashions of the day, with a hat on her head and a sword in one hand, while the other rests on the head of Holofernes, just as she is depicted on the cover of our book. Though four decades had past between the height of this pictorial fad and the printing of this book, it is not difficult to imagine that the image would have been familiar to the owner of the Psalter. Because of the popularity of this theme, it may well have seemed to be an attractive and trendy choice of image for the cover of the book, even if it didn’t correspond to the materials within.

 

Guest post: Shevi Epstein on Footprints at Penn’s Katz Center

Shevi Epstein, an MLS student at Rutgers’ focusing on Archival Studies, has been working on entering Footprints at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She describes her experience – and discoveries – below:

Through my contributions to the database for Footprints: Jewish Books Through Time and Place, I have discovered a wealth of Jewish history, which might have otherwise been lost. Hidden in the various clues left behind by past generations are details of the movement of these Jewish books over the past 500 years and a glimpse into the lives of those who possessed them.

Throughout Jewish history, there have been innumerable attempts to not only wipe out the Jewish people, but also their literature. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Austrian Holy League to the Nazis, the burning of Jewish books has been an efficient way to destroy these materials while simultaneously sending a clear message of warning to the Jewish community. In some sense it is surprising that any Judaic books have survived these waves of destruction. Today, handling the 500 year old books in the collection of the Katz Center for Advanced Studies in Philadelphia is all the more incredible given their survival over the centuries and the journeys that I have had the privilege of piecing together.

Each book that I examine for this project has had a story to tell. From the carefully written owner signatures, to the meticulous personal notes in the margins, to the playful doodles scribbled across the pages, each mark tells the tale of a well-loved and oft-used book. However, some of the marks left in these books tell of a far more tragic past and of narrow escapes from destruction.

Some of the most important clues I look for when investigating the history of a book are the signatures of expurgators. These censors were typically Jewish who had converted to Catholicism working for the Catholic Church who would analyze Jewish books in search of any passages that were antithetical to the teachings of the Church and cross them out. They would sign their name at the end of the book and, usually, include the date to demonstrate that the book had been reviewed and censored. Some books contain as many as eight censor signatures, ranging from the 16th through the 17th centuries. Despite the clearly unethical practice of cultural erasure, the scratched-out lines and signatures that were left in these texts likely saved not only the books themselves from destruction, but their owners from further persecution related to the possession of the texts.

Many of the owners of these books were not lucky enough to survive the destruction that the markings in these books describe. Some of the books I come across contain stamps from the Reich Institute for the History of New Germany, which aimed to study the “Jewish Question” and justify the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic platform through science.

These books almost always additionally contain a bookplate from the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. The Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. was an organization in the American occupied zone of southern Germany from 1947-1952, tasked to collect and redistribute stolen Jewish property. Books in the collection of the Katz Center for Advanced Studies that contain this bookplate were from the group of books redistributed to Dropsie College in Philadelphia as their original owners had been killed in the war or could not be found.

Bought, sold, donated, stolen, redistributed, censored, gifted, and passed down through the generations, the history of Jewish books and the Jews who owned them are being carefully retraced by the participants in the Footprints project. Their efforts are shedding light on the long and hard road that has brought these books to where they currently reside and on all those who, for better or worse, had a hand in that process.

 

Guest post: From Italy to Dublin through double censorship

Javier del Barco, a Senior Research Fellow at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Madrid, has just completed three months of work on Footprints collection in the Archbishop Marsh’s Library in Dublin. Below, Dr. del Barco shares just one example of some of the discoveries he made in the course of his work in Dublin. 

 

Hebrew books were subjected to censorship in Italy during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Censors’ signatures can be found in many books—both manuscript and printed—that circulated there, especially during the second half of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th. Interestingly, these censors’ footprints enable us to follow the itineraries of the books by indirectly providing clues of the places where they were censored. One good example is Marsh’s Library’s copy of Levi ben Gershom’s (1288-1344) Milḥamot ha-Shem printed in Riva di Trento in 1560 (1)

Books printed in Riva di Trento are particularly interesting and important because the Hebrew press run there by Jacob Marcaria operated for only four years (1558-1562) and produced some 35 titles. Marcaria, who was both dayyan (judge) and physician in Cremona, established the printing press in Riva in collaboration with Joseph ben Nathan Ottolenghi, the famous rabbi of Cremona, and under the auspices and protection of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo, bishop of Trento. (2) In fact, Madruzzo’s coat-of-arms appears in some of the Riva di Trento Hebrew books, as is the case with this copy of Milḥamot ha-Shem (see title page, right).

Printing Milḥamot ha-Shem was a very important achievement. This text includes Levi ben Gershom’s major work containing an almost complete system of philosophy and theology in which he relied on his predecessors—such as Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna and Maimonides—and also gave his own theory. The work had circulated widely in manuscript copies, but its 1560 publication was the first time that it was ever printed, even if imperfectly. No further editions of the work were printed for over three centuries, until a new edition was published in Leipzig in 1863, probably due to the fact that understanding Milḥamot ha-Shem is not possible unless one is familiar with Levi ben Gershom’s commentaries on Averroes and the Bible.

The copy in Marsh’s library was read and studied by an unknown Jewish reader, who annotated it in the margins using a semi-cursive handwritten Ashkenazi script (see image #2, left). Most noteworthy, at the end of the work we find the signatures of three different censors. In the last page, we read “Dominico Irosolomi.no”, “Aless.ro scipione 1597” (see image #3, below) and, in the previous page, “visto per me Gio domenico carretto 1618” (see image #4, below).

From this single book copy can learn much about not only the reading habits of Jews, but the censorship regime of the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church in Italy in the late sixteenth century.  The well-known Domenico Irosolimitano worked with Alessandro Scipione and Laurentius Franguellus, all of them apostates, in the Mantuan censorship commission from 1595 to 1597, the latter being replaced in 1597 by Luigi da Bologna. This commission was appointed by the bishop of Mantua and started to work in August 1595. As Popper states, “the Jews soon crowded to the building [of the Inquisition, where the commission worked] in great numbers, bringing their books with them, and carrying them away as soon as expurgated” (3). Even if Popper’s assessment should be considered with caution as far as the willingness of bringing books to the commission is concerned, it is a fact that Jews took their books to be censored in great numbers, probably in fear of the penalty for having uncensored books in their possession. After looking at the books and censoring them accordingly, censors would sign at the end of the book and add the date to their signatures, as Scipione did in this copy, but not Irosolimitano. This leads Popper to suggest that “Irosolimitano was probably at the head of the commission” (4) because “the chief censor often omitted even a date” (5). Thus Irosolimitano’s and Scipione’s signatures together and the latter’s addition of the date—1597—leaves no doubt that this copy of Milḥamot ha-Shem was under the scrutiny of the Mantuan commission in 1597.

Yet, bearing a censor’s signature did not free the book’s owner from the obligation of bringing the book to subsequent censorship commissions. This is the case with this copy, as attested by the signature of Giovanni Domenico Carretto dated to 1618, who worked censoring Hebrew books also in Mantua from 1617 to 1619 (Popper, 142). This footprint then situates this copy in Mantua still in 1618, where it had probably been since 1597 or earlier.

The book arrived in Dublin thanks to the collection activities of Archbishop Marsh (1638-1713).  Marsh began collecting Hebrew books upon his arrival in Oxford in the middle of the 17th century. By 1679 he had relocated to Dublin, having been appointed provost of Trinity college, but he continued to expand his collection until his death in 1713. In most of his Hebrew books he wrote his Greek motto in the title page, as can be seen also in the title page of this copy, and in some cases, he also added a date. When the indicated year predates 1679, we can be almost certain that he acquired the book in Oxford, but if no year is indicated, we cannot be sure of the place of acquisition. As this copy of Levi ben Gershon’s Milḥamot ha-Shem has no specific date after Marsh’s motto, it could have been acquired by Marsh at any moment during his adult life, either in England or in Ireland.

From Riva di Trento and Mantua to Dublin in Ireland, probably by way of England or Amsterdam, this book teaches us about significant cultural and social aspects to consider when looking at early modern Hebrew books. Printed in Riva di Trento by Jacob Marcaria in 1560 under the sponsorship of the bishop of Trento, this copy tells us about actual collaboration and exchange between Jews and Catholics in a cultural and intellectual endeavour such as printing books in Hebrew in Northern Italy. This was possible only before the Council of Trent was finished in 1563, as the consequences of Counter-Reformation largely affected relationships between Jews and Catholics. This can be observed very well in this book, as it was censored twice in Mantua, in 1597 and in 1618, following the establishment of censorship commissions. After that date, we don’t know exactly when and how the book reached the hands of Archbishop Marsh, journeying from Mantua to England or Ireland at some point during the 17th century, but this journey reflects very well how Hebrew books in general traveled together with their owners across all over Europe and the Mediterranean since the very start of Hebrew printing and throughout centuries, until they were definitively shelved in a library. For this copy of Levi ben Gershon’s Milḥamot ha-Shem, it was Marsh’s Library in Dublin, where it remains to this day.

(1) Shelfmark: B3.3.2

(2)R. Posner and I. Ta-Shma, The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), chapter 5, subvoce “Riva.”

(3) W. Popper, The Censorship of Hebrew Books (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1969), p. 77

(4) Ibid., p. 78

(5) Ibid., p. 79

Announcing… the Year of INCUNABULA [AT] FOOTPRINTS

Consider this blog post part of a soft roll-out of a new concept here at Footprints HQ:  we are dubbing calendar year 2018 as the “Year of Incunabula.”  (If you read the last blog post from my colleague Michelle Chesner, you already know about some of our efforts in this direction.) Although we will continue to take in data on post-1500 imprints, we  have begun to focus our efforts on adding as many footprints of pre-1500 Hebrew printed books as we can between now and December 31, 2018.  (Stay tuned for the announcement–around this time next year–of 2019’s theme.)

In designing and launching Footprints, we explored many approaches to gathering data..  Some of our colleagues suggested focusing on a particular set of literary works and their editions and dissemination. (A wonderful model of this kind of research is The Archaeology of Reading at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and University of London, with our advisory board member Anthony Grafton as one of the participants.)  Such a project–working from a limited corpus– allows great strides to be made in a limited amount of time.  Others suggested that we look at the output of a particular printer (we could have started by tracking down everything printed by Soncino) or the books printed in a particular city (Amsterdam in the 17th century).  Others suggested that we focus on the formation of particular collections.  

We heard these suggestions but resisted going this route as the project started.  Despite all of the potential in these options, we did not want to limit the scope of the project in the moments of its inception.   By looking at “Jewish” books (including books printed in Hebrew or other Jewish languages; books in non-Jewish languages on Jewish topics; and books owned by Jews regardless of content) printed in different places and times and their movement across time and place without limitations, we were able to explore the possibilities and limits of this new  kind of research project. In the iterative process of digital scholarship, we didn’t want to foreclose fruitful lines of discussion before we even got started.  And while this open approach has had some costs, the benefit can be seen in the architecture and flexibility of our database.  No doubt casting the net widely leads to some inefficiencies but other efficiencies are gained:  if we were focusing on production by Daniel Bomberg only, would it have made sense for me to sit in a rare book room and examine a Bomberg book carefully while ignoring the riches in a Soncino imprint bound with it?  If we were focusing on a set list of books and I found references to these in an estate inventory, should I put aside the books owned by a particular collector not on this list?

That open approach will continue  as we build the database, but we have decided for several reasons to make a special push on incunabula this year. Choosing to focus on incunabula benefits us the most right now for building Footprints in a more systematic way, and also enables researchers interested in who read, owned, bought and sold these books to acquire the most comprehensive view of this area of the history of the Hebrew book as possible. You could say, we want to begin again from the beginning.

Toward this end,  we are joining forces with the 15CBooktrade project led by Cristina Dondi of Oxford University, a long-time advisor to Footprints. Our colleagues at 15CBooktrade have started to see the finish line in collecting information about incunabula in an  ambitious and incredibly rich database, Material Evidence in Incunabula  (MEI). Thanks to a generous grant, 15CBooktrade/MEI will hire 3 dedicated researchers to work on Hebrew incunabula for six months in 2018.  One will be based in Oxford, focusing on collections in the UK and northern Europe; one in Jerusalem, focusing on Israeli collections; and one in Italy, focusing on the richness of Italian and some other European collections. These researchers will enter all of the copy-specific features of incunabula in their areas into MEI and also record the “footprints” into our database.  

Meanwhile, our goal is to cover the major collections of Hebrew incunabula in North America.  We’ll be focused on the rich collections in the New York area, Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Ottawa, as well as smaller collections or single copies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford, Providence,  Bloomington, IN, and Provo Utah. (I am heading to Chicago soon where I will see the three Hebrew incunabula at the Newberry Library.)  We are especially eager to hear from members of our trusted crowdsourcing community who would like to work on some of these collections.   We are also reaching out to private collectors and encouraging them to join the effort.

As we continue our work with book lists, estate inventories, auction catalogues, and scholarly articles looking for “historical copies” as well as working from extant books in rare book rooms, we will focus our efforts this year on the incunables. As we learn about early modern Jewish owners of non-Hebrew incunabula we will enter those as well. We have 3 first-year undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh eager to get to work in the spring term as part of the successful First Experiences in Research program run by Pitt’s Office of Undergraduate Research and we also intend to hire one research assistant who will input information from the rare book collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary.   We are also looking for interns in the cities mentioned above and faculty supervisors who are looking for hands-on research opportunities for their students.  

Does this mean we are abandoning the “big tent” approach to data collection?  Not at all: we remain committed to the idea that we want to ingest as many footprints as possible. We continue to work with partner libraries, downloading provenance data from catalogs and preparing them for upload to Footprints.  When we embed researchers to cover particular library collections (as we are doing now with the Marsh’s Library, Dublin)  we will ask them to look at the incunabula first but not to stop there! We continue to welcome contributions from crowd-sourcers and we are still happy to serve as a repository for datasets generated by independent research projects.  Surely we are always on the  lookout for other footprints as we hunt down the incunabula.   

We are not choosing  between a specific topic  and an open approach.  (But we are also not just saying “que sera sera” and leaving it at that.) Rather, we intend for the focused approach and the big tent model to co-exist; the focus on incunabula will enable us to concentrate on one area of Hebrew book history while maintaining our commitment to flexibility, which has  been the hallmark of our progress to date.  

As always, if you or your institution or your students want to join the fun, just let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Updates: Collaborations, incunabula and new opportunities

Footprints thrives on collaboration, and it is wonderful when we see how collaboration with others can yield positive fruits as well.

In September, Javier del Barco started work at the Archbishop Marsh’s Library in Dublin.  The Archbishop Marsh collected about 200 Hebrew and Yiddish books in his collection, many of which have interesting stories to tell, and the library has partnered with Footprints to catalog its Judaica, and record its provenance into Footprints  (Footprints will be added to the database at the completion of the project).  A few weeks ago, Professor del Barco found a previously unknown incunabulum (a book printed from the invention of moveable type to the year 1501) in the collection: a commentary of Nahmanides on the Bible from Lisbon, 1489, in excellent condition, as part of his work on the collection.

The subject of incunabula brings us to our next announcement: we are excited to announce our next partnership: with the 15cBOOKTRADE/Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI).  MEI collects similar data to Footprints, but with an emphasis only on books printed in the 15th century. We have partnered with them to collect data on Hebrew incunabula (a subset not easily accessible due to language and other limitations), which will be uploaded to both the MEI and the Footprints databases. To do this, MEI will be hiring three research associates: one in the United Kingdom, one in Italy, and one in Israel, to focus on studying the provenance of Hebrew incunabula in those places. We look forward to applications for this project!  Note that the deadline for applications is 31 October 2017.

As always, if you are interested in partnering with Footprints in any way: as an individual interested in entering Footprints; as an institution or a private collector with already cataloged materials that can be exported and uploaded to our database; as an institution or private collector with not-yet cataloged material that is interested in working with us on a cataloging/provenance project; or in any other way, please be in touch!  You can reach us at footprints@columbia.edu

Guest Post: Rabbis around the world – and on the moon!

Guest Post by Eli Genauer, Footprints contributor

One of the first Hebrew books ever printed was Ralbag’s commentary on the Torah, published in Mantua in 1477. It was printed again in Pesaro in 1514 and next in Venice in 1547. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag or Gersonides) was born in southern France in 1288 and died in 1344. He is considered to be one of the greatest Jewish philosophers of the middle ages and his commentaries on the Bible are studied until today. I own the 1547 Venice edition.

The book was printed in the print shop of Daniel Bomberg towards the end of his illustrious career. We do not know what happened to this book in the first 200 years of its existence, but in the late 1700’s it was owned by one of the more fascinating book collectors of his time: Solomon Dubno (1738-1813). His ownership mark is quite clear and reflects how he was referred to in Hebrew, Solomon of Dubno (שלמה מדובנא)

Solomon was born in Dubno, which at the time was in the the Austro-Hungarian Empire province of  Galicia. He had a traditional heder education and became very interested in Hebrew grammar. He moved to Amsterdam in 1767 and there became associated with some of the early proponents of the Haskalah. This led him to move to Berlin. He suggested to Moses Mendelssohn that along with the translation of the Humash into German, there should also be a commentary in Hebrew called a Biur. He is credited with authorship of the book of Bereshit in the Biur.

Shlomo MiDubno moved around quite a bit during his life, and I am particularly interested in his time in Amsterdam. It was in Amsterdam that he started his lifelong activity of book collecting. By 1771, he already had a collection of over 350 books. He left Amsterdam in 1772 but returned there towards the end of his life. He made a living there by lending out his books for a fee. A year after he died, in 1814, a list was published of all the books he owned. The total came to over 2,000 books and more than 100 manuscripts. It is thrilling to me to know that this book was part of that collection.

The next known owner lived across the Atlantic, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The ownership stamp is quite clear.

The stamp tells us that the book belonged to “Eliezer Lipa Gartenhaus who lives here in New York”. Rabbi Eliezer Lipa Gartenhaus came to America in the 1920’s and lived in Brooklyn. He was a renowned Talmud Hakham and was married to the daughter of the Kapitzhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yeshoshua Heschel. His son-in-law was Rabbi Moshe Kulefsky, who later became the Rosh ha-Yeshiva of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

Rabbi Gartnehaus published a book in 1958 called “Eshel Gedolim”. It is a commentary and expansion of the HIDA’s (Rabbi Haim Yosef Dovid Azulai) book “Shem ha-Gedolim”. Because it was written so close to the end of the Holocaust, Rabbi Eliezer Lipa devoted many pages in his preface to mourning the Holocaust in Europe. He came to America before the war, but most of his family didn’t make it. The list of his martyred relatives is two pages long.

At present, the book resides in the Seattle area, which did not exist as a city when the book was printed in Venice, nor when it was owned by Solomon Dubno in Amsterdam.

Ralbag was also a well known astronomer and in his honor a prominent crater on the moon is named for him. Wikipedia notes as follows:

“Rabbi Levi is a lunar impact crater that is located among the rugged highlands in the southeastern part of the moon‘s near side. The crater is named after the Medieval Jewish scholar Gersonides.”


Postscript: After sending this post to us, Eli noted another footprint from Shlomo mi-Dubno’s library, in a book sold at  auction in Jerusalem this week!

 

 

 

How good is your early modern paleography?

Paleography, n.

  • The study of ancient writing and inscriptions; the science or art of deciphering and interpreting historical manuscripts and writing systems. (Oxford English Dictionary)

One of the challenges and joys of the work we do in Footprints is the huge variety of handwritings that we find in the books we encounter.  Owners of Jewish books spread from Afghanistan to Los Angeles, and beyond, and with owner inscriptions from the 15th to the 21st centuries, we have handwritings that run the gamut from clear and beautiful to downright messy.

In some cases, it is not the handwriting that is a problem, but the script or language in which the words are written.  A stamp in Polish, for instance, stumped a reader who was fluent in other languages.

Sometimes only part of a phrase can be read, like this inscription, where the owner discusses the importance of signing his name in the book, but did not clearly write his own name.

In all of these cases, the scholar entering the footprint added the words “Can you help?” to the Notes field of the footprint.  If you search the words “Can you help” (without quotation marks), you’ll receive around fifty footprints in the results, all of which proved difficult to decipher for the scholars entering their data.

So take a look!  Whether your specialty is a 19th century Suriname, 17th century Europe, or loopy Roman characters, there are plenty of opportunities to assist.

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