Category: Provenance

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!

 

 

 

Don’t Kill Your Darlings, or, How Footprints is helping me to stop worrying and just finish my book

When I first began my research into the Oppenheim library, a senior scholar in the field casually suggested that I might also produce a new catalog of the collection.  The Oppenheim library is a marvel of Jewish bibliography: it holds medieval scientific manuscripts, Yiddish pamphlets from Amsterdam, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Talmudic commentaries, calendars, broadsides, and mystical manuals, polemics alongside concordances, grammars, dictionaries, and glossaries.  The last time a comprehensive catalog of the printed collection was produced was in 1929, in A.E. Cowley’s A concise catalogue of the Hebrew printed books in the Bodleian Library (Clarendon Press).  Cowley’s work was based upon the painstaking labor of Mortiz Steinschneider’s Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana (1852-60).  

 

The Oppenheim collection has not had a shortage of catalogs.  It began as a personal library, and its owner carried his own handwritten inventory of the collection with him wherever he traveled.  He could consult it when he visited the great book markets in Leipzig to ensure that no new or old book escaped his great net.  This notebook was also sort of “portable” library.  It represented the sum total of the books he owned, and by extension, of the knowledge that he singularly possessed.  

1782 catalog of the Oppenheim collection

While the library was of great renown and under much demand in Oppenheim’s lifetime, after his death the historical winds of change began to blow in new directions.  With the declining wealth of Oppenheim’s heirs, the library was prepared up for auction.  The intellectuals of Central Europe oriented their knowledge pursuits in new directions: in the critical and focused library of the haskalah, in the culture wars between modernizers and traditionalists, in the fermentation and upheaval of the emergent Hasidic circles in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.  An auction of the collection in Hanover in 1782 found no buyer, but it did occasion the creation of a catalog.  Another forty years lapsed before another auction yielded yet another catalog in Hamburg in 1826.  And in the decades after the collection was purchased by the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford in 1829, Steinschneider got to work on his magisterial Catalogus librorum hebraeorum.

 

Steinschneider’s Catalog

So why would there be need for another inventory of this collection?  My research brought me into contact with a myriad of byways leading from my central avenue into paths that could tell an infinite number of new tales.  Every scholar who works in archives inevitably discovers so much more data than she or he will ultimately include in the final product.  Leaving this data behind is a struggle and a shame, even if it is an occupational necessity.  It can sometimes even be crippling for a published work.  We’ve all encountered studies that derive from meticulous expert research, and then sag beneath the weight of the details.  Some of us might recognize the hardship we face in submitting a piece of writing for publication when it means slashing away at so many hard-won bits of data.

 

Footprints, on the other hand, gives life to that data.  It offers a venue other than the individual monograph or article for these triumphs of archival discovery to stay alive, and in the process become useful to others.  Rather than pruning away material that will then never see the light of day, Footprints allows a scholar to publish that data by different means, and to receive credit for the act of scholarly research even when it does not eventuate in the footnotes of a monograph.  

 

The beneficiaries of these micro-publications are manifold, especially in generating better inventories for the next user.  For example, an extant copy from Oppenheim’s library (Sefer Mateh Aharon, Frankfurt am Main, 1678–Opp. 4o 1344) does not reveal much about itself.  But when put into conversation with his personal, handwritten, catalog from the 1680s, we can learn that a book was owned and sold by a widow who was in need of funds, was bought by a wealthy young man whose father was a pillar of the Worms community, was stored in Hanover in the estate of the Court Jews to the man who would become King George I of England, and was lent to a young student, who returned it before it became a permanent fixture of a formal library.  You can check out the complete footprint record here.

Ms. Opp. 699, f. 81v. (personal catalog of David Oppenheim of Prague), held by the Bodleian Library.

Who cares?  The librarian, producing copy specific notes about a book that doesn’t tell its own story, who may not have the time or even the familiarity with these other documents that reveal hidden paths.  The scholar of George I’s Court Jew.  A historian of borrowing and lending practices.  A graduate student who wants to know more about the economic position of widows and women in premodern society.  This is the perfect space for librarians to both grow their individual catalogs and lend their material to the scholarship of others, and conversely for scholars to deposit the material they “just can’t fit” into a book or article for the benefit of the librarian and the next scholar to come along, all the while receiving credit for it.

 

Ultimately, such micro-research is a fun and fulfilling way to make new knowledge out of old data, and to contribute to an enterprise of growing information.  In the words of my colleague Adam Shear, it ensures “no datum left behind.”  For an example, stay tuned for my next post (called “In a Bind”).

 

Joshua Teplitsky (Stony Brook University) is one the of co-directors of the Footprints project.  He is finishing a monograph about the library of David Oppenheim of Prague (1664-1736) entitled Collecting as Power: David Oppenheim, Jewish Politics, and the Social Life of Books in Early Modern Europe.

Provenance and the controversy of definitions

When we first thought about the Footprints project, we had no idea of the complexities we would encounter.  Neither, of course, did we know about how lucky we would be to have Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning take on the entire technical burden of building the database so we would have the freedom to worry about the nitty gritty details.  Like the word provenance, for instance.

According to the third definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, provenance is “The history of the ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality; a documented record of this.”  In a database dedicated to tracing owners, dates, and places, one can imagine that this term would come into play quite a bit.  Two types of printed books can be found in Footprints:

  1. Books which are known to exist today
  2. Books which are not known to exist today

(Well, actually, there are many more types of printed books than that, but for the sake of argument, all the books in the database currently fall under one of the above two categories.)

So the question before us was: according to the definition listed above, could we use “provenance” for the second kind of book?  If provenance is used “as a guide to authenticity…” of a specific, known work of art or antique, this might cause a problem.  After all, one of the records in the database is to a book which might have been owned at one time – it is documented by Yeshayahu Vinograd’s Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book (with a notation of “no known copy”), and not by the National Library of Israel’s Bibliography of the Hebrew Book.  Additionally, the only reference to this imprint is a manuscript copy (including the printers’ mark of the alleged printer) at Columbia University.  Is this an imaginary copy?  Could it have provenance?  Or should we use another term entirely?

Mishle hakhamim ve-hidotam, Lithuania, 1710

Mishle hakhamim ve-hidotam, Lithuania, 1710

A conundrum, indeed.  One of the many that we encountered while working on Footprints.  We look forward to coming across many more as we continue onward!

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