Between the Lines: Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring 1999)

Special Collections Gain Wide Exposure

A major exhibition entitled Treasures of Jewish Cultural Heritage from The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary recently opened at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It includes the traveling exhibition Towards the Eternal Center: Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple, as well as twenty-five illuminated ketubbot, the Prato Hagaddah and the Rothschild Mahzor, making it the largest collection of the library's holdings to be exhibited at one time. The exhibition commemorates the 100th anniversary of the United Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, librarian, and Ellen Kapito, chairwoman of the library board, attended the opening of the exhibition on March 14, 1999.

Several items from the library's collection, including a ketubbah and a megillah, are on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. These items will be rotated every three months so that there is a continuous presence from the library's collection on exhibit there.

The exhibition Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early Twentieth Century Postcards is scheduled to be shown at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia from September 5, 1999 through January 9, 2000. Past Perfect will be on display at the Spertus Museum of Judaica in Chicago from February through December, 2001.

Friends of The Library Support Acquisition Program

The Friends of The Library recently funded the purchase of fourteen manuscripts from Italy and Germany, on topics ranging from liturgy to philology. These works add insight on the culture and practices of both Italian and German Jewry from the seventeenth century to the Emancipation in 1848. The following is a complete list of the manuscripts:

  • Keli Yakar by Ephraim of Luntschitz, Ashkenaz, eighteenth century
  • Novellae on the Talmud, nineteenth century
  • Hebrew Grammar by Daniel Prosanitz, late nineteenth century
  • Sermon by the Rabbi of Treichlingen, 1820
  • Otzrot Hayyim by Hayyim Vital, eighteenth century
  • Sefer Kavanot, Part I, 1742
  • Sefer Kavanot, Part II, 1742
  • Shir Hadash, Livorno, 1842
  • Tefilah, Italy, nineteenth century
  • Seder Mesirat ha-Moda'ah, Italy, 1834
  • High Holiday Prayerbook, Italy, nineteenth century
  • Prayerbook for Hoshanah Rabbah, Italy, 1826
  • Seder Teki'at Shofar, Modena, 1839
  • Darkhei Noam by Zvi Hirsch of Fürth, Wilhermsdorf, 1724.

The Friends of The Library also funded the acquisition of a collection of Slavic Judaica on microfilm from the YIVO Library. This collection includes the holdings of the original YIVO in Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania) and the private collection of Elias Tcherikower, one of the founders of YIVO. About ninety percent of the material in the two collections was printed before 1917 and deals with such subjects as equal rights for Jews in Tsarist Russia, political movements such as Zionism and Jewish socialism, Jewish community organizations, Jewish-Christian relations, anti-Semitism and emigration to America.

Engraved Portraits of Jewish Personalities on Exhibit at the Library

On March 14, 1999 the library opened a new exhibition entitled Visions of Glory: Engraved Portraits of Celebrated Jewish Personalities, 1600-1900. The engraved portraits featured in the exhibition present a fascinating cross section of prominent European Jews, including renowned rabbis, actors, politicians and philanthropists.

Selected from the vast holdings of the library's rare print collection, twenty-nine engravings are displayed on the first, second and fifth floors of the library building.

The first floor is devoted to rabbinic portraits; the second floor to depictions of performers, politicians, philosophers, and authors; and the fifth floor contains portraits of financiers and philanthropists. These individuals played important roles in the acceptance of Jews into mainstream European society and their fascinating portraits provide us with a glimpse of the status that these historic persons held.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Friends of The Library , will be on view Sunday through Thursday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Friday 9:30 - 2:00pm. For further information please call (212) 678-8082.

From the Rare Book Room

Among the manuscript treasures housed in The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary is a rare haggadah codex, JTS MS 9560. This early manuscript is one of the few surviving examplars of the ancient Palestinian seder rite. That rite disappeared as a result of the dislocations caused by the Crusades, and it was not rediscovered until the manuscript fragments of the Cairo Genizah came to light at the end of the nineteenth century. MS 9560 was probably deposited in that genizah hundreds of years ago.

Unlike most of the manuscript fragments found in the Cairo Genizah, this haggadah is almost complete. Based on the writing style, it can be dated to the tenth or the first half of the eleventh century. That makes it one of the earliest Hebrew manuscripts written on paper, and quite possibly the oldest surviving haggadah. With its unskilled writing style and idiosyncratic spelling and linguistic usage, the text bears witness to a layman's home ritual. Therefore, MS 9560 is significant for a number of areas of Jewish research.

The Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania owns another important exemplar of the Palestinian haggadah, and like that of JTS, it is almost complete. Comparison with MS CJS, however, highlights the significance of the JTS manuscript. For example, MS 9560 contains directions in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, attesting to the survival of that language into a period when the rubrics in most liturgical works had shifted to Judeo-Arabic, since Arabic had replaced Aramaic as the lingua franca of the region.

Even more importantly, MS JTS has a slightly shorter text than does MS CJS. This brevity points to the likelihood that MS JTS represents an earlier version of the Palestinian seder rite. Comparison with other genizah fragments shows how the Palestinian rite came to be augmented under the influence of the Babylonian haggadah, which developed into our contemporary haggadah. These fragments document how the distinct Palestinian rite gradually disappeared as it absorbed elements of the Babylonian rite. MS 9560 is thus a unique witness to an early stage in the evolution of the Passover seder.

Lee Levine Delivers Gerson D. Cohen Memorial Lecture

Dr. Lee Levine, professor of Jewish history and archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and head since 1997 of the Dinur Research Center for the Study of Jewish History was the speaker for the annual Gerson D. Cohen Memorial Lecture, which took place on March 17, 1999. Dr. Levine was educated at JTS and Columbia University, where he studied under Gerson Cohen. In addition to teaching at Hebrew University, JTS, Yale University and the Seminary of Judaic Studies, Jerusalem, Dr. Levine has written ten books and more than one hundred articles, directed archaeological excavations and organized academic conferences.

Dr. Levine spoke about the impact of the discoveries of archaeology on our understanding of the history of Judaism, focusing his discussion on the Talmudic period. He pointed out that archaeology sometimes confirms what we know of this period from the rabbinic texts, but often it complements, supplements or challenges the textual evidence. He emphasized that archaeological finds of the last fifty years, the excavations of synagogues no less than the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, call into question the assumption of a unified normative Judaism during the last two centuries BCE and the first six centuries CE. Indeed, the archaeological evidence suggests, according to Dr. Levine, that the rabbinic texts provide only a very partial picture of Judaism during this period.

Over 150 people attended Dr. Levine's stimulating illustrated lecture. This lecture, sponsored by the Friends of The Library, was followed by a lively question and answer period and a reception in Alperin Lobby.

In Appreciation

Thanks to the generosity of Carol and Gershon Kekst, the library acquired a rare Ashkenazic manuscript copied in 1757, entitled Sefer Ivronot. Composed by Eliezer ben Jacob Askenazi Belin at around the turn of the seventeenth century, the Ivronot deals with the calendar and its calculations. Most notable are its ornately designed diagrams describing the yearly cycles. This is the only item now in the library from the town of Holleschau in Moravia, offering a rare glimpse into the cultural activity of its Jewish community.

A generous donation by Mrs. Marcia H. Nad facilitated the acquisition of three tractates of the Babylonian Talmud from Daniel Bomberg's fourth and last edition (Venice, 1543-49). These tractates, Sanhedrin, Keritot and Makkot, bring the library close to its goal of owning all 124 masekhtot of the Bomberg Talmud, making it the repository of the largest collection of Bomberg Talmud printings in the world. The copies of Keritot and Makkot are especially rare, as their title pages falsely identify them as belonging to the second edition, a ploy by the editor of the fourth edition, Comelio Adelkind, to avoid confiscation and censorship.

The library would also like to acknowledge a gift by Mrs. Charlotte D. Nad with a matching grant from Citicorp to the Esther and Irving Nad Fund for Research in Bible and its Commentaries.

Many thanks to Samuel and Francine Klagsbrun for their generous gift to the library in honor of the birth of their granddaughter, Eliana Rose Hannah Klagsbrun Weinstein.