Between the Lines: Vol. 14 No. 2 (Fall 2001)

Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art — an Exhibition Sponsored by the Friends of The Library

This fall, the library mounted Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art. Through a selection of rare prints and manuscripts from the library's collection, this exhibition highlights the tradition of transforming Hebrew script into a unique decorative art. Micrography, one of the few exclusively Jewish art forms, is the scribal technique of employing minuscule script to create abstract shapes or figurative designs. This ingenious decorative device was first practiced in Egypt and Eretz Israel as early as the tenth century. By the early thirteenth century the art of micrography had spread to Jewish communities throughout Europe. Bridging the Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Italianate traditions, this remarkable technique has been passed down through the generations and remains in use to this day.

Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art features magnificent examples of this artistic technique produced in more than a dozen countries and spanning nine centuries. Highlights of this exhibition include exquisite fourteenth- and fifteenth-century bibles from Germany, Spain and Yemen with lavish carpet pages and decorative borders formed of micrographic text. Also on view are rare lithographs depicting biblical portraits and tableaux comprised of intricately woven diminutive words from relevant biblical verses, as well as famous political and literary figures such as Theodor Herzl and Haim Nahman Bialik whose own words, minutely rendered, form the contours of their micrographic likenesses. Elaborately decorated Italian ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts) that employed this exacting art form are also on display.

The exhibition is on display from November 5, 2001 through February 28, 2002. It can be viewed on the first and fifth floors of the library building, Sunday through Thursday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Friday 9:30 - 2:00pm. For further information please call (212)678-8082.

Judaica Book Endowments Established

The library is pleased to announce the following recently established book endowments:

  • The Rose and Jack Goldman Book Endowment Fund established by Heather and Adi Rabinowitz in loving memory of their grandparents.
  • The Rabbi Andre Unger Book Endowment Fund established in recognition of his inspired rabbinic leadership.
The library's book endowments are permanently named funds for the purpose of assuring the continued growth of the library's collection.For information about the endowment program please contact Rickie Weiner at 212-678-8962

Technologically Speaking: JTS Library Technology Projects

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is moving ahead in the field of information technology. This year, the library's online system, ALEPH, underwent a major upgrade from a traditional,centralized structure (ALEPH 300) to a web-based catalog (ALEPH 500)that allows greater flexibility and more options for library users. The new ALEPH 500 can be reached from anywhere on the Internet at web-based system makes it easier to combine terms for complex searches. It also allows users to refine or filter a search with far greater precision than the old system could. A new feature in ALEPH 500is "My Search," which allows users to create a "shopping cart" of search results that they can print, download to their home computer, or e-mail themselves. My search makes it possible to create a personalized bibliography from ALEPH search data.

Two other databases can also be reached from the address: the Course Reserve Catalog and News About Jews. The Course Reserve Catalog is for the use of current JTS students. It indexes materials that faculty member shave placed on reserve for particular courses. A completely electronic reserve system is being developed; this will allow students to access the full text of reserve readings over the Internet. News About Jews is an online collection that the library created with funding from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. It contains digitized images of 259 American newspapers from the Abraham and Deborah Karp Collection of Early American Judaica.These newspapers span the years 1782-1898. They document popular images of Jews in the United States and reflect the daily experiences of Jews around the world in the banner headlines of their times. They contain literary musings, humorous anecdotes, and a host of details that illuminate our understanding of Jewish life from the early days of the American republic through the times of mass migration at the end of the nineteenth century. Abstracts from these newspapers can be searched by keyword, and the actual articles can be viewed online.

The library's website, was recently revised as part of a redesign of the overall JTS website.New features on the site include "Ask a Judaica Librarian," which allows visitors to submit questions to the library's reference staff over the Internet. The site now lists electronic resources that are available both online and in the library.Public services librarians have prepared lists of recommended links in the areas of the Holocaust and Jewish education; more recommended link swill be added to the website in the future. Exhibits from the library's collections have their online counterparts on display, and the latest issues of the library's New Books list and Between the Lines are also available on the website.Visitors can also join Friends of The Library or purchase products from the Sales Desk.

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary continues to seek out new applications of the latest technologies to better serve the needs of the JTS community. The library is already planning its next upgrade to the latest version of ALEPH 500. Reference librarians are continually searching for new electronic resources that will be beneficial to their users. Projects to create more original works like News About Jews, which bring the library's rare holdings to a worldwide audience, are underway. The library will continue to use twenty-first century technology to disseminate its timeless treasures of Jewish culture and heritage.

Conservation Corner: The Invisible Brought to Light

Among the library's treasures is a beautifully illuminated from Renaissance Italy, (MS 8224), containing text illustrations relating to the Friday night kiddush and the Passover Seder. Until now, the origins of the manuscript has remained a mystery as the colophon, which would normally relate the name of the manuscripts's copyist, place and date of production, and the person for whom it was commissioned, has been conscientiously scraped off,presumably by a later owner. Slight traces exist, revealing that the full-page inscription had been written in the shape of two triangles tapering and meeting at the center but the text is not visible under natural or ultra-violet light. Infra-red photographs and a beta radiograph provided by Margaret Hoblen Ellis, director of the Conservation Center of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts yielded no results. The page was digitally scanned at the JTS's library where it became clearer that some of the original inscription still exists, though not enough to make the colophon legible.

The library's conservators investigated other possibilities and found that advanced digital images that are able to reveal obliterated texts is being developed by Dr. Roger Easton of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science a the Rochester Institute of Technology and Dr. Keith Knox, principal scientist of the Digital Imaging Technology Center of Xerox. The manuscript was brought to Rochester to be photographed. Although the results are not yet complete, the digital images of this seemingly blank page reveal that the prayer book was completed by the scribe Efraim ben Joab of Modena on Friday, in Florence, on the thirteenth day of the month of Nisan,probably in the year 1487. Unfortunately, the patron's name is still too unclear to be read with certainty. Now that the scientists know which light, filters and exposures yield the best results, they are optimistic that in the next round of photography, the entire text will be revealed. Currently, a list is being compiled of other manuscripts at the library in which valuable information has been erased. Once funds have been raised for this project, the equipment and technicians from Rochester will come to the library to photograph them, allowing the secrets of the Renaissance to be revealed by means of twenty-first-century technology.

From the Rare Book Room: Lost Autograph Defense of Kimhi's Shorashim Discovered in the Manuscript Collection

David Kimhi (Provence, 1160?–1235?), a leading grammarian and Bible commentator, was known for his Seferha-Shorashim, a biblical lexicon. That work set a standards soon as it was published, and several scholars honored it by adding their own notes and corrections in its margins. Among them was the most eminent Hebrew philologist of his day, Elijah (Levita) Bahur (Italy,1468 or 1469–1549), who taught both Jewish and Christian humanists. Bahur's glosses, which he called Nimmukim,were incorporated into several editions of the Shorashim.

These reached Shabbethai Sofer, an outstanding sixteenth-seventeenth century Hebraist in Przmysl, Poland, who was an ardent admirer of Kimhi. Sofer felt that many of Bahur's criticisms were wrong-headed, and he set out to defend Kimhi. Since Sofer's copy of the Shorashim did not contain Bahur's Nimmukim,he wrote out the entire text of the Nimmukim at the back of his copy and penned his refutations of Bahur alongside the passages he found objectionable. Sofer also added several glosses of his own in the margins of his copy of Sefer ha-Shorashim.

We found the lost original of Sofer's defense of Kimhi,together with his aforementioned marginal notes to the Shorashim,in our MS 2937. This discovery was authenticated by comparison with samples of Shabbethai Sofer's handwriting.

As an additional benefit, the manuscript contributed to the solution of a biographical puzzle regarding the end of Sofer's life.His biographer, Stephan C. Reif, indicated uncertainty as to when and where Sofer died, suggesting that his last work was a 1630 poem concerning a martyr's death in Przmysl, and that he died circa 1635.Since Sofer announced at the conclusion of our manuscript, "I wrote this today, Sunday 3 Elul, 397 [i.e., 1637] here in Jerusalem," we know that he was active after 1635, and was living in Jerusalem towards the end of his life. We also know that Sofer composed his defense of Kimhi when he was a mature scholar.

Tefillot Nashim: Women's Religious Jewish Life in Eighteenth-Nineteenth Centuries Italy

Among the library's treasures are twenty Italian manuscripts of exceptional and special nature. They are collections of prayers to be recited by women on various occasions. As such, they reveal expected and unexpected elements of a woman's life in Italy in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries, when the manuscripts were composed and copied. Each manuscript is unique because it offers choices of group of prayers or alternative versions of prayers; many were written for particular woman, such as a bride, whose name is then copied into each prayer at the point where the name of the individual petitioner is recited.

The collections treat the daily life of a married woman:separating hallah from the bread dough, lighting the Sabbath candles,going to the mikvah, resuming intimate relations with her husband and prayer for harmony in their relationship. The various stages of pregnancy and childbirth are often covered, as well as a petition at the circumcision of a son.

Unlike the East European genre of women's prayers, Tehinnes,which are predominantly in Yiddish, the Italian collections, with but one exception, are entirely in Hebrew and include several readings from Scripture. Sometimes the instructions are in Italian, but many are in Hebrew. The presence of Hebrew texts, when translation into Italian was an option, imply that the women who used them had learned Hebrew.

Many of the petitions were designed to supplement the three services in the daily liturgy, Shaharit, Minhah,and Arvit, which indicates that many women in this period prayed three times a day. Some prayers, moreover, we redesigned for portions of the service only heard in public, viz.,prayers said when kaddish was recited. There is also a prayer upon a woman's return to the synagogue after giving birth. This implies that women regularly attended services and that the life of the synagogue figured meaningfully in their lives.

Friends of The Library Support Acquisitions for Rare Book Collection

Funds raised by the Friends of The Library were used recently to purchase rare books and manuscripts for the library adding to its world-renowned collection in various areas of Judaica:

  • Ketubbah, Gozlow, 1824 Ketubbah, Qierquir, 1855? Ketubbah, Gozlow,Eupatoria, 1824
  • Ketubbah, Qierquir, 1855?

Both ketubbot are documents belonging to the Karaite community in the Crimea and date around the period when Karaism was classified as separate religion in the Russian Empire, on a par with Judaism and Islam. The ketubbot are beautifully illustrated in the typical style offhand-decorated Crimean ketubbot and the entire text is written in Hebrew.

  • Pentateuch,Haphtaroth and Megiloth. Munich: Vaad Hatzala, 1947. Thebook was issued by the rescue committee for survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. It includes introductory pages in English and Hebrew superimposed over colored Stars and Stripes, dedicating the bible to President Harry S. Truman (Munich, 1947).
  • Mordechai Tzvi, Divreihakhamim. Warsaw: Isaac Goldman, 1876. This first edition presentation copy inscribed by Samuel Mohliver to the London dayan, Dr.Asher, with extensive autograph marginal notes. Samuel Mohliver was an early member of the Hovevei Zion (the lovers of Zion) movement in Russia and a founding father of religious Zionism.
  • Haggadah Shel Pesah. Offenbach: Zvi Hirsch Segal and his son Abraham [1800]. A new edition with the German translation printed in hebrew script beneath the original woodblock illustrations.
  • Seder Marbeh Lasefer v'hu, Haggadah shel Pesah. edited by M. I. Landau,Prague, 1873.
  • Seder Haggadah le-leil Pesah. Amsterdam: D.L. Cardozo &Co, 1893. This edition includes notes in Dutch.
  • Seder Haggadah le-leil Pesah. Amsterdam: G.I. Polak, J.L.Joachimsthal, 1896.
  • Seder Haggadah le-leil Shemurim. Frankfurt au Main (Rodelheim):M. Leherberger, 1914
  • Ottolenghi, M.Zahor ha'shem l'david Binu Imi. Salonika, 1854. A manuscript about various aspects of Jewish law.
  • Seferha'Romaim, a leather bound manuscript, possibly a commentary on Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews.