News From the Library: Vol. 1 No. 1 (March 2005)


I WANT TO BEGIN by saying how thrilled and humbled I am upon assuming the position of Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian at The Jewish Theological Seminary. As we frequently observe, The Library has one of the premier Hebraica and Judaica collections in the world, and the responsibility for preserving and expanding that collection is an awesome one. I pray that I will be able to uphold the august standards of my distinguished predecessors.

I would like to express my gratitude - and I am sure I speak for all of us at The Library - to Naomi Steinberger, for having served as Acting Director for the past two years. That she was able to do this so effectively, on top of her already massive responsibilities, is no less than astounding. Naomi will now be assuming the position of Director of Library Services. I count myself fortunate to have so talented a person as my partner.

For those of you who may not know me, let me introduce myself. I earned my PhD at JTS in 1984, and have been teaching here ever since. My primary field of study is Talmud and rabbinics, and my preferred approaches include literary analysis, religious and ritual studies, and anthropology. I have published six books over the years and am now completing my seventh - The Gastronomic Jew, a select history of Jewish eating practices and Jewish identity through the centuries. I live in New York City with my wife and two daughters, I walk my dog three times a day, I love to cook and I love skiing.

For me, The Library is ultimately about Jewish identity. Let me explain. Our understanding of who we are - of what it means to be Jewish - emerges from our engagement with our teachers; that is, from our Jewish education. Our teachers learn what they learn from their teachers and their books, that is, from scholars who rediscover and revise their views of what it means to be Jewish, based on their own research.

-David Kraemer, Librarian

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NOT LONG AGO, few people would have been aware of any connection between Jews and cartoons. But, with the renewed attention being given to the phenomenon of cartoons, spurred on by a best-selling novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (with its Holocaust sub-theme; and, yes, Michael Chabon is Jewish), the Jewish angle has become more obvious. Still, even if one is aware of this connection, the rich history of Yiddish cartoons is barely known and rarely commented upon.

Perhaps the popular perception of Yiddish, with its folkloric sensibilities, makes it difficult to view it as a medium for modern popular culture. The reality, however, is quite different. From the last decades of the nineteenth century to World War II, millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews, in Eastern Europe and in America, migrated to urban centers and helped create a modern Yiddish culture that included a broad spectrum of literature, arts and theater. With a massive periodical press and readership that accommodated up to five daily newspapers at a time in major centers like New York and Warsaw, Yiddish was the language in which Eastern European Jewry and its immigrant offspring, modernized itself. Moreover, for much of the first half of the twentieth century, the Yiddish press became the "public square" of the Jewish community; the place where local and international news collided with politics, literature and the arts, where high culture met low, and where readers in far-flung places became part of the same community.

One of a number of novel elements that was found amid this broad mix of news, commentary, criticism and literature, was the Yiddish language cartoon, which visually refracted Jewish life through its satiric prism.

-Edward Portnoy, Adjunct Instructor of Jewish History at JTS; and Guest Curator, The Library

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THE SOLOMON SCHECHTER archive is one of The Library's most valued treasures. In April 1902, Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), left his position as Professor at Cambridge University to come to New York to assume the presidency of a newly reconstituted JTS. He was already well known for his discovery of the Cairo Genizah - that great storehouse of Jewish documents representing medieval and early-modern Jewish life in the Mediterranean world - but he soon gained at least equal renown as the leading early exponent of Conservative Judaism in American.

After Schechter's untimely death in 1915, family members appealed to friends and compatriots to donate or loan correspondence and other personal documents to The Library. The materials collected at that time provide the foundation of what is now the Solomon Schechter archive, which is housed in The Library's rare book room. This archive is comprised of more than 50,000 pages of Schechter's correspondence dating from 1856, as well as his notebooks, manuscripts, memorabilia and photographs.

The correspondence contains letters Dr. Schechter wrote to various scholars he sought to recruit for the JTS faculty, including Louis Ginzberg, Israel Friedlaender, and Alexander Marx, our first Librarian. It also holds the correspondence Dr. Schechter had with many of the students he mentored at JTS, some of whom, like Henrietta Szold and Joseph Hertz, became quite famous in their own right.

-Ellen Kastel, Archivist, The Library

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ONE OF THE MOST important chapters in the early history of Hebrew printing is the story of the house of Daniel Bomberg. Bomberg, a wealthy Christian, was a native of Antwerp who settled in Venice as a young man. His superb education led him to develop a deep interest in books in general, and especially in Hebrew books, of which he published nearly 200. His publishing house was the first to print a rabbinic Bible, known as Miara'ot Gedolot (1517-8), along with the first editions of the Babylonian and Jerusalem versions of the Talmud (1520-23). The Library is fortunate to own complete editions of these works.

In an early stage of a research project that I am currently engaged in, it has become necessary for me to carefully check and confirm every entry in the catalog to Bomberg's Hebrew publications, A.M. Habermann's, Ha-madpis Daniel Bomberg u-reshimath sifre beth defusso (1978). As a result, a yet unrecognized attribute of The Library's collection is about to receive its due here. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there a more comprehensive collection of the entire Bomberg corpus against which to check Habermann's catalog! However, in this brief notice, I can only report on a few of my findings in Bomberg's non-Talmud imprints. A glimpse at the theological and philosophical decisions concerning which authors and works were printed will have to wait.

In the case of some imprints, not only does The Library have a copy, but it owns a copy of each of two different versions. For instance, we have both types of Rashba's Hidushe Gittin (different scripts and dates) and Baruch ben Isaac's Sefer Ha-terumah (different foliation), and we have copies of both versions of Radak's Sefer Mikhlol; one with the Jewish date on the title page, and one with the Christian date. I have also found interesting variations within a single imprint. For example, within one edition, Bomberg sometimes used ruled paper and sometimes not, as in different copies of the Tanakh in each of two quarto editions (1525) and (1544-5).

Given the breadth and wealth of The Library's collection, it is also possible to trace a book's development through several editions. For instance, gatherings of an earlier quarto edition of the Tanakh were used in assembling some of the later editions of the Tanakh (a practice seen frequently in Bomberg's Talmud editions).

-Bruce E. Nielsen, Assistant Dean, The Graduate School

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THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY is well-known for its faculty's important contributions to the world of Jewish scholarship. What is less well-known, however, are the many contributions of the The Library's staff to the world of Jewish libraries. The Library is a premier research institution, not only by virtue of the quality of its collection, which is unsurpassed; but also because so many of our staff members are at the forefront of new developments in the field. Allow us to give you a recent example.

The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), a professional organization for Jewish librarians worldwide, recently held its annual convention (June 20-22), in Brooklyn. Many of our staff members made significant contributions, presenting numerous papers and chairing several sessions.

Among these was a paper presented by Sara Spiegel, our Administrative Librarian for Technical Services, on how to effectively utilize web search engines in identifying free ejournals in Jewish studies. She also discussed the pros and cons of creating such a collection of free resources. Our Administrative Librarian for Public Services, Lissa Weinberger, gave a paper on "Choosing Sides on the Digital Divide: Determining When to Use Print vs. Electronic Resources." She offered strategies for integrating electronic and print resources in such a way that users will be able to deter­mine when to use a print resource and when to use an electronic resource.

Our Director of Library Services and most recently, Acting Director of The Library, Naomi Steinberger, addressed two additional topics - the first, "Staff Development on a Shoestring," in which she discussed how internal staff-development programs can be developed at no cost. (Naomi offered several examples of workshops she developed and used at The Library.) In her second presentation, "Keeping Up With Collecting in the Twenty-first Century at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary," she outlined key strategic planning issues in today's heated book market.

Other staff presenting at the convention included Israel Dubitsky, Rabbi Clifford B. Miller and David Wachtel.

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JEWS HAVE ALWAYS MAINTAINED a strong connection with their history as a means of deriving inspiration and hope for the future. This is reflected in a interesting North Italian mahzor that was recently cataloged by The Library, and which can now be found under the shelf marked "MS 10747." The mahzor, probably copied in the first part of the nineteenth century, is the text of an old French prayer rite. The history of this rite is instructive.

Following their expulsion from France in 1394, some French Jews settled in Northern Italy. There, they continued to pray according to the rituals of their French ancestors. While most French Jews gradually adopted the rituals of their neighbors, those who resided in the communities of Asti, Fossano and Moncalvo did not. Though these Jews adopted local liturgical rites, they continued to return to traditional French liturgy for the most important holidays of the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, even into the nineteenth century, half a millennium after the expulsion of their ancestors.

Because of the small size of this surviving population, the old French liturgy has never been printed; it survives only in manuscripts from the Middle Ages - and in manuscripts containing the rites of Asti, Fossano and Moncalvo. An Asti manuscript owner memorialized the passing of his father in 1862 in a touching composition in this volume. From Asti, it made its way to the Comunita Israelitica in Verona.

How did it get to the US? Well, at the beginning of August 1947, the tenor, Richard Tucker was in Verona on his European debut in the role of Enzo in Ponchielli's opera La Giocondo (Maria Callas made her Italian debut in the same performance.) Amid the tumult caused by his enthusiastic reception, Tucker, who as a singer also undertook cantorial roles, made time to visit the Jewish community in Verona. His visit is commemorated in an inscription on the front of the mahzor which states that it was given to Tucker as a gift on August 13, 1947.

Before his death, Richard Tucker told his son Barry about this gift, indicating that it was a rare and important work. He asked his son to treat it with special care - and to make sure that it had an appropriate home.

-Jay Rovner, Manuscript Bibliographer, The Library

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RABBI JUDAH BRUMER, a renowned rabbinic literature expert, retired from The Library at the end of October 2004. Brumer served as Chief Manuscript Cataloger for over four decades, with the distinction of being the longest-serving staff member of The Library. He leaves behind a massive catalog, which is consulted with profit by scholars in all areas of rabbinics the world over. When rabbinic scholars visit The Library, it is not unusual for them to seek him out personally, to tap his expertise.

Rabbi Brumer was born in Sanok, Poland (Galicia), to a rabbinic family. His father, Rabbi Elazar ha-Levi Brumer, was a noted scholar, who was head of Poland's Rabbinical Court, and a revered educator. Judah Brumer served as a rabbi in Bielsko (Poland), where, during World War II, he embarked on distant journeys which took him to Siberia and Uzbekistan and, after the war, to Paris. In Paris, he served as a congregational rabbi and took on other duties as well.

From Paris, Rabbi Brumer emigrated to the U.S, where he took an apartment near JTS. As it turned out, he davened in the same minyan as Moshe Zucker, a member of JTS's Talmud Department. Impressed with Rabbi Brumer's knowledge, Zucker introduced him to Nahum Sarna, then the Librarian at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, who subsequently hired Brumer to catalog rabbinic books. Brumer's talents were immediately recognized and, withinin two years, Nahum Sarna asked him to catalog The Library's vast collection of rabbinic manuscripts.

After forty-six years at The Library, Rabbi Brumer, who has also been laboring on another project - preparing his father's commentary on the Tanakh for publication - decided that the time had come to work on this effort full-time. Clearly, his retirement will not be idle! We wish him well in his future endeavors and will greatly miss him here at The Library.

-Jay Rovner, Manuscript Bibliographer, The Library

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