News From the Library: Vol. 2 No. 1 (April 2006)


by David Sclar, Library Specialist in Jewish Art and Special Collections 

IN 2002, The Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation awarded a grant to The Library for the conservation of one of its most important manuscripts, the Prato Haggadah. The conservation of the manuscript, undertaken by Library Conservation Consultant Nellie Stavisky, has recently been completed, providing us a unique opportunity to exhibit this rare and exceptional piece in all of its glory. The exhibit, also made possible by the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, began with a gala opening on Thursday, April 6, 2006.

Why is this exhibition different from all other exhibitions? In ordinary circumstances, we can exhibit only two facing pages of a bound manuscript, requiring that each work be viewed as only one among many. But in this case, since full preservation required that the manuscript be disbound, we are able to display some thirty bi–folios of the work. As a consequence, we have devoted virtually the entire exhibition to this single manuscript, highlighting some of its most interesting and outstanding characteristics.

The exhibition showcases breathtaking illuminated leaves, including text illustrations of the four sons, matzah, maror, and a medieval rendering of the land of Goshen. We also exhibit folios that illustrate medieval realia and even the artist's sense of humor. For instance, there are hybrid (part human, part animal) figures playing contemporary musical instruments, a hybrid figure examining a jar of urine, many two–bodied heads, a simian figure holding a gold ball, and a hybrid out of whose mouth flows the decorated word Halleluyah. There is also, throughout the Haggadah, an illustrative motif showing the hunting of a hare, in which the reader of the manuscript observes a hound pursuing a hare until the hound's master finally shoots the hare with an arrow.

One section of the exhibit is devoted to the liturgy represented in the Haggadah. For example, one of the most significant aspects of the text is the absence of blessings associated with the seder meal — a practice found in a few medieval Sephardic haggadot produced for the purpose of being read publicly in the synagogue. We also illustrate textual variants, as well as emen–dations, and corrections that were added over the centuries.

Naturally, the exhibition places this unique Haggadah in its historical context. Viewers will see the sole datable mark in the manuscript: an Italian censor's signature from 1617. They will also see the development of the text, from its Spanish beginnings to the Ashkenazic section that was added, probably in sixteenth–century Italy.

One of the most significant elements of the Haggadah is the fact that its illuminations are unfinished. The incomplete nature of the codex allows us to illustrate in the exhibit the stages of production of an illuminated manuscript: the scribal arrangement of the text, the artist's preparatory drawings, the application of gesso to cushion gold or silver leaf, the addition of a wide variety of pigments, and the outlining of the illuminations with ink. In this connection, there is a case devoted to illustrating the making of a manuscript, including the production of parchment, quills, inks, and pigments.

In one exhibition case, the conservation of the Haggadah itself is documented and explained. The visitor will have a chance to learn about the several steps of conservation, including the consolidation of the ink and pigmentation and the cleaning of the dirt and grime that accumulated over the last several centuries. And finally, the exhibit also provides us the opportunity to display some exceptional contemporary artistic haggadot in our fifth–floor cases.

The exhibit will continue for three months, until July 7. Be sure to set time aside on your calendar for a visit. The opportunity to view this work in this way will never present itself again.

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Jay Rovner, Manuscript Bibliographer and David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian

MANY READERS WILL BE FAMILIAR with the notion of a Genizah — a depository for the storage of worn out Jewish sacred writings, such as prayer books and mezuzahs — used until the writings are brought to proper burial in a cemetery. Some of you may even be familiar with the famous Cairo Genizah, at least by name. But few are in a position to appreciate the worth of the Cairo Genizah, arguably one of the most important historical discoveries of all time. With the help of a revolutionary new project in which The Library is participating, this is about to change.

The Cairo Genizah, whose significance was first appreciated by Solomon Schechter late in the nine teenth century, was utterly unique. For reasons no one knows for sure (though there are a variety of theories), the Jewish community in old Cairo (Fostat) chose to deposit in the Genizah of its synagogue not just sacred documents, but anything written in Hebrew characters. By virtue of the fact that Jews in Egypt, along with others living throughout the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages, wrote in Judeo–Arabic — the Arabic language written in Hebrew characters — this meant that business contracts, per sonal correspondence, and writings of many sorts all wound up in this storehouse. Moreover, also for reasons unknown, the Jewish community of Cairo never sent its Genizah for burial. Thus, this storehouse, when "discovered," contained the record of 1,000 years of Jewish life (from the eighth or ninth to the nineteenth century) in this region and beyond. Finally, since Jews lived in constant contact with their non–Jewish neighbors (primarily Muslim), and since their lives were similar to those of their neighbors, the Genizah offers unparalleled evidence of Muslim life in the same places and periods. Hundreds of thousands of documents, offering evidence of every day life over many centuries: what more could the historian ask for?

It is no exaggeration to say that the evidence of the Genizah has already transformed our knowledge of Jewish and Muslim society in the High Middle Ages (the tenth–thirteenth centuries). It has enriched our understanding of social and economic life in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. It has provided early witnesses for countless biblical and rabbinic documents, linguistic and liturgical compositions, as well as scientific, philosophical, and Kabbalistic materials. It has helped us fill in bibliographic lacunae by supplying examples of wholly unknown works and works known only by chance, i.e., from references or quotations found in the works of other writers. Indeed, many scholars, among them JTS professors, have devoted academic careers, in whole or in part, to the research and publication of those manuscript texts. But, given the immensity of this collection, this research has only just begun, and it will undoubtedly last for centuries.

Researching Genizah documents has been a daunting task. Important collections can be found around the globe, from the United States to Europe (the world's largest collection is in Cambridge, England), Russia, and Israel. Up to this point, to conduct research, an aspiring scholar had to repeat the same tasks, traveling to different libraries and examining thousands of documents in order to locate the ones pertinent to his or her research. Even today, the Genizah is largely uncataloged or cataloged only in brief and incomplete descriptions, and few such catalogs are properly indexed. With such a state of affairs, it is surprising that Genizah research has progressed as far as it has.

Now, however, thanks to the vision and commitment of Mr. Dov Friedberg of Toronto, we may look forward to a new website that will revolutionize Genizah research. That website, the product of the work of The Friedberg Geniza Project, will make available an international union catalogue of Cairo Genizah manuscripts, containing accurate descriptions of every Genizah item worldwide, each linked to digitized images of that same item. Given the capacities of new technologies, the researcher will be able to do searches that have never before been possible, expand images to help decipher difficult–to–read writings, and compare fragments — placing them "side–by–side" electronically — something that no one could have compared before. These capacities promise scholarly results that will further enhance and transform our understanding of the world represented by the Genizah.

Because the Genizah manuscripts at JTS form the second largest collection of Cairo Genizah fragments in the world, with more than 35,000 items, The Library's Genizah collections will be an essential component of this project.

The process of creating the Friedberg Geniza Project site is extremely complex. The first step is the creation of the digital images. We are proud to say that The Library is the first major collection to digitize all of its Genizah holdings. For the project at The Library — the bulk of which was completed in February — we selected Ardon Bar Hama, whom you will recall as the photographer for our Library Treasures website, as the photographer because of his facility with a unique digital camera, one that enabled him to work extremely fast. His camera — the first of its kind in use anywhere in the world — is able to take images one after the other, without any scanning or processing time, at the state–of–the–art resolution of 600 dpi. The process, a mix of "Model T assembly line" with high technology, was supported by two project assistants, and Dr. Micky Reuveni served as the project manager. With this technology and personnel support, we were able to shoot in excess of 5,000 images per week! A few years ago, this was projected to take years to complete; it now has been accomplished in less than three months.

After the images were taken, they were sent to Jerusalem, where they will be studied and extensively catalogued by a team of Friedman Genizah Project scholars (building on earlier cataloging done by JTS's Dr. Neil Danzig as part of our Lieberman Institute project). The cataloging work, along with the construction of the site, is expected to take more than two years (and this is only for the JTS materials; there are 140,000 fragments in the collection of the Cambridge University Library). But at that time, when the new site is unveiled, the world will be introduced to an unparalleled new research opportunity. And, as the information from Cambridge University and other smaller collections is added, the Cairo Genizah will once again be reunited, now in a new electronic home.

The computer programming that underlies the aforementioned processes is being designed and overseen by Professor Emeritus Yaacov Choueka of Bar–Ilan University. Professor Choueka has already participated in significant projects: he designed the programming that makes the Bar–Ilan Responsa Project an indispensable text–retrieval tool and sophisticated search engine for work in Jewish studies. He also produced Rav Milim, a web–based comprehensive dictionary of modern Hebrew.

Jay Rovner, our Manuscript Bibliographer, helped design the workflow, directed the compilation of the initial inventory, and made himself available to JTS and Friedberg staff in resolving problems as they arose in this most complex project. The Library is grateful to everyone who has made this unprecedented project possible.

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by David Kraemer

IN HER INFLUENTIAL BOOK, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge University Press, 1979), Elizabeth Eisenstein argues that the new "information technology" of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries — the printing press — had profound consequences for society in general and for religion in particular. It was not an accident, she argues, that the Protestant Revolution followed on the heels of this invention. The proliferation of printed books made it possible to compare the ancient with the modern, allowing churchmen to appreciate how much Christian practice and doctrine had changed over the centuries. The new technology made it possible for these same churchmen to publish their critiques of Catholicism in relatively large numbers, thus influencing Christian attitude. While the Vatican could try to suppress some of these publications, their sheer quantity made it impossible to do so completely, thus assuring that new opinions would find an audience. In retrospect, it seems evident that the outcome could not have been otherwise. Needless to say, similar consequences were felt in the Jewish community in the same period. It will escape no one's notice that we are ourselves living through a parallel revolution in information technologies. We in The Library have had to stay at the forefront of this revolution — providing access to e–books, online journals, digitized rare manuscripts, and the like — or else we risk making ourselves irrelevant. But the change we are experiencing is not only about a shift in the mode of access to information. The very ways information is now created and distributed has potentially profound consequences for Jewish life. It is worth asking how these technologies will affect what it means to be a Jew in the future.

To begin answering this question, I decided to seek some answers to Jewish questions by doing what we all do in such a situation: "Googling" the term kashrut and seeing what turned up. At the top of the list was, a site with a very traditional orientation that provides basic information, as well as directories and lists relevant to the kosher consumer. But a short way down the list was a link to an article in the Wikipedia, an online, free encyclopedia that can be edited by its readers. Consider this: the most extensive online encyclopedia, consulted by many thousands of readers a day, has no authoritative, scholarly control. In my experience, its articles tend to be quite good, but there is no guarantee of what direction an article will take. Interesting.

I then jumped to, a popular site for the exploration of religion, any religion. Someone exploring Judaism on this site will be able to read a "virtual Talmud," featuring the opinions of rabbis of different inclinations (including Conservative Rabbi Susan Grossman) or take a "Jewish identity quiz" to determine what kind of Jew one is. I took the quiz myself and found myself categorized as a Tzimmes Jew (as opposed to a Blueberry Bagel Jew or Haroseth Jew or Lukshin Kugel Jew. As far as I could tell, Lukshin Kugel is more–or–less equiva lent to Orthodox and Tzimmes to Conservative, etc.). Now imagine if you have a question about your identity or aspirations, you log on, take a quiz, and get an answer. It's amazing, but scary from the perspective of a religious. establishment. In this world, it is not the institutions (JTS, HUC, YU) that define identity, but a website under non–Jewish auspices that consciously avoids the denominational labels. As much as "official" religious authority has been attenuated by personal choice and the free market in the past, it is now radically so.

And this is not the only religious question where the web displaces "traditional" centers of authority. Do you have a question about which synagogue to join? Try Need a rabbi? Try Is the partner proposed to you on too traditional? Try You get the idea.

In other words, as has often been observed, the web is a radically democratic realm. With relatively little money, anyone can offer their opinion, make their argument, or offer their services. And no one — neither Pope nor President — can control what is communicated; no one is in a position to approve or disapprove what there is to find.

What this means is that the free market of online information and services will have an ever–increasing influence on the shape of Jewish life. Choices will not be few — they will be, in theory at least, infinite. And only the seeker (researcher, questioner) will control the outcome. In order to compete in such a world, any Jewish community or organization will have to find a way to communicate well — attractively, persuasively, and inspirationally. Anyone can find a niche, so if you want to expand your niche, you'll have to make it attractive. Do you want to serve as the authority for your community (say, the Conservative community)? You'll have to communicate convincingly, impressing with the weight of your argument, not the position that you hold. If you don't do it well, there's always another "authority" just a click away.

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By Ina Cohen, Public Services Librarian

THE MUSICOLOGIST VISITING from the Latvian National Library wasn't sure she'd find the scores she needed when she walked into the Sabin Family Music Library at JTS last spring. She was organizing a concert highlighting the works of Riga composers and wanted to include renowned Jewish musician Baruch Leib Rosowsky. Rosowsky had been an outstanding Hazzan in Riga for over fifty years, and was the father of Solomon Rosowsky, whose archive is held in the JTS Music Archives. Not only did the musicologist find scores; she also found unique Russian–language biographical material accessible in the Rosowsky archive.

The Sabin Family Music Library is a self–contained microcosm of the main research library, with its own subject specific collections: reference, periodicals, oversize, undersize, hi-density, rare book, and archives. In addition, the Music Library houses sheet music and a range of audio formats: CDs, cassettes, vinyl records (33s and 78s), reel–to–reel tapes, videos, and DVDs. Appropriate audio and visual equipment located in the adjoining AV Room provides users with onsite listening access. An electronic Clavinova, complete with earphones, allows musicians to play the scores they retrieve from the well–organized shelves.

The volumes focus on Jewish music, both sacred and secular, along with selected classical pieces by Jewish musicians. The print collection covers Jewish music history, criticism, and education, in addition to the scores themselves. The scores represent a particularly wide range of genres, reflecting the breadth and history of world Jewish communities. A partial listing includes: cantorial and other synagogue music, art songs, popular, Israeli, Zionist, Chassidic, klezmer, children's, and folk music — for voice (solo and choral) and instruments.

Materials of note in the Sabin Library include: recordings from the "Golden Age of Cantors"; nineteenth and twentieth–century cantorial anthologies; yearbooks of the Jewish Ministers Cantors Association of America; sheet music of early–twentieth–century popular Yiddish songs; publications by members of the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music; and a microfilm copy of the Birnbaum music manuscript collection.

The primary users are JTS students and faculty, especially from the H.L. Miller Cantorial School. Tutorials in Jewish music research strategies are offered to JTS students on a group and individual basis. Students from other cantorial schools have also done their thesis research in the Sabin Family Music Library. Indeed, the quality of the collection attracts inquiries and visitors from the entire New York metropolitan area, as well as from around the globe, such as the recent visitor from Riga.

Here are additional examples of how the library is used: A Colorado elementary–school music teacher preparing a holiday concert inquired about Colonialera Hanukkah music; a Metropolitan Opera choral singer searched for Hebrew music in preparation for an audition; a CD producer used the music history collection to prepare liner notes; a concert music director reviewed scores to develop repertoire for upcoming performances; a music publisher used the library to complete archival holdings of his own publications; an accomplished Berlin cantor/opera singer inquired about scores as part of her European effort to revive classical music based on Jewish themes; a synagogue choir director was able to close gaps in his collection of scores, as part of his project to reestablish the choral music of the prewar Munich Jewish community. (Music library staff direct users to perform music copyright research in order to obtain permission to copy, publish, and perform, in accordance with US copyright law.)

Descendents of well–known cantors have come to listen to recordings of their relatives. A contemporary theater and opera critic requested biographical information about his great–uncle, a popular performer on the Yiddish stage early in the twentieth century.

A few summers ago, an older gentleman with a Russian accent visiting from the University of Wisconsin asked about the Yiddish folk music section. As the librarian directed him, her eye fell on a curious volume: a fairly new anthology of Jewish folk songs published in the former Soviet Union (St. Petersburg, 1994). When she pointed it out to the visitor he smiled and said it was he who had compiled it. He had originally been an ethnomusicologist not specializing in Jewish culture. One day a colleague suggested that since he was Jewish, he might as well work on some "Jewish papers" in a certain storage area that was being cleared out. The result was this book. He proudly told her that financial backing to publish this volume came from Chechnia!

So the musicologist from Riga was hardly alone in identifying useful treasures in the Sabin Family Music Library, and the stories behind the visiting musicians and researchers are gems in their own right.

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by Lisa Weinberger, Administrative Librarian for Public Services.

AS THE FACE OF THE WORLD has been transformed by new information technologies, libraries have benefited from numerous advances that have changed the way we serve our patrons. The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary has worked hard to stay at the forefront of this revolution, and we are pleased to report that we have recently taken advantage of a number of these innovations.

JTS recently implemented Blackboard, a course management system used by schools and universities around the world. The Library is using Blackboard to revolutionize the way students are able to access their course readings. The old standard in universities was to place a course's required readings on "reserve," a designated library collection dedicated to supporting the immediate needs of courses. Reserve readings had to be requested from a library staff person, could only be borrowed for two hours, and were accessible only when The Library was open. Blackboard has completely changed the concept of reserve readings. Now, professors submit a list of their readings to The Library, where they are digitized and, using Blackboard, posted to a website unique to each course. This website is password protected with access granted only to students in the course. Since the course readings are now available online, students can access their course readings at their convenience, from any computer with online access, twenty four/seven (or, in the case of Shabbat observant students, twenty–four/six). They are no longer bound by The Library hours and do not have to wait for their course readings if other students are using them.

Blackboard can also allow for more interaction between The Library and participants in specific courses. For example, if a professor brings in a class for an information literacy session, when the session is finished, the resource guide can be posted to the class's Blackboard site. This will allow

Students to connect directly to websites mentioned in the course of the session. They also need not keep track of papers handed out during The Library session anything that ca be rented in electronic form can be posted online. These are just two of the ways The Library is currently using Blackboard. We will continuously work on improving our service to patrons and students.

Blackboard is not the only resource changing how we serve our patrons. The Library has recently acquires two new online resources, Ot'zar Ha–Hochma and Project Muse.

Ot'zar Ha–Hochma contains 19,000 full–text books of Jewish texts, all in Hebrew, covering works from Maimonides through Adin Steinsaltz. These text are searchable by individual words. This means that in matter of minutes a students or researcher can trace an idea or concept across time as it has involved in various Jewish works.

Project Muse has over 200 scholarly periodicals in the arts and humanities. It includes many, journals in the field or Judaic studies, as well as many journals that, although not exclusive to the field of Jewish Studies, compliment the subject areas taught at JTS. Project Muse is a premier resource for academic Study and is an important addition to our growing collection of online materials.

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THE LIBRARY OF THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY has begun, in recent months, to make itself more than a world–class collection, more than a site to view some of the world's rarest and most extraordinary Jewish books, more, even, than a cutting–edge partner in the creation of new digital resources. We have begun to be a place where interesting conversations start, a place where we ask what the books of our past teach us about the challenges of our future. Permit us to report on several special events where such conversations began.

On December 11, we offered a special program for the JTS community, Library members, and supporters, titled "From Gutenberg to Google: How Information Technologies Transform Jewish Culture." The program featured David Ruderman, Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania, and Joseph Hacker, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Each presented on aspects of the history of what might be described as the "first information revolution" — the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century and the consequences of the "mass" production of books on European society in general, and on Jewish religion and culture in particular. The discussion, facilitated by David Kraemer, raised important questions about the information revolution we are now experiencing (for more on this, see "From Gutenberg to Google" in this issue).

On December 13, we held a session for The Library staff, JTS students, and faculty, featuring a scribe from Machon Ott in Jerusalem. The scribe, Rabbi Yischak Steiner, offered in full detail and supported both by PowerPoint slides and real samples, a lesson in the production of parchments for the writing of Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot, and other Jewish sacred writings. Though many of our staff and students had a general notion of the rules and realia pertaining to the production of such parchments, it is fair to say that the presentation was enlightening for all who attended. Based upon Rabbi Steiner's lessons, our librarians are now ion a better position to identify the sources of manuscripts on parchment and offer informed judgments relating to the materials on which many of our works are written.

Finally, on December 13 and 15, the Library and some of the its holdings served as the set for the filming of a new documentary that will undoubtedly generate many discussion, in that case in Germany. The Gruppe 5 Filmproduktion company of Koln, Germany, is producing a "History of the Jewish People" in five episodes for German and French TV. This will be a sweeping history, an educational piece of the highest order. One of the main purposes of the program is to emphasize Jews not only suffered and died in their European diaspora, but also often flourished and produced remarkable works of religion, poetry, philosophy, art, and the like. A number of our rare works served as the backdrop for interviews of Professor Mark Cohen of Princeton University (a specialist in the Cairo Genizah) and our own Professor David Kraemer, who commented on the early history of the rabbis and the legacy of Rabbinic Judaism. The hope of the producers — and of The Library, which offered its services in support of this project — is that this program will generate discussions of the beauty and remarkable creativity of Jewish Life in Europe and elsewhere through the ages.

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AT 10:15 A.M. on Monday, April 18, 1966, smoke was seen pouring out of one of the small upper windows of the JTS tower, which housed the stacks of The Library. A fire was raging, threatening to destroy the greatest collection of Jewish books ever yet assembled. The NYPD was immediately called, and one company after another responded within minutes. Thus began a day like no other in the history of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

But the task of defeating the fire would not be easy. The tower made a perfect environment for a fire to spread and intensify. It had but a few small windows. There were no floors separating one level from another, only steel library stacks surrounded by catwalks. In effect, the tower formed an oven, allowing the fire to spread through the fuel — the books — while intensifying the heat with each passing moment. And it made fighting the fire extremely difficult, with only one entrance and stairwell from the bottom and limited window access through the walls. How could the collection be saved?

In a stroke of genius, Fire Chief Alfred Eckert realized that the tower's structure also offered an opportunity. He dispatched masked firefighters to the highest floor they could safely reach, and they began spreading canvas tarpaulins over as many shelves of books as they could. As soon as they were finished, he had hook and ladder trucks begin feeding streams of water through the highest openings in the tower, cascading down from top to bottom, drowning the fire that burned below. The fire was declared under control at about 7:00 p.m., nine hours after it was discovered.

It was time to explore the damage. Menahem Schmelzer, the Librarian at the time, was joined by Gerson Cohen, former Librarian and future Chancellor, and the Fire Chief, for the initial foray into the damp, charred stacks. What they discovered brought both relief and alarm. The fire had been confined primarily to the upper stacks, which housed mostly second and third copies of books (though it was soon discovered that some important recent donations had been kept there as well). But the water used to extinguish the blaze had already done enormous damage to much of the collection, and the growth of mold threatened to do far more damage. The clock was ticking.

After several failed attempts to find an efficient method to dry the watersoaked books, a means to save many was discovered: interleave each and every page of the books with paper towels, allow the towels to absorb the moisture, and repeat as necessary. Only two things were needed for this process to work: many, many hands and virtually every roll of paper towels in the greater New York area. The hands were supplied by volunteers of all ages and religions from Morningside Heights and beyond (many Jewish day school children participated), and the paper towels were generously supplied by local retailers and manufacturers. In the end, much was lost, but much was saved as well.

Of course, in many ways, the most daunting task was rebuilding the collection and the physical library. The first goal was accomplished, at least at the beginning, through donations from private and institutional libraries. By the following September, The Library once again had a sufficient collection to serve students and faculty well. As far as the physical needs of the collection were concerned, temporary storage in nearby spaces was quickly replaced by a large Quonset hut in the JTS courtyard — one that would last until the opening of the new building for The Library in 1984.

The Library in 2006 is far larger and stronger than it was before the fire. Our collection now exceeds 380,000 volumes and our manuscript and rare book collections, which were not housed in the tower, have grown as well. The physical building of The Library — ironically, not as important as it once was — is larger and more beautiful than could be imagined by those who used the old library. In fact, with the generous support of the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, we are recataloging 35,000 books that were saved from the fire and have been in high-density storage for all these years. Finally, when one looks out of the large plate glass windows on The Library's fifth floor, watching the sun set behind the darkening structure of the enlarged and reconstructed tower, it is difficult to imagine that there ever was a fire.

(This piece relies on the excellent article by Rabbi Barry Cytron in Of Learning and Libraries: The Seminary Library at One Hundred, by Herman Dicker, and on personal testimonies by Professor Menahem Schmelzer.)

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