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Encyclopedia Judaica:
Bibliophiles


Ancient Jewish History: Table of Contents | Biblical Times | Rabbi/Rabbinate


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Little is known about private book collectors in antiquity and in the early Middle Ages. It might be assumed, however, that patrons of learning, such as *Hisdai ibn Shaprut , collected important Hebrew and other books. Historical sources refer to the library of *Samuel ha-Nagid . Judah ibn *Tibbon 's advice on how to care for a library is well known. Unfortunately, little is known about the titles of the books making up his collection. Several book lists, some compiled for auctions after the owner's death, were found in the Cairo *Genizah , the best known being that of R. *Abraham b. Samuel he-Ḥasid . His collection consisted of 27 Hebrew books and a number of volumes on medicine, probably in Arabic. The most remarkable of known medieval Jewish book collectors was the world traveler and physician Judah Leon *Mosconi of Majorca. His library included Hebrew and Arabic books in many branches of learning. Two catalogues have been preserved, one of them drawn up for the auction after his death in 1377. The king of Aragon ultimately canceled the sale and seized the library for himself. In Renaissance Italy there were many enthusiastic book collectors, such as *Menahem b. Aaron of Volterra (15th century), whose library is now in the Vatican. The library of Solomon *Finzi , son of the Mantuan scientist Mordecai (Angelo) *Finzi , contained 200 volumes, at that time a number considered worthy of a great humanist. Elijah *Capsali , a Cretan scholar of the 16th century, possessed a famous collection of Hebrew manuscripts, now at the Vatican. The largest Jewish library in the Renaissance period was that built up in successive generations by the family of Da *Pisa . They were outdone in the 17th century by Abraham Joseph Solomon *Graziano , rabbi of Modena, who wrote the initials of his name ish ger (איש גר) in vast numbers of books now scattered in Jewish libraries throughout the world. His contemporary Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo , a physician who traveled widely, boasted that he collected no fewer than 4,000 volumes, on which he had expended the vast sum of 10,000 (florins?). Doubtless, many of these were in languages other than Hebrew.

The first printed sale catalogues of private Hebrew libraries emerged in Holland in the 17th century, for example, the one printed for the disposal of the collections of Moses Raphael d'*Aguilar , the earliest such publication known to Jewish booklore, and that of Isaac *Aboab da Fonseca 's collection, comprising about 500 volumes, many in Spanish, French, and even Greek and Latin, including some classics and the writings of the Church Fathers. Other book collectors of that period in Amsterdam were *Manasseh Ben Israel and Samuel Abbas. One of the greatest Jewish book collectors of any period was David *Oppenheim , rabbi of Prague, who in 1688 compiled the first catalogue of his collection, comprising the 480 books he owned at the time. Ultimately, he acquired 4,500 printed works in addition to 780 manuscripts, possibly the most important Jewish library in private ownership that has ever been assembled. It was purchased in 1829 by the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The Italian Catholic abbé Giovanni Bernardo de'*Rossi , a Hebrew scholar of repute and a book collector of genius, had opportunities in Italy that were unequaled elsewhere. His great collection of Hebrew manuscripts, catalogued by him and including several superb illuminated codices, is now housed at the Palatine Library in Parma, having been acquired after his death by the ruler of that petty principality. What the printed book collection includes is still barely known, but one example of its treasures is the only known copy of the earliest of dated Hebrew printed books – Rashi's Commentary printed at Reggio di Calabria in 1475. The next century produced a large number of more self-conscious collectors, such as Heimann Joseph *Michael , a Hamburg businessman, not very affluent but a considerable scholar. The learned catalogue he composed, still a standard work of reference, describes 860 manuscripts and 5,400 printed books, which in due course joined the Oppenheim collection in Oxford. At about the same time Solomon *Dubno of Russia and Holland assembled some 2,000 printed books and about 100 manuscripts, which were sold by auction in Amsterdam in 1814. Another scholarly collector was Solomon *Halberstam of Poland. Business reverses compelled him to dispose of his manuscript collection, part going to the Montefiore Library (now in the library of Jews' College, London), and part to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York. The most valuable part of his collection of printed books was soldto the library of the Vienna Jewish community; the bulk was acquired by Mayer Sulzberger and presented to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Eliakim *Carmoly , rabbi in Brussels, who destroyed the value of everything he owned by embellishing it with ingenious, but sometimes transparent, forgeries possessed some 1,200 printed volumes and 290 manuscripts. His manuscripts can be found in Oxford, the British Museum, and the Guenzburg Library in Moscow.

In Russia David *Guenzburg of St. Petersburg built up a magnificent manuscript collection, which is now in the Lenin State Library, Moscow. In the United States Mayer *Sulzberger , assisted by the dealer Ephraim *Deinard , built up an important collection. In 1903 Sulzberger gave his collection of 3,000 rare books to the Jewish Theological Seminary. Moritz *Steinschneider 's library in Berlin, some 4,500 books and manuscripts, was important both for the caliber of its contents and for the copious, scholarly annotations that Steinschneider added to his books. His collection passed into the ownership of the Jewish Theological Seminary, most of it being destroyed by fire in 1966. Judaica was only part of the great library which Salman *Schocken assembled in Germany, but in that field he concentrated on Hebrew poetry and rare printed books. This collection is now housed in the Schocken Library, Jerusalem, in recent years enriched by some remarkable illuminated manuscripts. A specialized library of another sort was that of David *Montezinos of Amsterdam, who created a unique collection of works, largely in Spanish and Portuguese, illustrating the history of that community. He gave it to the Sephardi synagogue, where he then became librarian. This library worked in friendly competition with the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana in that city for many years. The latter, the library of Leiser *Rosenthal , a rabbi, was given by his son George to the city of Amsterdam; it is now a constituent of the University Library. Another outstanding rabbinical bibliophile was the Hungarian scholar David *Kaufmann whose remarkable collection, largely of Italian provenance, including some splendid illuminated manuscripts, was presented by his widow to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Elkan Nathan *Adler , an English lawyer, who traveled around the world in the course of his business affairs, built up a library of incunabula, rare printed works, and manuscripts, which for bulk, if not for quality, was perhaps the greatest collection assembled by a private person. Just after World War I in order to make good the defalcations of a business associate, he was compelled to sell his library to the Jewish Theological Seminary, thus elevating it to a foremost place among the Jewish libraries of the world. Adler's collection also contained some 30,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah, which he had visited even before it achieved fame. Moses *Gaster , haham of the English Sephardi community, also built up a great collection of manuscripts reflecting every side of his versatile interests. Toward the end of his life he sold the bulk to the British Museum. Some of the remainder was ruined during the German air raids on London in World War II; what remained, including the Samaritan manuscripts, was acquired by the John Rylands Library in Manchester to add to its already remarkable Hebrew collection. David Solomon *Sassoon of London had the advantage of great wealth, close connections with the Orient, and a family tradition of book collecting. He assembled his collection of manuscripts with scholarly discrimination and described it in an elaborate catalogue, perhaps the most exhaustive work of its type that has appeared in print. This collection went into the possession of his son Solomon David Sassoon in Letchworth, England. The important collection of Berthold Strauss of London (1901–1962), catalogued in part in his Ohel Barukh (1959), was acquired after his death for Yeshiva University, New York. The 20th-century scholars whose private collections have become part of established libraries include Israel *Davidson (Jewish Theological Seminary, where it was destroyed by fire), Hyman *Enelow (Jewish Theological Seminary), Lazarus *Goldschmidt (second collection, Royal Library, Copenhagen), Mordecai *Margolioth (Bar-Ilan University), and Alexander *Marx (Jewish Theological Seminary, partly destroyed). Other large private collections were assembled by Saul *Lieberman , Cecil *Roth , and Gershom *Scholem . Significant private collections were also built up by ḥasidic dynasties, e.g., Gerer, Sadagorer, and Lubavitcher. Christian scholars and collectors who owned many important Hebrew books included Johannes *Buxtorf , Bishop Huntington, Bishop Kennicott, Sir Thomas Phillips, Edward Pococke, the Duke of Sussex, and Aldis Wright. Other important private collections belonged to Abraham *Merzbacher (now in Frankfurt City and University Library), Nathan *Porges , Israel *Solomons (Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College libraries), Mathias Straschun (part in Heikhal Shelomo, Jerusalem), and Michael Zagayski. Among other collectors, mention should be made of Fritz *Bamberger (New York), Ludwig Jesselson (New York), Jacob Lowy (Montreal), and Israel Mehlman (Jerusalem). A very important collection of early Yiddish literature was that of Judah A. Joffee (Jewish Theological Seminary).


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Zunz, Gesch, 230–48; M. Steinschneider, Vorlesungen ueber die Kunde hebraeischer Handschriften (1897), ch. 3; A. Marx, Studies In Jewish History and Booklore (1944), 198–237; Shunami, Bibl, 38–76, 788–9; C. Roth, in: JBA, 25 (1967/68), 75–80; S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah; 2 (1964), 495–8; KS, 41 (1967), suppl., index to vols. 1–40; Allony, ibid., 43 (1967/68), 121–39; Szulvas, in: Talpioth, 4 (1949), 600–2; Padover, in: J.W. Thompson (ed.), The Medieval Library (1939), 338–46; Sonne, in: SBB, 1 (1953–54), 55–76; 2 (1955), 3–19, 156–9.

[Menahem Schmelzer]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

 

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