Judaic Treasures of the
Library of Congress:
For Students of Kabbalah
Books and manuscripts in the Library's Hebraic Section
bear witness to the role of Kabbalah,
Jewish mysticism, in Jewish religious and cultural history. Consider an
intriguing set of the first edition of Kabbalah's
foremost classic, the Zohar, Mantua, 1558-60. Of this work, Hayim.
Joseph David Azulai remarked, "Reading the Zohar is good for the soul,
even if wrong and full of mistakes." Volume I of the Library's set
belonged at one time to Abraham Joseph Graziano (d. 1684), rabbi of Modena,
scholar criticized for his leniency, a popular poet, and a noted
bibliophile. Graziano signed himself "Ish Ger" (stranger), the
signature found on the title page. Of far greater importance are the many
marginal notations in his hand throughout the volume. Graziano wrote a
known commentary on the Shulhan Aruch; his comments on
the Zohar now await scholarly attention. Volume 2, cut smaller in size, is
printed on the blue paper often found in nineteenth-century books printed
in Russia; to find it in a sixteenth-century book printed in Italy is very
rare. Volume 3 has very wide unmarked margins which await the notations for
which they were intended.
The owner's signature on the title page of this first
edition of the Zohar, Mantua, 1558, is of Modena's
seventeenth-century rabbi, Abraham Joseph Graziano, who signs himself Ish
Ger (A stranger I was in the land). What makes this copy of unusual
importance is that this noted scholar and bibliophile made copious notes on
the wide margins of his copy (see photo below), Sefer ha-Zohar, 3
volumes, Mantua, 1558-60. Hebraic Section, Library
of Congress Photo).
Kabbalistic symbols and
illustrations await further study and interpretation of a visiting scholar.
Two works rich in both are Shefa Tal, Hanau, 1612, by the
"renowned skilled physician" of Prague, Shabbetai Sheftel
Horowitz (c. 1561-1619). The Library's copy is in pristine condition, quite
unusual for this much admired first edition of a popular Kabbalistic work.
The Library's first edition, Amsterdam, 1701, of the oft-reprinted Sefer
Raziel -- attributed by tradition to Adam! -- is filled with marginal
annotations of an as yet unidentified commentator.
A one-hundred-page manuscript written in Vilna, 1817-18,
is the commentary of Reb Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, on a section of
the Zohar, Sifra di-Zeni'uta (Book of Concealment). It
antedates the first printing of this commentary in Vilna, 1820. Of interest
to students of Kabbalah or of the
Gaon of Vilna are paste-in insertions in the manuscript copy. For the
bibliophile interested in provenance, the manuscript's first owner is
known, Jacob ben Arye Katz, and those drawn to the unusual will note the
presence in a manuscript copy of a censor's seal, that of Moshko
These hands are divided into twenty-eight sections,
each containing a Hebrew letter. Twenty-eight, in Hebrew numbers, spells
the word Koach = strength. At the bottom of the hand, the two
letters on each hand combine to form YHWH, the name of God, Shefa Tal, Hanau,
1612. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress
We see on one page a kabbalistic alphabet, on the
other, kabbalistic figures to ward off evil, and a catalog of the names of
angels. On both pages, kabbalistic marginal notes have been handwritten, Sefer
Raziel, Amsterdam, 1701 (First Edition). 1612. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress Photo).
Source: Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress, 1991).