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First Judaica & Judaic Firsts: Baba Kamma

A sampling of the literature of the Jewish legal tradition is provided by a fine copy of Baba Kamma Mi'masekhet Nezikin (Hebrew), De Legibus Ebraeorum . . . , Leyden, 1637, an Elzevir publication. it contains the Hebrew text of the Mishnah of that tractate of the Talmud with its translation into Latin and an erudite commentary by Constantin L'Empereur, the "controversariurn Judaicarum professor" at the University of Leyden. The purpose of this university chair of Christian polemics was the defense of the faith and promotion of conversion to it, both of which he pursued with tact and moderation. His works on the Bible, the Hebrew language, and Jewish law are valuable contributions to the Christian study of Judaism.

Did Jefferson ever study Talmud? There is evidence that he may have at least leafed through this volume of the Mishnah of Tractate Baba Kamma, with the Latin translation and commentary of Constantine L'Empereur. The evidence: Jefferson initialed this copy at signatures I(J) and T. At the bottom of page 65, he wrote a T before the I(J) and on page 145, he added a J after the T, and periods after both initials, as well. Baba Kamma, Mi' masekhet Nezikin (Hebrew), De Legibus Ebraeorum ... Latin translation and commentary by Constantine L'Empereur, Leyden, 1637. (Rare book and Special Collections Division, Jefferson Library, Library of Congress Photo)

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).