Sunday, October 31, 2010

Das Buch Bresith

Here's something I've long found interesting. The Morgan Library has recently put its copy of the Gutenberg Bible, Old Testament, online. Here's the beginning of Genesis:

Beautiful illumination, the text beginning A principio creavit deus (note, no capital on Deus, much like German translations of machzorim that don't capitalize gott).

But it's the rubric (the handwritten introductory line in red ink - red in Latin is rub-, like ruby, or bilirubin - hence "rubrics" are written in red ink) that's really interesting. I first noticed this when in Washington I bought a facsimile (for a dollar) of the first page of the Library of Congress' Gutenberg Bible, mostly to get change for the Metro (no change without purchase, doncha know). Here's the rubric enlarged:

Translated, that's "Beginning of the book Breshith, which we call Genesis." So the bookmakers in Germany, printing in Latin, knew the Hebrew name and first word of the book of Genesis, and thought that its proper name.

Similarly here, at the beginning of Numbers, "Expl' liber levitice Incipit vaiedaber.i.ib' nui' ". End of the book of Leviticus, Beginning of Vayedaber or Book of Numbers.

And so on through the Bible.

Interesting, no? Hebrew survivals in the first German production of the Latin Vulgate, long before the rise of Christian Hebraism among Germans in the 1600s with Buxtorff, Leusden, Knorr von Rosenroth, and others. There was some Hebraism among the English in the 1500s; Henry VIII was rumored to have read the Talmud.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Newly scanned books

Looking through the latest 730-book list from, a few caught my eye:
  • A 1510 Halichos Olam - I have a bit of a thing about klalim books, attempts to systematize the Gemara's internal rules.

  • The Kaufmann Codex of the Mishnah, apparently the oldest & best of the three known complete mss. of the Mishnah, dating from the 10th-11th century.

  • Another Klalim book, this one from the Mechaber, R' Joseph Caro: Kelalei HaTalmud, this one printed in Salonika in 1598.

  • The first edition of Rambam's "Milot haHigayon," Venice, 1550. I have a copy of the 2nd edition, Cremona 1566, which got me into the collecting of old seforim. I bought it at the first Kestenbaum auction; they just held their 49th today. I've occasionally thought about writing a translation of this extremely boring book. I have now several Hebrew editions, as well as copies of two mss. (thanks to the JNUL online exhibit of The Great Eagle), including R' Kafih's translation with the original Arabic (not that I can read Arabic). R' Kafih's edition includes several commentaries, including that of the un-expanded 'RM"D', which Kafih calls "the best commentary". RMD is, of course, R' Moshe of Dessau, called Mendelssohn. I'm sure he just didn't want to alienate frummer purchasers of his book.

  • Latin translations of Tractates Middoth and Rosh Hashanah from 1630 and 1645.

  • Two parts (vayikra & shmot) of the first edition of the Zohar, Mantua 1558. There are actually two First editions, both in the same year, one in plain quarto pages like our modern editions, one in folio in double columns, printed in Cremona. Yes, a century before Cremona became the greatest center of violin-making (Stradivari, Guarneri, etc.) it was a center of Jewish printing.. But the Jewish printers were chased out in the 1560s, just as Amati was setting up his first violin shop. I have a copy of the last double-column Zohar printed, from Sulzbach in 1685; it has marginal notes linking it to the by-then standard pagination of the 3-volume version.

  • The early editions of Shu"t haRema which contain the controversial Teshuvah 124, on whether we can trust someone who has a mistaken belief that wine of non-Jews is kosher.

  • A Soncino Tr. Megillah, printed at Pesaro, 1516. Note the woodcut frame on the title page. It was originally carved for Gershom Soncino's edition of Decachordum Christianum, printed 1507. He reused the frame pieces for many books, getting more and more worn over the years, finally being used in Constantinople in the 1548, by Moses Parnas. Gershom had moved to Constantinople in 1530, died in 1533 leaving the business to his son Eliezer, and on Eliezer's death in 1547, it passed to his partner Parnas. The woodcuts stayed in use for all those forty years. Gershom Soncino is responsible for the Tosfos that we have in our modern Talmuds - he claimed to have been related to the Tosfos of Touques, and used their collection in his Talmuds. Tosfos haRosh may be clearer, but Tosfos of Touques got in by nepotism, and standardized.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WotW: Reform women's group

I received an announcement of the formation of "Rabbis in support of the Women of the Wall." It's supposedly interdenominational - including rabbis of Ortho, Cons, Reform and Recon.

Um, yeah. Looking up Rabbi David Kalb, the one O rabbi, his smicha is private not institutional (i.e. not sufficient to join the RCA - you need one recognized institution or two private smichas). He's also associated with the lefty-est institutions within Mod-O. How many O rabbis, even Mod-O rabbis, are going to want to join with an overwhelmingly Reform/Recon group to support a Reform women's group?

I think it reflects reality: WotW is not really interested in appealing to Orthodox women any more, or to Orthodox institutions. It's run by a Reform activist, after all. Its chair, Anat Hoffman, is the head of the Reform lobby in Israel.