Between the Lines: Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring 1997)

Book Endowments

The library is pleased to announce the following additions to its program of book endowments: The Rabbi Mordecai L. Brill Book Fund, donated in loving memory by his wife Jeanette, his children and grandchildren, and the United Synagogue Youth Tikkun Olam Program Book Endowment Fund, for the purchase of books in the field of Jewish education.

The Friends of The Library initiated in 1988 an endowment campaign for the purpose of assuring the continued growth of the library's collection of books and preservation of its rare books and manuscripts. These endowments are permanently named funds and consist of a minimum gift of $5,000. Income from the book endowment funds is used each year to acquire books for the library. A specially designed bookplate with the name of the donor is attached to each book purchased with these funds and a list of these books is sent annually to the donors. These endowments offer a unique opportunity to permanently associate an individual's name with the library. To date, twenty-five book funds have been established. Several have been designated by donors for purchases in subject areas reflecting their particular interest such as American Judaica, Codes, Liturgy and Music, the Bible and its commentaries and Jewish History. Generally, selection is left to the discretion of the library's acquisition department. Income from these book funds is used to help underwrite the cost of approximately 3000 new publications, American and international, purchased by the library annually. It facilitates the implementation of JTS's mission namely "the preservation in America of the knowledge and practice of historical Judaism."

For further information concerning the endowment program please contact Rickie Weiner, Director, Friends of The Library at 212-678-8962.

Friends Support Purchase of a Megillah from Greece

Funds provided by the Friends of The Library made it possible for the library to add a significant addition to its renowned collection of Esther scrolls (megillot). The library's 275 Esther scrolls date from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and include decorated scrolls from Europe, North Africa, the Near East and America. This newly acquired scroll from Greece is the first megillah in the library's collection to originate from this important center of Jewish life and culture.

Written and decorated in Greece during the early nineteenth century, the scroll opens with an ornamental framed panel, embellished with floral motifs. The artist has employed a gold, orange, green and yellow color scheme to further adorn the scroll. A cylindrical silver case, housing the megillah, is decorated with a footed vase, candelabras, foliage, and is surmounted by a bouquet of flowers. This newest acquisition is a wonderful addition to the library's vast and diverse holdings.

The Jewish Search for a Usable Past

David G. Roskies, professor of Jewish literature at The Jewish Theological Seminary, delivered the fifth annual Gerson D. Cohen lecture on April 2, at JTS. Francine Klagsbrun, chairperson of The Library Board of Overseers offered greetings and read from the writings of Gerson Cohen. Chancellor Ismar Schorsch introduced Dr. Roskies, who spoke on: The Jewish Search for a Usable Past.

Building upon the scholarship of the past and present chancellors of JTS, the late Dr. Gerson D. Cohen and the current chancellor, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Professor Roskies argued that the Jews in modern times have moved away from a deep covenantal past to living with competing pasthoods. Citing examples from scholarship and popular culture, such as Yiddish songs, Purim plays, Hebrew novels and German novellas, Professor Roskies traced the search for a usable past from the Jewish culture wars in Germany and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century through the mass immigration to America and beyond. He concluded by stating that the Jewish past can be studied both covenantally and comparatively, both in the context of Jewish memory and history.

Established by the Honorable Howard M. Holtzmann, and sponsored by the Friends of The Library, the lecture was followed by a reception attended by over one hundred and fifty people.

Library Augments its Bookplate Collection

The library has recently purchased a major collection of 2100 bookplates, an archive and reference books on Jewish ex libris (bookplates) from the private collection of Mrs. Leah Mishkin. This acquisition makes the library's holdings of 2800 Jewish bookplates one of the world's foremost collections.

Leah Mishkin, head librarian of the Saul Silber Memorial library in Chicago began to collect ex libris in 1951. Featured in her collection are early rabbis, physicians, authors and famous personalities such as Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, David deSola Pool, Yehuda Leib Maimon and others.

The oldest ex libris in the collection dates to the seventeenth century and is that of the Christian Hebraist Johann Christian Wagenseil (1633-1705) featuring a quotation in Hebrew from Psalms 16:6. Another unique bookplate is of David Friedlander, commissioned in 1774 from the renowned artist Daniel Chodowiecki.

This purchase was made possible by a number of anonymous donors.

Conservator Attends International Conference in Russia

Dr. Margarita Blank, conservator of rare objects at the library, was invited to deliver a paper at the International Conference on Conservation of Medieval Manuscripts in Moscow. The conference took place on March 19-21 at the Russian State University for the Humanities. 'Hands on' workshops demonstrating equipment and techniques of conservation and restoration were held on the premises of the State Research Institute for Restoration. The paper was a collaboration of the library's two conservators, Margarita Blank and Nellie Stavisky. The paper detailed the various methods and usage of materials in the conservation laboratory at the library. The library's vast holdings of rare materials, in addition to medieval manuscripts, include social and historical documents, decorated ketubbot, megillot, hand-painted eighteenth century prayer books, fifteenth-century book bindings, maps, micrographs and original prints by Jewish artists dating from the ninth century to the present.

Dr. Blank illustrated her talk with slides showcasing the conservation work done on the library's most outstanding holdings, namely, Maimonides' fragments from the geniza dating to the twelfth century, the Esslingen Mahzor (thirteenth century) and the Graziano Haggadah (fourteenth century). "I was not prepared for the reaction after my presentation of these Jewish manuscripts", says Dr. Blank. "A number of Russian colleagues came forth and shared with me their own conservation work on Jewish manuscripts in the collection of their respective Russian institutions." Conservators and scholars attending the conference showed interest in the catalogs of exhibitions recently held at the library which Dr. Blank brought to Moscow with her. The paper delivered by Dr. Blank at the conference will be published (in Russian) in the professional journal The Theory and Practice of Conservation, a publication of the Russian National Library. It will also be published in English in Manuscripta Orientalia, the International Journal for Oriental Manuscript Research.

Courtship & Contracts: Decorated Ketubbot from Europe and the Orient to be Exhibited at The Library

This spring The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary will mount an exhibition featuring decorated ketubbot from the Zucker Family Collection. These magnificent documents are now on long-term loan to the library. Ketubbot, or marriage contracts, are part of a long tradition of Jewish art. In addition to serving as the legal documents certifying a marriage, ketubbot also reflect the prevalent artistic culture of the time. Furthermore, the text of these documents provide valuable information about the people and traditions of Jewish communities around the world.

The Zucker Family Collection is not only a marvelous resource in and of itself, but a wonderful complement to the library's own ketubbah collection. The 240 manuscripts in the Zucker Family Collection emanate from a variety of communities worldwide. Most significant are the large number of ketubbot from the Middle and Far East. Among the highlights are examples from the Meshed community of Persia, written in Persian and richly illuminated; a gold-leafed contract dated 1881 from Bombay; and a ketubbah from Calcutta, 1858, with a floral border filled with exotic birds and animals.

Also included in the exhibition are Western European ketubbot, featuring a large selection of documents from Ancona, Italy, a prolific center of ketubbah production. The majority of these follow the archetypical Ancona format, with arched tops, floral borders, birds and wreaths. Impressive borders from other Italian towns are exemplified by a contract from Mondovi, 1884, with its delicate micrography, and a ketubbah from Rome, 1771, which bears a coat of arms and biblical scenes inspired by the bridal couple's names.

The exhibition will be on display on the first, second and fifth floors of the library building from May 15 through September 18, 1997.

Library Board of Overseers

The Library Board of Overseers, chaired by Francine Klagsbrun, met on March 20th at JTS to discuss plans for the coming year. Anticipating the nearing holiday of Purim, Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, librarian, brought a number of the library's illuminated megillot to the meeting and delighted board members with explanation of their decorative and textual uniqueness.

The library board is comprised of professionals in fields as diverse as law, education, finance, business and graphic art. Board members share in their commitment to raise the profile of the library throughout the American Jewish community and beyond. They are committed to enhance and preserve the treasures of Jewish culture housed in the library.

Board members serve on two committees: the development committee, which is currently involved in activities such as attracting funding to produce catalogs of collections, securing patrons to sponsor specific publications, sponsoring a project of retrospective conversion of the library's catalog and planning parlor meetings and dinner parties to promote interest in the library. This committee is currently planning a dinner to be held at JTS, tentatively scheduled for December 7th. The dinner will showcase JTS authors and other prominent Jewish writers.

A second committee, culture and publicity, is working on projects and programming with the goal of seeking out appropriate venues for publicizing the library's collections, obtaining and enhancing press coverage of the library and library-sponsored events, planning library exhibits, lectures and other programs.

For more information about The Library Board of Overseers, contact Jennifer Notis Lyss, director of special projects at (212) 678-8940.

From the Rare Book Room

For his bar mitzvah in 1976, Barry Schuster of Chicago received a precious and unusual gift: an 1837 edition of the biblical books of Joshua and Judges, with commentaries in Yiddish and in German, printed in Prague in 1837. The book, a gift from a family friend, Professor Edward Czwerinski, chairman of the Slavic Department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, traveled the course of Jewish history before its final placing in the library's rare book room.

Professor Czwerinski, who is not Jewish, had received the book from a relative in Krakow, an antiquarian book dealer. Mr. Kaminski, the book dealer, acquired it soon after World War II from its owner, a survivor of Dachau. This survivor had returned to the site of the camp after the war in search of his personal belongings, and found this book, which he had brought with him to the camp. Subsequently he brought the book to Mr. Kaminski with a request: that the book not be sold, but taken out of Eastern Europe to a free country. In 1964, Mr. Kaminski fulfilled his promise to the survivor. He asked his uncle, Professor Czwerinski, to bring the book with him on his return to the United States. Professor Czwerinski, sensing the appropriateness of its return to Jewish hands, eventually presented it to Barry Schuster as a bar mitzvah gift.

Barry Schuster treasured the book. It traveled to Israel with the Schuster family, who lived in Jerusalem and later accompanied Barry back to Chicago where he now lives with his wife and children. Knowing the book's history, spanning more than 150 years of Jewish history, Barry felt that the book rightly belongs to the entire Jewish people. Earlier this year, he presented it to the library in honor of the sixty-fifth birthday of his mother, Judith Schuster, director of regions for JTS's development department, a longtime member of JTS staff.

"I know it was hard for Barry to give up the book," comments Ms. Schuster, "but I'm thrilled that it's taken place here in JTS's rare book collection, where it is kept together with thousands of other historic volumes, and is accessible to anyone who wishes to learn from it. The book itself is in its way a Holocaust survivor, and I consider its presence at [JTS] a kind of memorial to the many people in our family who perished in the camps. I think that knowing my life-long commitment to JTS convinced Barry that this was the right thing to do, and the right place for this book."