Between the Lines: Vol. 10, No. 2 (Fall 1997)

Food For Thought: Dinner and Discourse

Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Potok, Francine Klagsbrun, Rabbi Neil Gillman, Judith Rossner, and many other renowned contemporary Jewish authors are joining the Board of Overseers of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary for the second annual library dinner to be held at the library on Sunday, December 7, 1997.

"These distinguished authors all have strong ties to the Jewish community and are major figures in the literary world. Their participation in this event is helping to raise the visibility of the library. Even those who are familiar with The Jewish Theological Seminary may not know that the library contains vast treasures of the cultural achievements of the Jewish people," explained Ellen Kapito, dinner chair, and a member of The Library Board of Overseers.

Books by the authors attending will be showcased and listed in the evening's program. Each author will be seated during dinner at a table with patrons of the library, members of The Library Board of Overseers, or other JTS friends, and will serve as the informal "host" of that table. The purpose of the dinner is to raise the profile of the library by exposing it to a wide circle of potential supporters.

The evening's program will also include guided tours of the library's rare book room. The rare book room at the library is world-renowned for its wide range and important rare books, manuscripts, incunabula, prints, illustrations and other graphic materials. Together with the Jewish Museum, also under the auspices of JTS, the library is the largest repository of the intellectual and artistic record of the Jewish people in North America.

Friends Publish Genizah Facsimile in Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Cairo Genizah

Patrons of the Friends of The Library , contributing $1,000 and up for the 1997/98 membership year, will receive a unique facsimile of a leaf signed by Moses Maimonides. The original fragments were found by Solomon Schechter in the Cairo Genizah, the storage attic of the Ben-Ezra Synagogue in Fostat, Egypt.

The leaf is an open letter, penned by Moses Maimonides' personal secretary, Mevorakh ben Nathan, pleading for funds to ransom Jewish captives taken prisoner in 1168 in Bilbays, Egypt, by the Crusader king, Amalric of Jerusalem, in his attack on that town. It is one of a collection of 40,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah housed at the library. The collection contains invaluable information pertaining to the social, cultural, religious and economic life of the Jews of the Mediterranean from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries.

Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Twentieth Century Postcards Exhibition

More than 200 postcards from the turn of the century, selected from the library's extensive collection, are showcased on the first, second and fifth floors of the library building. The first floor is devoted to Jewish New Year cards running the gamut from the whimsical to the serious, the secular to the religious. The second floor is dedicated to postcards of American and European synagogues, some no longer in existence. The third floor showcases postcards reflecting ethnic customs and costumes of the Jewish people in their communities throughout the world.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Friends of The Library, is on view from October 7 - December 30, 1997. The exhibition is open Sunday, 9:30am to 5pm, Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm and Friday, 9am to 2pm. An exhibition poster and a set of ten cards are available for sale for $10.00 and $12.00 respectively by sending a check made to the Friends of The Library and mailed to Friends of The Library , 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. For additional information regarding publications for sale from the library's collection, visit our website at: Library Shop.

Conservation Department at The Library Receives Gift

A generous gift by Sidney Braginsky, a member of The Library Board of Overseers, will greatly enhance the capability of the conservation department at the library to conserve the library's rare manuscripts.

Mr. Braginsky, President of Olympus America Inc. provided the library with stereo and polarizing microscopes as well as a video monitor and a camera. The design of the stereo microscope facilitates placement of the manuscript under the microscope while viewing the artwork on a video screen. The enlarged image on the screen enables the conservator to determine, in a more precise way, the problem and degree of damage in the artwork. The equipment will also be used to monitor consolidation of flaking pigments during the consolidation process. The camera, which can be installed on the stereo microscope, can photograph the manuscript for the purpose of documenting condition before and after conservation. The polarizing microscope aids in identifying fibers, pigments and other additives. This equipment, contributed by Mr. Braginsky, will greatly help the difficult and time consuming work of conservation and enhance the quality of the restored items.

Audio-Visual Center Expands its Resources

The library received a gift of $15,000 from Helen Asher for the purchase of technologically advanced equipment for the Helen and Norman Asher Audio-Visual Center at the library. A microform reader/printer/digitizer and a photographic quality laser printer will be purchased with this gift. A multimedia PC equipped for playing multimedia CDs and a new music CD player with headphones will also be purchased with this funding.

Further enhancing its multimedia resources, the library is proud to announce its being a recipient of the Jewish Heritage Video Collection, which is a project of the Jewish Media Fund, sponsored by the Revson Foundation. The Jewish Heritage Video Collection, now housed in the AV Center, includes nearly 200 films, television programs, curricula and supplementary materials. Videotapes contain feature films pertaining to the American Jewish experience such as Marjorie Morningstar, Avalon and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, along with Israeli feature films such as Hill 24 Doesn't Answer and Salah. Historical films primarily dealing with the Holocaust such as Schindler's List and Shoah and children's films such as the Shalom Sesame series are all part of the collection. Nine courses, among them: "Real Americans": The Evolving Identities of American Jews; Visions of Israel: Israeli Filmakers and Images of the Jewish State; Yiddish Culture: Between the Old World and the New are also part of the video collection.

The collection is available for circulation for those with library borrowing privileges. It will also be used for educational purposes by faculty and students at JTS as well as the Jewish community at large. For further information regarding the video collection, please call the reference desk at 212-678-8081.

Traveling Exhibits

Over the past several years the library has been mounting exhibits of its collections at JTS. Recently, the library was approached by various museums in the United States about the possibility of having these exhibits travel. The exhibition, The Jew As Other, traveled to the Janice Charach Epstein Museum/Gallery in Detroit, and it was agreed that the exhibition Towards the Eternal Center: Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple, travel to S alt Lake City.

We anticipate that, in the near future, traveling exhibits will become an ongoing program bringing the treasures of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary to Jewish communities throughout the country. It is our hope that, at the same time, these exhibitions will be featured in museum settings and thus be also be able to serve as resource material for developing educational programs for local schools and synagogues.

The following exhibitions are available for travel:

  • Great Books from Great Collectors.
  • The Jew as Other: A Century of English Caricature, 1730-1830.
  • Towards the Eternal Center: Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • Text & Context: The Development and Dissemination of Medieval Sephardic Culture.
  • The Crown of all Wisdom: Hebrew Printing in Italy from 15th - 18th Centuries.
  • Power and Privilege: Selected Documents of the Abrom Family, 1687-1804.
  • From Eve to Esther: Images of Women in Biblical Prints.
  • The Rothschild Mahzor
  • Decorated Ketubbot from The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
  • Kehillat ha-Kodesh: Creating the Sacred Community: The Role of the Rabbi, Cantor, Mohel and Shohet in Jewish Communal Life.
  • Past Perfect: the Jewish Experience in Twentieth Century Postcards.

Catalogs of a number of these exhibitions have been published by the library and are available for sale. For further information call 212-678-8075/8962 or via the library's web page.

Boundaries of the Universe: Twenty-Two Letters

An exhibition, entitled "Boundaries of the Universe: Twenty-Two Letters", based on an exploration of the Hebrew alphabet, will be on view at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, from January 25 to April 30, 1998. The exhibition is open Sunday, 9:30am to 5pm, Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm and Friday, 9am to 2pm.

This exhibition will be composed of a suite of prints, inspired by the Hebrew alphabet, drawing on ancient as well as kabbalistic sources for inspiration. It is the work of the artist Lynne Avadenka. The suite will include twenty-two folios each comprised of an intaglio print, accompanied by a facing poem by Lynne Avadenka in printed letterpress. There is one folio for each letter of the alphabet. The image will contain a variety of intaglio techniques including etching, aquatint and monoprint.

Lynne Avadenka is an artist who combines words and images, working in a variety of media. She has been a professional calligrapher since 1976. Her work is part of the permanent collections of The Library of Congress, the Israel Museum, the New York Public Library, the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Yale University, the Toledo Museum of Art, The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary and in private collections.

From the Rare Book Room: Friends of The Library Support Purchase of Rare Manuscript

The library recently purchased a complete manuscript of the Sefer Kavvanot Gedolot, which preserves the teachings of the great kabbalistic master of the sixteenth century, Isaac Luria. Luria's kabbalistic doctrines were presented by his disciples in various literary formats but perhaps none as important as those texts that organize the material around the Jewish liturgical and ritual life cycle. These texts provide an excellent window through which the scholar can view the mystical praxis of the circle of kabbalists operating in Safed. From the vantage point of Lurianic kabbalah, the complex theosophic doctrines and symbols are significant only to the extent that they are refracted through the prism of normative Jewish life. The Sefer Kavvanot Gedolot, therefore, is an invaluable tool by means of which we can appreciate the mystical piety as it was experienced in the circle of Luria.

This manuscript acquired by The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is superior both aesthetically and textually. There is no question that this recent purchase further enhances the finest collection of kabbalistic manuscripts in the world. By acquiring this manuscript, the library has contributed greatly to Judaic scholarship, assuring that this rare text will be available to all those interested in advancing the collective knowledge of this fascinating moment in the intellectual and religious history of the Jewish people.

A Letter From Poland

The library was one of three Judaica libraries in the United States chosen to participate in a program sponsored by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) in Washington, DC. The IREX promotes exchange of information and practical expertise between American scholars and professionals and their counterparts from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly from the former Soviet region, as well as from China and Mongolia.

Malgorzata Barcikowska (Margaret) of Warsaw, Poland, was chosen to intern at the library to work on a project involving preservation of periodicals. "I work at the library of the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw as a curator," says Margaret, "mainly cataloging books, especially in Hebrew and Yiddish. I am also in charge of the library's special collection which includes manuscripts and old prints."

"The one thing that struck me in American libraries, and I have visited a number of them throughout the country, was the different attitude towards the book itself. In America, the book is looked upon as a source of information only. In Poland, we treat books almost as museum objects. I think this is so because in the part of world that I come from, books suffered the same destiny of persecution and extinction during the periods of Communism and the Holocaust as many human beings. This is my personal observation and not a criticism. I think that in the final analysis the American attitude towards books is better for the exchange of information and therefore the development of science I feel that the professional experience I acquired during my internship will be very useful to my library and I deeply appreciate the efforts and help of everybody I met at JTS."

Malgorzata Barcikowska

Reflections from Moscow

The library "lent" its librarian, Mayer Rabinowitz, for a month stay in Moscow teaching rabbinics at the Russian State University for the Humanities as part of the Project Judaica program. "As I began to teach," writes Dr. Rabinowitz, "to meet with students, to mix with members of the Jewish community, I realized I was witnessing an amazing atmosphere of Jewish renewal, the likes of which I have not felt since my childhood in Palestine. Jewish professionals and volunteers from all over the world are working together to re-establish Jewish religious, cultural and social life. We must also appreciate the fact that there is much that we can learn about cooperating between the various segments of the Jewish community and about attracting Jews who are on the verge of assimilation, whether by force or by choice."

Returning back home to the United States a day before Rosh Hashanah, Dr. Rabinowitz sums up his feelings saying: "There in Moscow, I saw a new world being born; I heard the sound of the shofar. Rosh Hashanah came early for me this year!"