Between the Lines: Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 2000)

Dr. Michael Fishbane Speaks on the Song of Songs

The title of the eighth annual Gerson D. Cohen Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Friends of The Library , was taken from a seminal essay by Dr. Cohen himself: "The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality." Dr. Michael Fishbane, Nathan Cummings Professor of Jewish Studies and Chair of the Committee on Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago, was invited to revisit this daunting subject. Dr. Fishbane is currently at work on a commentary on the Song of Songs and his scholarship has extended beyond biblical studies to encompass various aspects of the "Jewish Religious Mentality."

Author of many books, among them The Exegetical Imagination: Jewish Thought and Theology; The Kiss of God: Mystical and Spiritual Death in Judaism, and The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics, Dr. Fishbane recently completed a commentary on the Haftarot, forthcoming from the Jewish Publication Society, and is also working on a book called Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking.

The lecture, which took place on March 16th, explored the relationship between eros and history in Jewish tradition. Dr. Fishbane began by reminding the audience of Gerson Cohen's insight that the Israelite prophets' use of marriage as a metaphor for the covenant provided a "horizon of understanding" that enabled later Jews to read the Song of Songs as an "expression of covenantal love." The first passage he discussed was Ezekiel 16, which, he emphasized, is not an allegory of Israel's history, but rather a "myth of origins" in which eros features prominently.

Dr. Fishbane then analyzed several passages from Song of Songs Rabba in which eros is subordinated to history but lingers as a subtext. Finally, he drew out the poetic connections between sacred history and the love between God and Israel in a piyyut by R. Shlomo ha-Bavli, the Yotzer prayer for the morning service of the first day of Passover. His daring conclusion was that the Song of Songs "has saved the soul of Israel by giving a transcendental focus to its legal ardor." 

Library Honors Long-Term Staff

Five members of the library staff were recently honored for thirty or more years of service to the library and JTS. They were Tzivia Atik, Rabbi Judah Brumer, Hector Guzman, Rita Lifton and Micha Oppenheim.

The staff member whose tenure is by far the longest is Rabbi Brumer, who has been a cataloger at the library for forty-two years. He was hired by Nahum Sarna, then JTS librarian, because of his Judaica background and his proficiency in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, Russian and Latin. After studying Arabic at Columbia University while working at the library, he was appointed cataloger of manuscripts. For the past ten years, Rabbi Brumer has been working part-time cataloging rabbinic manuscripts and preparing his father's Russian written notes of commentaries on the Bible, Talmud, Haggadah and other Jewish sources for publication.

The other four staff members clearly share Rabbi Brumer's dedication to the library and to JTS. Micha Oppenheim reflected, "I am grateful for the opportunity to work in a religious Jewish environment, and my years at the [JTS] library have been a most satisfying and professionally enriching experience."

Tzivia Atik expressed special thanks to the librarians, Dr. Menahem Schmelzer and Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, and to Edith Degani who "helped make the library staff family and not just colleagues." She also acknowledged with special thanks the Friends of The Library 's "generous support of the library and its staff."

Congratulations and thanks were offered by the library's director, Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz and Naomi Steinberger, executive librarian, noting the hard work and commitment these five exemplary staff members have contributed to the library's reputation for excellence. The Friends of The Library presented each honoree with an individually customized gift of a framed facsimile of a manuscript from the rare book room. 

Musically Speaking: The Heinrich Schalit Collection

The library's music archivist, Dr. Eliott Kahn, has completed the cataloging of the Heinrich Schalit Collection. The collection is made up largely of the published musical works and unpublished music manuscripts of the German-American composer Heinrich Schalit (1886-1976). In addition, there are letters from prominent musicians, rabbis, cantors, and other important figures who were actively involved in Jewish religious and cultural life in Germany between the World Wars, as well as in the United States during and after World War II. 

The collection includes Schalit's personal documents, newspaper clippings of music reviews, concert programs and synagogue bulletins. There are books and music collected by Schalit, a few sound recordings of performances of his music, and a microfilm of all of his compositions, prepared after his death.

Born in Vienna, Schalit attended its prestigious conservatory, graduating in 1906. He then moved to Munich and spent the next decade composing post-Romantic Lieder and chamber music, but in 1916, due to rising German anti-Semitism, he made a conscious decision to write music "of Jewish content and character." This would align him with a small but vibrant Jewish cultural movement that was an offshoot of the burgeoning, early twentieth-century Zionist political movement. He profoundly influenced two younger Jewish composers who were studying in Munich during the 1920s, the renowned Israeli composer, Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) and Herbert Fromm (1905-1995), who became one of the most important creators of American synagogue music in the twentieth century.

In September 1927, Heinrich Schalit assumed the post of organist and music director at Munich's Hauptsynagoge (Great Synagogue). He remained there until late 1933, when he and his family were forced to to leave Munich to avoid Nazi persecution. After living in Rome and London, the Schalit family arrived in Rochester, NY in August 1940.

Schalit served as music director at Rochester's Temple B'rith Kodesh, Temple Beth El in Providence, Rhode Island and Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, before finally settling in Evergreen, Colorado in 1958. He continued to compose synagogue music throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He was working on "Forget Thy Affliction," a setting of an English translation of a Hebrew poem by the medieval Spanish poet, Solomon ibn Gabirol, when he died in February 1976.

The scores and archival material of the collection are now available for research and perusal by scholars and patrons. 

Library to Participate in Digital Scriptorium

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary has been invited to participate in the Digital Scriptorium, a joint project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. The project's objective is to make available on the World Wide Web sample images from medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts (up to the sixteenth century) written in western European languages. The images will include representative samples of texts, symbolic representations, illustrations and bindings. The project is supported in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is expected to develop into a manuscript-image database of international proportions.

This invitation has given the library an opportunity to survey its holdings for manuscripts that meet the project's criteria. The special collection includes twenty-nine items in Dutch, English, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish written before ca. 1600. The earliest one (B H6) bearing a date is a quitclaim from Breissig, Germany, with remnants from a seal, dated 1347 — the first evidence of a Jewish presence there. Other important historical documents include a grant of three banks to certain Jewish families by the duke of Ancona (1481) and a brief of Pope Pius IV on the censorship of a Hebrew book (1563, transcribed 1587/1588, MS 3986). Several Inquisition documents are included, among them a protest from the Jews of Cervara, Spain, against the edict of 1492 (MS NH26) and a defense against the expulsion of the Jews from Naples, 1504 (B H11a).

The library owns one of the two most important surviving manuscripts of Josephus' Wars of the Jews in St. Ambrose's adaptation, copied over the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (MS NH65). There is also a fifteenth century Latin manuscript of Psalms with a unique liturgical calendar and exquisite historiated initials (MS NH92); a sixteenth century scientific miscellany in English (MS 2611), which contains important versions of several works, among them the first known translations into English of some; and a complete Schwabenspiegel (MS NH93, copied before 1511). The latter is a collection of legal and historical traditions dating back to south Germany, ca. 1275, and one of the first German legal sources to mention the Jews.

The library will also contribute images from a Cairo Genizah fragment in which Obadiah ha-Ger (a Norman Catholic priest who converted to Judaism in 1102, emigrated to the Middle East, and settled in Fostat, Egypt) provides musical notations for the rendition of a Hebrew piyyut (hymn). The aforementioned items were selected on the basis of their importance, attested by the many publications which reproduce their texts or discuss and analyze them..

Crafting the Word: Highlights of Contemporary Hebrew Book Arts in the JTS Collection

The art of the Hebrew letter as seen in contemporary fine art Hebrew printing and calligraphy will be featured in two upcoming library exhibitions to open this June.

The work of Jay Greenspan, a celebrated Hebrew calligrapher and artist who played a crucial role in reviving the art of the decorated ketubbah (marriage contract), will be featured on the fifth floor of the library. This exhibition will focus on various aspects of Greenspan's work and will include panels delineating the techniques involved in applying gold leaf and demonstrating the creation of elaborate decorative borders. Highlights of the exhibition will include an Aishet Hayil plaque, a paper-cut ketubbah, and an illustrated prayer plaque for Sabbath and holiday candle lighting. The library is fortunate to be the recipient of a generous donation of a selection of Greenspan's artistic creations.

Simultaneously, the library will also mount an exhibition featuring the books of several celebrated fine art Hebrew printers, including Ariel Wardi, David Moss and Lynne Avadenka. Their work exemplifies the creativity of the artisans who publish beautifully designed Hebrew books on private presses. A selection of these striking books will be on display on the first floor of the library building.

The exhibitions will be on view at the library from June 12, 2000 through October, 2000. Exhibition Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:00 am-5:00 pm, Friday 9:00 am-3:00 pm, Sunday 10:00 am-5:00 pm. For more information, please call 212-678-8975..

Silk Scarves Based on Persian Bookbinding

The Library Board of Overseers is delighted to announce its first product development initiative: silk scarves inspired by a design derived from a Persian bookbinding housed in the library's rare book collection.

The two designs feature decorative birds and flowers in a palette of reds and burnished golds typical of luxurious lacquered Persian bindings created between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each scarf is one hundred percent silk and is priced at $49.95.

This project was conceived, directed and carried out under the leadership of Ellen Kapito, Chairwoman, and Noel Zeller, a member of the library Board of Overseers. All proceeds will aid the work of the library. To purchase this product, visit the Sales Desk, or call 212-678-8865. 

New Publication - From This World to the Next: Jewish Approaches to Illness, Death and the Afterlife

 A 120-page, fully illustrated catalog of the exhibition, published and funded by the Friends of The Library , is available for sale. The catalog is priced at $25.00 including shipping and handling ($30.00 outside the United States). Checks should be made payable to the Friends of The Library . Further information can be obtained by calling 212-678-8962. Orders can also be placed by fax at 212-678-8891.

The catalog documents the customs and rituals of burial, mourning and remembrance through a panoply of historically significant manuscripts, rare printed books and engravings from the library's collection, as well as objects from the Pollak Family Collection. The text explores in detail the communal and historical attitudes towards illness and the hour of death in Jewish communities throughout the world.

"From This World to the Next" will be on view at the library through May 31, 2000. For further information regarding the exhibit, call 212-678-8975.