Between the Lines: Vol. 13 No. 2 (Fall 2000)

A Calendar for the Jewish Year 5761 Features Images from the Library's Collection

A full color Jewish calendar for 5761 (2000/2001) focusing on the theme of Jerusalem was published by Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli International Publications and produced in cooperation with the Friends of The Library. The calendar features illuminated manuscripts, ketubbot and mizrah plaques from the library's holdings.

This calendar is the third in a series of calendars featuring images from the library's world-renowned collection of Hebrew manuscripts, broadsides and ephemera, rare printed books, ketubbot, megillot, postcards, slides and photographs. A calendar for 2002/2003 is currently in the works.

The calendar, and other items published by the library, can be viewed and ordered online. For further information call 212-678-8962. 

Friends of The Library Designated Best of Show Winner

The Friends of The Library was designated a winner by the American Library Association in its 2000 Best-of-Show Public Relations competition. The annual awards were presented on July 9th during the American Library Association's annual conference in Chicago.

The Friends of The Library 's series of high-end stationery items illustrating the finest treasures from the library's holdings of Judaica and Hebraica captured first place in the category of published materials for fundraising. Among the items produced is a museum-quality stationery set with illustrations taken from the Rothschild Mahzor dating to 1492; a mazal tov guest book and thank-you notes featuring an illuminated page from an Italian manuscript dating ca. 1700 and a hardbound notebook/journal whose cover bears a fetching portrait of Eliza Rachel Felix, a highly-acclaimed nineteenth century French-Jewish actress.

These, and other items published by the library can be viewed and ordered online. For further information call 212-678-8962. 

New Judaica Book Endowments

The library is pleased to announce the following additions to its program of book endowments, administered by the office of the Friends of The Library :
  • The Francine Klagsbrun Book Endowment Fund, established by The Library Board of Overseers in recognition of Francine Klagsbrun's many years of dedicated service as chair of the Friends of The Library and chair of The Library Board of Overseers.
  • The Sol and Janice Tanne Book Endowment Fund for the acquisition of books in the areas of Jewish thought, history of Judaism, land of Israel studies and liturgy.

The library's book endowments are permanently named funds for the purpose of assuring the continued growth of the library's collection and the preservation of its rare books and manuscripts. For information about the endowment program, please contact Rickie Weiner at 212-678-8962.

Scholars at Work in The Library : Mark Cohen Reuniting Fragments of Genizah Manuscripts

An eleventh century letter from Ephraim ben Shemarya, head of the Fostat Jewish community The library's Elkan Nathan Adler Collection in the rare book room consists of some 40,000 manuscript fragments from the Cairo Genizah, which was discovered in 1896 in a medieval synagogue in Old Cairo. A genizah is a burial place for worn-out sacred texts. Because the Cairo Genizah was located inside a synagogue and in a very arid country, many of the centuries-old fragments were in excellent condition when they were discovered. Although the majority of the estimated 250,000 pages of text discovered in the Cairo Genizah are pages from books, perhaps five percent of them are historical documents, including letters, court records, marriage contracts and wills.

Today the fragments from the Cairo Genizah are dispersed all over the world. The three most important collections are in Cambridge, UK; St. Petersburg, Russia and here at the JTS Library. Most of the Adler Collection, acquired by the library in 1923, has been excellently preserved and bound in volumes for use by researchers. Some fragments, however, are still in boxes awaiting treatment. Since the summer of 1996, Professor Mark Cohen of Princeton University, and a consultant to the library's genizah collection, has been working on sorting and identifying the crumpled, mostly tiny fragments which have not yet been cataloged.

The task of preparing the newly-sorted fragments for public use has fallen to Yevgeniya Dizenko, who runs the circulation desk in the rare book room. Yevgeniya immigrated to this country in 1995 from Russia, where she worked as a restorer of old and damaged photographs. To preserve the genizah fragments, she places them in mylar-plastic sleeves and inserts the pages of plastic in volumes. Periodically, Yevgeniya notices fragments belonging to the same page or document and puts them together, after consulting with Dr. Cohen or the manuscripts cataloger, Dr. Jay Rovner.

Recently, Dr. Cohen was working in the rare book room and requested a certain volume containing a letter (ENA 2804.5) that had been published in 1995 by an Israeli scholar. The letter, which seems to be a letter of recommendation for a needy person, is difficult to understand because it is torn down the entire left side. After bringing him the letter in its volume, Yevgeniya was placing a new fragment in a mylar sleeve when she noticed similarities in the writing, coloration of the paper, and pattern of the tear with those of the published letter. She pointed out these similarities to Dr. Cohen.

Upon closer examination, Dr. Cohen determined that Yevgeniya had identified a missing piece of the published letter. The newly-discovered fragment contains part of the introduction to the letter, filled with salutations in rhymed Hebrew prose of exactly the same sort found in the published fragment. Moreover, on the reverse side of both fragments there is some writing in monumental Arabic script (not published with the recto), and the text lines up perfectly. The "join" has now been noted on the interleaves of the respective fragments.

The Friedberg Geniza Project

Funded by Albert Dov Friedberg of Toronto and administered through the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, the Friedberg Geniza Project was founded a year and a half ago with the goal of "publishing" the entire corpus of the Cairo Genizah in electronic form. Apart from making grants to projects already in existence (about eleven projects have thus far been funded), the directors hope to digitize images of the manuscripts, and plans are already being formulated to start with the Adler Collection.

With the aid of a computer, scholars will be able to call high-resolution images of genizah fragments to their screens. The images will show not only the text and its handwriting, but also the coloration of the paper and the contours of its tears. This will greatly facilitate the reunification of dispersed fragments. As more library collections are added to the digitized corpus, the chances of reuniting fragments separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years will increase, and many more exciting discoveries will be added to the ones made recently at JTS.

Photography of Library's Ketubbot Collection Completed

Photography of over 600 ketubbot from the library's holdings was completed in preparation for the publication of a scholarly catalog featuring the vast collection of ketubbot housed in the library's rare book room.

Shalom Sabar, Chair, Department of Jewish and Comparative Folklore at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Director of Misgav Yerushalayim (an institute affiliated with the Hebrew University and the Ministry of Education in Israel to promote research and study of the heritage of the Sepharadim and Jews of Islamic lands) has been working for the past seven years at The Library researching this collection. The library, according to Sabar, has the most important and extensive collection of ketubbot in the world. These documents range from an eleventh century genizah document to ketubbot from sixteenth century Greece, fifteenth century Spain, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, Kurdistan, India, England, Germany and twentieth century ketubbot from Israel and the United States.

Shalom Sabar, who is also editor of Rimonim (the only periodical in Hebrew dedicated to Jewish Art) and co-editor of Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore, spent the summer at the library editing the final copy of the manuscript. 

Cantor Jonah Binder Collection

The music collection of Cantor Jonah Binder was donated to the library by his widow, Mrs. Claire Binder. Cantor Binder had been active as a cantor, choir conductor, singer and arranger from the 1930s, his early years on the Lower East Side, until his death a year ago. The bulk of the collection consists of Cantor Binder's musical scores including music for the High Holidays, Sabbath and festivals as well as music for either worship or public use such as weddings, funerals, Hanukkah and Passover events. There are also a few of Binder's own arrangements of Yiddish theater songs for small instrumental combos as well as some cantorial manuscripts written in the hand of Binder's teacher, Cantor Eliyohu Shnipelisky (1879–1947).

The collection will be available to both students and the public at large, once it is incorporated into the library's general collection.

From the Rare Book Room: Sefer ha-Kundas

An unlikely and unusual work of American Hebraica that came to light recently in the rare book room is a tiny, two-by-four inch, 200-page series of religious parodies written in Hebrew and published in Newark, New Jersey, in 1890.

Entitled Sefer ha-Kundas, this diminutive series of parodies is unusual in that it is printed on colored, heavy stock paper, and contains a few cartoon images borrowed from the English language satire press. The parodies include dinim (duties) for every holiday. These dinim, however, are not conceived for the average Jew, but for the Kundas, the wise guy. Sefer ha-Kundas satirizes the Reform movement, Hasidim, Jewish socialists and anarchists and the Yiddish theater, to name just a few of its targets.

Though written anonymously, numerous bibliographies attribute Sefer ha-Kundas to Ephraim Deinard, one of the most significant figures in Jewish book collecting in America. Among the Hebraica collections Deinard helped to found include those of The Library of Congress and the University of California at Berkeley. He also helped to obtain significant collections for JTS, New York Public Library and Hebrew Union College, among others.

Deinard was also a dedicated Hebraist and author. Although Sefer ha-Kundas is merely a small item in Deinard's oeuvre of over forty Hebrew volumes on subjects as diverse as travel, bibliography and historiography, it is a unique and fascinating peek into his attitudes toward virtually every aspect of Jewish society as it entered the modern world.

Scripture and Schism: Samaritan and Karaite Treasures from The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary

This winter the library will mount a major three-tiered exhibition, Scripture and Schism: Samaritan and Karaite Treasures from The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. This exhibition will explore the works by and about the Samaritans and the Karaites, two ancient Jewish sects that claim to be the sole legitimate interpreters of the biblical religion. Both groups have survived into the modern period.

The Samaritans claim to be descended from the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who were not deported by the Assyrians in the eighth century. They do not consider themselves Jews. The Samaritans built their own sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem (Nablus) in Samaria, where they still practice animal sacrifice once a year on Passover. Today they number roughly 600 souls, half under Israeli rule in Holon and the other half under Palestinian rule in their ancient center at Nablus.

The Karaites are an offshoot of Judaism that arose in the eighth century CE in Iraq in opposition to the Talmud and other rabbinic additions to biblical law. They claimed that the true Jewish religion lay in direct interpretation of Scripture by qualified individuals. From Iraq, the sect spread to Palestine, Egypt, Byzantium, the Crimean peninsula, Poland, and Russia. Today there are Karaite communities in Russia, Lithuania, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and the US.

Scripture and Schism will exhibit medieval manuscripts, early printed books, broadsides, and other works rarely seen on public display, including medieval letters from the Cairo Genizah. In conjunction with the exhibition there will be a catalog available for purchase through the Friends of The Library , (212) 678-8962.

The exhibition will be on display on the first, second and fifth floors of the library building from December 14, 2000 through April 5, 2001. Exhibition hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Friday 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.