Between the Lines: Vol. 9, No. 2 (Fall 1996)

Library Holds Farewell Party for Edith Degani

The Friends of The Library sponsored a farewell luncheon for Edith Degani, who was Assistant Librarian for over thirty years. The luncheon was held in the Mendelson Convocation Center on June 26, 1996. The entire library staff and family members of Mrs. Degani gathered in a warm tribute to express to her good wishes upon her retirement.

Mayer Rabinowitz, Librarian, and Menahem Schmelzer, former Librarian, spoke of Mrs. Degani's devoted service and outstanding contributions to the library. Members of the library staff, Rena Borow, Clifford Miller and Seth Jerchower presented an original skit portraying anecdotes from Edith Degani's career at the library. Naomi Steinberger, Executive Librarian, presented Mrs. Degani with a gift of a framed paper cut with an inscribed quotation by Judah Ibn Tibbon: "Make books your companions." A bound copy of Between the Lines, the Friends' newsletter, was given to Mrs. Degani as a gift by Rickie Weiner, Director of the Friends of The Library. Edith Degani was a member of the editorial staff of Between the Lines since its inception in 1988. The student part-time workers at the library thanked Edith Degani for her ongoing support and presented her with gifts as well.

A catalog of the exhibition Great Books from Great Collectors, highlighting the great treasures from the library's collection, is scheduled to appear in the fall and will be dedicated in honor of Edith Degani.

Gifts Received by The Library

A generous contribution by Francine and Samuel Klagsbrun, in memory of Francine Klagsbrun's father, Benjamin Lifton, enabled the library to purchase a collection of ex libris.

The Latin words ex libris meaning "from the books (of)," became the international term for illustrated slips of paper pasted in the covers of a book as marks of ownership. Yet an ex libris is more than evidence of ownership. It is an expression of an artistic form and a link uniting a book lover with his books.

The art of the ex libris was developed after the invention of printing. However, the appearance of ex libris in Jewish books did not occur until 250 years later. The change came in the first half of the eighteenth century when Jewish artists in England began to engrave ex libris, followed by Jewish artists in Germany. These plates did not differ from parallel works of non-Jewish artists and were all executed in the styles of their periods. Their use in Jewish circles was limited.

Ex libris with Jewish themes appeared for the first time at the end of the nineteenth century under the influence of the Zionist movement. The usage of Hebrew letters as ornamental elements, as well as usage of traditional Jewish symbols such as a sefer torah, a menorah and magen David, was prominent. But not until the twentieth century did the Jewish ex libris become widespread, particularly in the United States. There are now thousands of bookplates reflecting the intellectual and cultural aspects of the American Jewish experience.

Library News

New Appointments

The library is pleased to announce the appointment of Naomi M. Steinberger to the position of Executive Librarian. She is responsible for supervising and coordinating all work done in the library. Naomi Steinberger has worked in the library as Administrative Librarian for Public Services and Systems Librarian, roles she continues to fill.

Sara Spiegel joined the library staff this summer as Administrative Librarian for Technical Services. She is coordinating all book acquisitions, gift books, cataloging and processing of materials in the library. Sara Spiegel served as director of the Tuttleman Library at Gratz College in Philadelphia prior to her appointment at JTS.

Scanning Service

In continuing the process of serving library users with the most up-to-date technology, the library is pleased to announce the availability of a scanning service.

This service enables the user, for a charged fee, to scan images and texts. The library scanner can scan an image which can be copied to a computer disk and printed in color using a color printer. The text scanning software can produce optical character recognition (OCR) of a printed text in English. The software will recognize the words of a printed text and the text will be searchable.

Kruzim: Proclamations from the Walls of Jerusalem

An exhibition of forty-two historical documents providing a fascinating glimpse of Jewish life in Jerusalem from 1920-1940 was mounted this fall at the library.

Known in Hebrew as kruzim, these documents are examples of broadsides: single sheets of paper printed on one side and intended for mass distribution. Produced by religious authorities and local merchants, they were plastered on the walls of Jerusalem to inform the public of current religious rulings and advertise newly available merchandise. These documents contain information on the prevailing political situation and the religious struggles between the ultra-orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem and the city's more secular population. In addition, the kruzim shed light on the economic climate of the Jews of Jerusalem in the first half of the twentieth century and thus they broaden our understanding of a remarkable period in Jewish history.

The documents in this exhibition were drawn from a group of ninety kruzim purchased by the library this past spring. They will be on exhibit on the first and fifth floors of the library through December 1, 1996.

The Jerusalem Haggadah

Funds donated by Mrs. Helen Lifton in memory of her husband Alexander Lifton facilitated the acquisition of a volume of a limited edition of the new Jerusalem Haggadah.

The haggadah, due to be published in October 1996, is a unique contemporary masterpiece celebrating Jerusalem's 3000th anniversary. It contains splendid illustrations, a companion volume which places in context the haggadah's singular illuminations and the full seder text, as well as the Song of Songs written in exceptional calligraphy. The Jerusalem Haggadah sets a new aesthetic standard for modern Judaica drawing on a wide range of artistic, biblical and rabbinic sources.

The haggadah is currently under preparation at the world-renowned Stamperia Valdonega printing house in Verona, Italy. Uncompromising in standards of excellence, Stamperia Valdonega's reproductions are prized by collectors throughout the world. The Jerusalem Haggadah will be a valuable addition to the library's comprehensive collection of haggadot, the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere.

Gifts to the library are acknowledged by affixing a personalized bookplate with the donor's name on the item purchased. If you are interested in a donation to the library, please contact Rickie Weiner at 212-678-8962.

Patrons to Receive Facsimile

Patrons, contributors of $1000 and up to the Friends of the library's annual membership campaign 1996/97, will receive a charming facsimile edition of a volume containing text from the Song of Songs and splendid biblical illustrations found in Mahzor Corfu.

Corfu was, for centuries, home to a dynamic Jewish community. The earliest Jewish settlers arrived during the thirteenth century while the island was still under Byzantine rule. These Jews, known as Romaniot, readily adapted many elements of the dominant Greek culture and language. The Romaniot maintained a separate congregation and attempted to preserve their liturgical rites and customs. In order to ensure that the liturgy would be transmitted correctly, they commissioned scribes to write prayer books that would reflect their traditions.

This charming volume is a partial facsimile of an illustrated mahzor written in 1709 which once belonged to a member of the ancient Romaniot community of Corfu. The elegantly written text and the enchanting illustrations are splendid examples of the rich liturgical and artistic heritage of the Jewish people.

Georgian Ketubbah

The most recent addition to the library's extensive collection of more than 400 ketubbot (marriage contracts) is an exquisite ketubbah from the Georgian (Russian) community of Jerusalem. This acquisition was made possible by the generosity of Dr. Samuel and Francine Klagsbrun in memory of Francine Klagsbrun's mother, Anna Lifton.

The rich decorative approach, expressed also on other ketubbot from Georgia, demonstrates the desire of this community to preserve its artistic heritage. Shimmering strips of gold paper and wide bands filled with brightly-colored floral and geometric motifs frame its text panel and surmounting blessings. Dated Wednesday, 8 Elul 1879, this manuscript is not only one of the library's earliest ketubbot from Jerusalem, but also its only example of a Georgian ketubbah.

Kehillat ha-Kodesh: Creating the Sacred Community

On December 18, 1996 the library will open Kehillat ha-Kodesh: Creating the Sacred Community. The exhibition will examine the offices of rabbi, shochet (ritual slaughterer), mohel (circumciser) and cantor. These professionals were appointed by the community to enable Jews to fulfill the basic ritual requirements of everyday life. They served both as leaders and teachers: not only did they perform rituals on behalf of the community, but they trained and certified the next generation of leaders as well, ensuring continuity of Jewish life. The exhibition will bring together visually outstanding works that illustrate these dual roles and engage viewers in an exploration of the material culture created by these professions and preserved by the library.

Kehillat ha-Kodesh will consist of magnificently decorated documents, historically significant manuscripts and rare printed books showcasing these professionals as pillars of Jewish communal life. Many of these objects have never before been exhibited. This new exhibition will allow a glimpse into a rarely seen segment of the library's outstanding collection of illustrated broadsides.

Highlights of this exhibition include lavishly decorated broadsides created in honor of the circumcision ceremony and documents associated with eminent leaders of the Jewish community, such as, a semikhah (rabbinical ordination) issued by Hayyim Yosef David Azulai and a magnificent shechitah and bedikah certificate given to Samuel ben Isaac Luzzato by the Jewish community of Venice, 1768. In addition, a richly detailed portrait of the diversity of Jewish life will be presented through such fascinating documents as an extremely rare shehitah kabbalah granted to a woman to practice ritual slaughter in Mantua, 1581 and an unusual milah book written in Barbados in 1765.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Friends of The Library , will be on display on the first, second and fifth floors of the library building from December 18, 1996 through March 17, 1997. A poster representing the exhibition is available for sale.

Fragments from the Cairo Genizah under Conservation

An exciting project currently underway at the library is the conservation of materials relating to Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and his descendants. These materials represent part of some 30,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah housed at the library. These fragments contain invaluable information pertaining to the social, cultural, religious and economic life of the Jews of the Mediterranean from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries. This material is currently being conserved with the goals of facilitating possible exhibition of the fragments, as well as providing access for scholarly research while avoiding direct handling of the fragments themselves.

All but one item (on parchment) are on fairly coarse, soft and loosely formed buff-colored paper, written in black carbon ink. They consist of fragments of text, responsa and letters. Perhaps the greatest treasure, in a group of utmost scholarly importance, is a letter signed by Moses Maimonides himself pleading for funds to ransom Jewish captives taken prisoner in November 1168 in Bilbays, Egypt, by the Crusader king, Amalric of Jerusalem, in his attack on the city.

Earlier in the century, most of these fragments were silked, a process which adhered a thin layer of silk netting to both surfaces. This not only obfuscates the text, but is damaging to the ink and changes the character of the paper. The conservation treatment of these fragments involves the removal of this silking, and a very gentle cleaning to remove the degradation products, stains, and some of the paste used in silking. Judicious repairs are made to prevent further damage. The final stage is inlaying each individual fragment in an English hand-made paper especially made for the conservation of near-Eastern manuscripts. The object is attached with minute strips of gossamer-like tissue of kozo (a plant fiber of the mulberry family) paper, impregnated with isinglass adhesive in our lab. Each item will be mounted in its own folder, and the group will be housed in boxes especially designed for the collection.

The project was launched at the beginning of 1996 and will take about a year to complete.