Between the Lines: Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1998)


Facsimile of Famed Alba Bible Acquired

On a tour of JTS's rare book room with JTS Librarian Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz last December, Mr. and Mrs. Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano of Madrid found that the library did not own a facsimile of the Alba Bible, the medieval Spanish translation of the Tanakh prized for its contributions to biblical and Jewish cultural history. Mr. Toledano, founder and president of the Fundacion Amigos de Sefarad, had produced facsimiles of the Bible to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the expulsion from Spain. He invited Dr. Rabinowitz to go to Spain for a tour of the Jewish treasures in the city's museums and libraries and to receive a copy of the facsimile. Two months later, Dr. Rabinowitz boarded a flight to Madrid.

The Alba Bible, written by Rabbi Moses Arragel of Guadalajara, was completed in 1430. Arguably the most important Spanish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures of its time, it is considered the inspiration for later Christian translators and the basis of the last of the great Jewish Bibles, Abraham Usque's Ferrara edition of 1553. The Alba edition also contains Rabbi Arragel's commentary drawn from the Talmud, midrash and other rabbinic literary sources. It is illuminated with more than 300 detailed miniatures inspired by the rabbinic literature.

The work is believed to have been commissioned during the reign of King John II by Don Luis Gonzales de Guzman, the powerful and politically connected grand master of the order of Calatrava, one of the country's most distinguished orders of knighthood. Considering the bibles of the period linguistically flawed and lacking adequate explication of obscure passages, Don Luis wanted a fresh translation by a scholar well-versed in rabbinic sources. Rabbi Arragel initially refused to participate in the project, citing the Jewish prohibitions on pictorial content in the Bible. But Don Luis insisted that he had only to concern himself with translation and commentary, leaving the artistic renderings to others, and so convinced him to accept the assignment.

Since the end of the eighteenth century, the bible has been in the possession of the Albas, one of Spain's noble families. It can be found today in the Palacio de Liria, the Duke of Alba's residence in Madrid.


Exhibition Contrasts Two Views of the Holy Land

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel, the library will mount an exhibition entitled Zion: Panoramas and Politics. This exhibition will explore visions of the Land of Israel through a presentation of nineteenth-century Holy Land prints and early twentieth-century Zionist posters. These images document the changing perceptions of the Land as seen through the eyes of travelers and pioneers.

Throughout the nineteenth century, artist-pilgrims journeyed to the Holy Land to record the landmarks and native people of Palestine. The sketches they produced documented biblical sites in a highly detailed and realistic manner. These illustrations were enthusiastically received throughout Western Europe and America, where they were published and extensively exhibited. The prints displayed in this exhibition were selected from a portfolio in the library's collection entitled Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Being a Collection of Lithographic Views and Native Costumes from Drawings Taken on the Spot. The English author and artist, Mrs. Ewald, traveled to Palestine in 1849 and her sketches were published as lithographs in 1854.

A very different perspective of the Holy Land is presented in the Zionist posters produced during the first part of the twentieth century. The prints' bold designs and vivid colors underscore their forceful Zionist messages. The images seen in these posters depict a land in the first stages of cultivation; idealistic images of pioneers toiling in the fields illustrate slogans such as Purchase the products of the Land! Early settlers are set against a landscape of fertile earth ripe with agricultural promise. The posters, many of which were produced for a diaspora audience, depict the rebirth of the Jewish nation and encourage continued support for the Land of Israel.

The exhibition will be on view during library hours from June 10 - October 15, 1998 on the first and fifth floors of the library building. For further information please call (212) 678-8082.


Gerson Cohen Memorial Lecture Examines Legacy of American Hebrew Culture

Dr. Alan Mintz, professor of modern Hebrew literature at Brandeis University, delivered the sixth annual Gerson D. Cohen Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Friends of The Library , on May 12, 1998. In his talk, entitled "The Career of American Hebraism: A Re-evaluation," he discussed the attempt in the early twentieth century to establish a serious Hebrew culture in America.

With pogroms decimating Jewish life in Russia and war in Palestine preventing it from flourishing there, America was viewed as the best hope for the development of Hebrew culture. Hebrew clubs and journals were founded, major Hebrew colleges were established and a Hebraic national approach was adopted in the great majority of afternoon Hebrew schools. Dozens of poets, prose writers and dramatists wrote in Hebrew and often focused on American themes.

The zenith of Hebraist ambitions was in the 1920s. Yet as the movement began to produce serious institutions and serious writers, it lost its audience to the lure of America and the dominance of English. In the years just before and after World War II, there was a concerted effort by younger, native-born students to revive the Hebraist movement. Gerson Cohen was one of the leaders of this movement, associated with the Histadrut Hano'ar Ha'ivri and its journal Nivand with the creation of the Massad and Ramah camps. Thus the legacy of this movement and its relevance for the contemporary Jewish scene in America was a fitting topic for the annual lecture in his memory.


Concert Highlights Library's Music Collection

A gala concert was held on February 25th to promote the library's music collection. The concert, co-sponsored by the Friends of The Library and the Cantors' Assembly, celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg. The program, presented to a full house in Feinberg Auditorium, featured music written by the founding members of the Society, including Ephraim Skliar, Solomon Rosowsky and Lazare Saminsky.

The Sabin Family Music Library houses a collection comprised of books on music, musical scores and sheet music, musical holographs, and more than 5,500 sound recordings. The goal of the music library is to support the curriculum taught at the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music and to make this collection a center for the study of cantorial music.

Through book endowments, the library continues to purchase new materials both in print and sound formats. With the popularity of the compact disc, the music library has developed a fine collection of Jewish music CD's. The primary focus is on liturgical music but the collection also includes Jewish ethnic music, folk music, classical music based on Jewish themes and Jewish popular music. With the revitalization of eastern European Jewish communities, the library has been able to purchase recordings from communities in Budapest, Prague and cities of the former Soviet Union.

The library has been fortunate to become the recipient of numerous collections and archives belonging to composers of Jewish music and cantors who both composed and collected Jewish liturgical music. These collections are being cataloged by a music archivist, Eliott Kahn. Catalogs are being prepared for each collection and, to date, the library has published An Inventory of the Collection of Herbert Fromm and An Inventory of the Collection of Solomon Rosowsky. The inventory of Max Wohlberg's collection will be published later this year.

Music materials appear in the library's online catalog. The music library, which is located on the second floor of the library, is open during regular library hours. Assistance and listening facilities are available during reference hours: Sunday 11 am - 7 pm; Monday - Thursday 9 am - 7 pm and Fridays from 9 am until 1 hour before library closing.


Recent Acquisition Augments Library's Postcard Collection

This spring, the library purchased an important collection of two hundred postcards depicting Jewish life in America during the first half of the twentieth century. This acquisition enhances the library's already substantial collection of over 3,500 Jewish postcards.

The postcards, many of which were produced at the turn of the century, contain charming views of the Lower East Side. Images of Essex, Hester and Mulberry Streets present the viewer with bittersweet scenes of tenements, roof garden parties and outdoor markets, which reflect the Jewish immigrant experience.

Additionally, a wide array of Jewish institutions throughout the United States is represented in these postcards. Orphan asylums, Jewish community centers, hospitals, cemeteries, educational facilities, summer camps, kosher restaurants, Catskills hotels and Jewish-owned department stores are recorded for posterity. These postcards serve as an invaluable historical resource and often preserve a visual record of buildings which belong to a bygone era.


Library Publications

The library is proud to announce the following recent publications:

A Calendar for the Jewish Year 5759 from the Collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, showcasing treasures from the library's manuscript collection.

Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early Twentieth Century Postcards. A catalog of an exhibition held at the library October 7 - December 30, 1997. (Available July 1998).

Jewish Holiday Postcards. A boxed set of eighteen reproductions of postcards from the Past Perfect exhibition. (Available July 1998).

To order these publications, please contact the Friends of The Library at 212-678-8962 or write to the Friends of The Library , 3080 Broadway, New York NY 10027.


"The Sacred Community" Catalog Wins ACRL Award

A recent Friends of The Library publication, the catalog of the exhibition Kehillat Ha-Kodesh, Creating the Sacred Community: The Roles of the Rabbi, Cantor, Mohel and Shohet in Jewish Communal Life, was the 1998 winner in its division in a contest sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries. The Katherine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Current Exhibition Catalogue Awards will be presented in the form of a certificate at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section's annual meeting at the American Library Association convention in Washington, DC.

The Leab Exhibition Catalog Awards are presented in three budget categories for excellence in the publication of catalogs that accompany library exhibitions. Catalogs are judged on the basis of originality, accuracy of detail, informational content, visual impact, contribution to scholarship, and usefulness to the intended audience. The judges are a committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association.

The library's publication program is supported by the Friends of The Library.


"Food For Thought", Library Dinner

Over 200 people attended the annual library dinner, chaired by Ellen Kapito, which took place on December 7th. The dinner featured noted Jewish authors who, seated at designated tables with the dinner invitees, discussed their books informally. Authors' books served as centerpieces and were given as gifts to the dinner participants. The goal of the dinner was to introduce the public to the unique treasures of the library. Tours of the rare book room as well as tours of the library's conservation laboratory were held prior to the dinner. Participating authors were Neil Gillman, Vicki Goldberg, Gloria Goldreich, Abraham Karp, Francine Klagsbrun, Johanna Kaplan, Cynthia Ozick, Mark Podwal, Chaim Potok, Mayer Rabinowitz, Anne Roiphe, Norma Rosen, David G. Roskies, Judith Rossner, Lore Segal, Joan Micklin Silver, Jack Wertheimer and Hilma Wolitzer.