News From The Library

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Message From Dr. David Kraemer

According to the Mishnah, there are four "new years"—one for kings and the cycle of holidays, one for the tithing of animals, one for trees, and the one we know as Rosh Hashanah. Well, we at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary also have four new years—one for the fiscal year (July 1), one for the academic year (the day after Labor Day), Rosh Hashanah, and the secular new year. Recently observing two of those new years, we have had the opportunity to take stock and evaluate where we are. It is worth saying a few words about the year we have recently ended and about the year we have just entered.

The past year was another year of significant strides for The Library. In addition to producing an outstanding video featuring our Special Collections and mounting a magnificent exhibit of our ketubbot at The Jewish Museum, we managed to make our exceptional collections even more extraordinary by continuing our digitization activities and adding regularly to our digital collections. We have also processed the significant archives of Rabbi Judah Nadich and will be dedicating an exhibit to his legacy in honor of Veterans Day. These archives were just one of several important gifts that have enhanced our collections this past year and made us an even more essential destination for researchers of the Jewish experience.

This next year, we will continue doing what we do best: providing unparalleled resources to students and scholars of Judaica both on site and online. We have recently received word of a significant grant that will help us enhance our online offerings, the details of which we look forward to reporting to you soon. Students, professors, librarians, and collectors of Judaica around the world recognize our centrality to Jewish study of virtually any kind, and we are committed to supporting them in their explorations. With your help, we will do this with quality and distinction.

I wish you a wonderful New Year, however your calendar is oriented.

David Kraemer

Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian


Film of The Library's Special Collections

by Naomi Steinberger

On a cold, snowy day in January 2011, Jaime Heilman of Ranoah Productions spent a 12-hour day at The Jewish Theological Seminary filming a video that tells the story of The Library's Special Collections. In addition to featuring interviews with Chancellor Arnold Eisen, members of The Library staff, JTS faculty, and a number of students, the film dazzles the eye with magnificent images of dozens of materials from our Rare Book Room. The video is accompanied by recordings of music held in The Library's music archives, with additional compositions performed by klezmer artist Yale Strom. Images from books, manuscripts, genizah fragments, ketubbot, prints, megillot, musical scores, photographs, and archival documents from around the world tell the story of Jewish life through the ages—in the context of the history of The Library since its inception in 1893 to its current transformations in anticipation of the digital future.

The goal of the film is to highlight some of The Library's most precious works and bring their stories to the general public. The video has been distributed to all JTS regional offices and to members of the Library Advisory Board to share with friends and colleagues. It was shown at the spring Library Open House and at an event honoring The Library's friends, donors, and partners. Our hope is to reach people throughout the United States and beyond, giving them a glimpse into the extraordinary collections held at The Library. A short version of the film is available on YouTube.

 

Naomi Steinberger, director of library services, served as the project director. Rena Borow, administrative librarian for public services, was instrumental in editing the script. Randall Levin, a student in the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music of The Jewish Theological Seminary, served as narrator.

Funding for this project was provided by the Louis and Bessie Stein Foundation, Fund #2, Audrey Merves, Trustee. Audrey Merves is a former member of the Library Advisory Board.

 


 

Important Visitors to The Library's Rare Book Room

A Visitor From the Czech Republic—Finding a Little Bit of Home at JTS

During the fall 2010 semester, Olga Sixtova, curator of manuscripts and rare printed books at the Jewish Museum in Prague, conducted research in The Library's Special Collections, examining rare Hebrew books printed in Czech lands that cannot be found in any institution in the Czech Republic.

Ms. Sixtova is preparing a Prague exhibition and a publication scheduled for December 2012, commemorating the 500th anniversary of Hebrew printing in Prague. Among the rich holdings of The Library, Ms. Sixtova focused her research on the earliest Prague editions, which were products of cooperation between Latin and Hebrew printers in Prague. The availability of these rare volumes in The Library contributed significantly to her research.

A Visitor from China—and a Rendezvous with History

by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer*

Recently, Kulanu, a nonprofit organization that supports isolated and emerging Jewish communities around the world, sponsored Shi Lei, a Chinese Jew, on his second lecture tour of the United States. According to Shi Lei, he is the first Jewish descendant from Kaifeng, China, to study Judaism and Hebrew in Israel. He works as a frequent lecturer on the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng and as a licensed Jewish tour operator, and is a volunteer teacher on the topics of Hebrew, English, and Jewish tradition. He has also organized what he refers to as a "mini-museum" in Kaifeng dedicated to his family's Jewish history.

Both of Shi Lei's tours were a resounding success, with rave reviews everywhere. I saw him in February at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where he lectured to a packed auditorium. I was very impressed with his poise, his knowledge, and his command of English. Shi Lei had indeed become the face of the Jewish community of Kaifeng.

In 1992, when Professor Zhao Xiangru, a retired professor of minorities in China from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was in New York, he visited the Rare Book Room at The Library to see a Chinese Torah scroll from Kaifeng. Many people are unaware that artifacts of this historic Jewish community are in several institutions in North America. In fact, they can be found in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the Anglican Cathedral in Washington DC, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the American Bible Society in New York City, and, of course, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Each institution has a Torah scroll and/or other Jewish artifacts from Kaifeng.

On this trip, it was Shi Lei's turn to visit JTS and to see an original Torah from his community. According to historic sources, the Kaifeng Jewish community had 13 Torahs, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel and one for Moses. The Torah held by JTS was purchased in 1868 by Christian missionary W.A.P. Martin and was later sold to Judge Mayer Sulzberger of Philadelphia, whose entire Judaica collection is now part of The Library. The Torah from Kaifeng is written on white leather rather than parchment, and is sewn together with silk thread, a distinguishing characteristic of all Chinese Torahs.

As one can imagine, Shi Lei was very moved to see a Torah from his community. But just as exciting was the result of his inquiry about whether The Library had other items from Kaifeng. Rabbi Jerry Schwarzbard, Henry R. and Miriam Ripps Schnitzer Librarian for Special Collections, brought out a volume from Kaifeng with several sections bound together. One of those sections was a rare Sukkot mahzor (special prayer book for the holiday of Sukkot). Imagine the look on Shi Lei's face when he saw the signature of the book's owner—his paternal grandfather! It truly was a rendezvous with history.

*Rabbi Tokayer served for many years as rabbi for the Jewish community of Japan and is the founder and president of the Foundation for Remote Jewish Communities, based in New York.

This piece is excerpted and adapted from Rabbi Tokayer's piece that appeared in the newsletter Kulanu 18, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 16–17 (http://kulanu.org/newsletters/2011-spring-summer.pdf).

 

 


 

Exhibition 2011: "The Art of Matrimony—Thirty Splendid Marriage Contracts from the
Jewish Theological Seminary Library"

In partnership with The Jewish Museum, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary mounted an exhibition at the museum from March 11 to June 26, 2011, called "The Art of Matrimony: Thirty Splendid Marriage Contracts from the Jewish Theological Seminary Library." The ketubbah collection of The Library is one of the world's greatest, with superb examples of virtually every extant type. Included in the exhibition were 30 of our most outstanding documents, representing communities from the 12th to the 21st centuries, from Iraq and Iran, to Italy and the Netherlands, and finally to the United States.

The ketubbah (literally, "that which is written," a document) is the traditional Jewish marriage contract, entered into at the time of the wedding in order to protect the wife and her offspring in the event of divorce or the death of her spouse. The ketubbah as we know it dates from the period of the early Rabbis, who codified its conditions between the first and fifth centuries CE. As prenuptial documents that protect the wife, ketubbot were—and remained through most of their history—living contracts. Though parts of the documents were fixed by legal formula and custom, other parts reflected the particular needs of an individual woman. In recent centuries, the ketubbah was reduced to a fixed formula, but contemporary ketubbot often show a new and more creative sensibility, reflecting trends in the modern world.

Elaborately decorated ketubbot are, historically speaking, a relatively recent innovation. The earliest ketubbot with any decoration at all derive from medieval Egypt (an early 12th-century example from The Library's genizah collection was included in the exhibition). But, if the surviving evidence is accurate, ketubbot as true works of art began in only the 17th century. From that point onward, local artistic customs in some of the world's most important Jewish communities led to the creation of genuinely magnificent examples. Whether figurative or aniconic (depending upon the local tradition), ketubbot show the skills of scribe and artist employed to shape visual testimonies to the sacredness of marriage that has characterized Jewish communities through the ages.

Ketubbot are rich sources of information about Jewish history and culture on all levels. Artistic styles, often strongly influenced by the surrounding culture, tell us much about the relationships of Jews and their neighbors. Details pertaining to the dowry and financial commitments, along with mention of supplementary marriage documents, teach us about the economic conditions of known and unknown Jews in given times and communities, and about the legal status of Jewish marriages in the larger social structure. Names and special conditions recorded in the ketubbot enhance our understanding of relationships between different segments of the larger Jewish community, as we see "intermarriages" of Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews or of Jews who followed Rabbinic law with those who rejected it.

The exhibition was part of a new initiative to bring some of The Library's outstanding holdings to venues where they will be viewed by much larger audiences than could see them here at JTS. The Jewish Museum, on upper Fifth Avenue's "Museum Mile," was perfect to achieve this goal. The exhibition was received enthusiastically by the Jewish press (see, for example, www.forward.com/articles/136546/), and it also received favorable notice in publications addressed to the art and gallery world. Thousands of visitors had the opportunity to see these magnificent pieces.

With the success of this exhibition, The Library is committed to exploring other, similar partnerships and mounting exhibitions that will make a similar impact. In addition, after the ketubbot have had a chance to "rest" in The Library's climate-controlled Rare Book Room, we will seek to loan the exhibition to other significant museums around the country.

 

 


 

Library New Collections: Expanding Our Treasures

by Dr. Felix Blank, Rita Lifton, and Sol Majersdorf

In the past year and a half, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary has received donations of three important collections. They are:

Anti-Semitic Books and Periodicals from the American Jewish Committee

The history of anti-Semitism is an integral part of Jewish history. The American Jewish Committee was established in 1906 to guard and maintain Jewish freedom in America and abroad.

Books and periodicals in this collection were published from the end of the 19th century through the 20th. The largest concentration of material in the collection comes from the 1930s and '40s, representing literature of the hatred of Jews in Europe and Israel.

In the collection, one can find many early editions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, books of blood libel accusations in Russia, and books published in German during the Third Reich, including editions of Hitler's Mein Kampf and writings of Alfred Rosenberg, the theoretician of Nazism.

The collection also includes many volumes of more contemporary anti-Semitism in the United States and Great Britain, such as books produced by the Freemasons and the Ku Klux Klan.

National Council of Jewish Women

In the spring of 2010, The Library was fortunate to receive a major donation of publications that formerly constituted the library of the Eleanor Leff Jewish Women's Resource Center, a project of the National Council of Jewish Women New York Section (NCJW). That collection greatly enhanced our Library's holdings in the areas of Jewish women's studies, American literature by Jewish women, and works by and about Jewish women artists.

The original plan was that all published works in the NCJW collection were to be cataloged and added to The Library's collection, and that the substantial number of unpublished works would be put aside for a time.

In looking over the unpublished material, however, it became clear that it represented a great deal of research that was not replicated elsewhere—organizational reports, research papers, and theses—and so it too was added to the JTS collection.

The NCJW collection has strengthened The Library's holdings in numerous areas. We have added books about the Women's Movement, including works by foundational figures such as Phyllis Chesler, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem; feminist theology; women's Bible studies, stories, and criticism; Jewish women's religious life across the religious spectrum; and new rites and ceremonies created to help women participate more fully in Jewish ritual.

In the areas of social and political studies, the NCJW collection includes works about the lives of working women in the United States and in Israel; books describing the critical role played by American women's organizations, such as the NCJW, in alleviating the plight of poor Jewish immigrants (particularly women) in the early part of the 20th century; and works about noted American Jewish social activists and political figures such as Emma Goldman and Bella Abzug.

In the area of the arts, we have added works of poetry by noted American women poets such as Grace Paley, Marge Piercy, and Muriel Rukeyser; American fiction from the 1970s and '80s by many lesser known Jewish women authors whose works reflect a feminist awakening; works by and about major American Jewish women artists such as Diane Arbus and Judy Chicago; and biographies of American Jewish women entertainers such as Fanny Brice, Gilda Radner, Joan Rivers, and others.

The Library is fortunate to have been the recipient of this rich and multidimensional collection.

Rabbi Jack (Jacob) Ezra Safdie Books

This collection was donated by Edward Safdie, son of the late Rabbi Jack (Jacob) Safdie of San Francisco. The Safdie Collection emphasizes Sephardic and Kabbalistic works. It includes many out-of-print and scarce items, as well as rare books and manuscripts.

By adding this collection to The Library, we have enhanced and expanded our collection of material dealing with the Sephardic community, especially rare books of responsa. Among the irtems in the collection is a manuscript of Simon Vaeknin's Na'eh Doresh [Tiberias, before 1932]. This work provides explanations of difficult aggadic and midrashic passages from the Talmud and other classical rabbinic literature. Also in the collection are ephemeral materials relating to the establishment of the State of Israel and its early days.

These historically, culturally, and religiously significant collections are a welcome addition to the countless Library resources that are already available to JTS students, scholars, and researchers around the world, and add to our understanding of the total Jewish experience.


The Library's Volunteer Program

by Naomi Steinberger

During the past months, volunteers and interns at The Library have assisted the staff with a wide range of special projects. Some have helped enable access to materials in our general collections, while others have contributed to the preservation of specific collections. This year, the program grew to include four students who completed internships for graduate school credit and 20 volunteers.

Three of our interns were JTS graduate students. Their internships were in the areas of Hebrew paleography (the study of ancient writing and inscriptions) with Dr. Jay Rovner, the manuscript bibliographer; identifying and rehousing prints found in bound volumes in the conservation lab with Amy Armstrong, the senior conservator; and organizing and identifying personalities depicted in a collection of prints related to the Dreyfus affair with Sharon Liberman-Mintz, curator of Jewish Art.

The fourth for-credit intern was a graduate student from New York University's Moving Image Archives and Preservation Program, who created an inventory of 971 films from the Johanna Spector collection of Jewish ethnomusicology. The inventory includes a categorization of Johanna Spector's film projects (Yemenite, Samaritan, Indian), identifications of the films, their preservation status, and other pertinent information about each film. The inventory uncovered a significant amount of raw footage that Spector never used in her produced films. The complete inventory and assessment of the physical condition of each film provides us with information that can be used to seek funding for the processing and reformatting of this unique collection.

This spring, a high-school senior from the Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter school in West Orange, New Jersey, spent three months sorting unprocessed books in the Library storage area, most of them survivors of the 1966 Library fire. He was extremely helpful in isolating multivolume sets of books and books in Yiddish.

We continue to participate in a vocational training program with the Summit School of Queens, New York, a school committed to helping children with special needs develop the tools necessary to achieve success. Three students spend one morning per week volunteering in The Library's technical services department, assisting with labeling books and preparing them for the open shelves. The students come with a job coach who assists them with their needs. The students from the Summit School appreciate volunteering in a Jewish academic environment.

Other dedicated volunteers came to The Library each week during the academic year and worked on various projects: separating rare and potentially important Yiddish books from the unprocessed book storage shelving; archival processing of specific collections, where the volunteer was knowledgeable about the subject area (two Cejwin Camps alumni have identified people found in archival photographs!); cataloging specific collections; and rehousing old photographs.

We continue to work with our most veteran volunteer and Judaica collector, Dr. Alfred Moldovan, whose knowledge of Jewish books helps us immeasurably. He searches for "treasures" in our unprocessed book storage areas.

Helen Citron generously volunteers her time to work with the Jewish art collection, and is preparing a list of all exhibitions held in The Library.

Also this spring, The Library participated in the Morgan Stanley corporate volunteer program. Over the course of two afternoons, a total of seven Morgan Stanley staff members volunteered their time to help sort books in our unprocessed book storage. The volunteers identified a number of rare books, which were immediately cataloged and added to the collection. Some of the volunteers participated in a rare book talk.

Over the summer, there is always a surge in volunteers. This summer, we were fortunate to have an excellent volunteer cataloging Spanish manuscripts; two unemployed librarians cataloging books and postcards from The Library's postcard collection; and additional volunteers organizing some of our framed objects, identifying Yiddish books, doing preliminary research in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition, and organizing the recently donated sermons of the first president of JTS, Dr. Sabato Morais.

The Library maintains ongoing relationships with the internship coordinators at the schools of library and information science in the metropolitan area and other program coordinators who recommend their students to us.

We are extraordinarily grateful to all of our interns and volunteers for the time they dedicate, and to our dedicated Library staff who patiently supervise the interns and volunteers in The Library.