News From The Library 5.1

Table of Contents:

Also available as a downloadable PDF.


Letter From Dr. David Kraemer

As it has been for many Jewish (and other) organizations, the past year has been a difficult one, in certain ways, for The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. But The Library has such extraordinary resources that even difficult economic conditions like these cannot hold us back. Parties far and wide continue to ask us to make our resources available—to loan our treasures to outstanding museums, participate in special projects, digitize works in our collection for publication. The simple fact is that much of Jewish scholarship and study as we know it would be impossible without The Library's resources, and we will continue to support the many who require what only we can provide.

In this issue of News From The Library, you will find reports on some of the most exciting of our recent projects and programs. This represents but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Our daily work supporting and providing guidance to students, professors, researchers, and curious others goes on as always, unreported and taken for granted—as well it should be. In good times and bad, we recognize the foundational quality of The Library's work.

We hope you do too.

I invite you to help support the services we provide—the acquisitions, the special services, the literary and cultural programming—by making a donation to The Library. Please help us as generously as you can.

With best wishes for a healthy and peaceful New Year.

David Kraemer

Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian
The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary


Digitization at The Library
by Naomi Steinberger

A full spectrum of digitzation projects are in process or about to begin. With generous support from a number of donors, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is digitizing a variety of special collections and making them available online as part of its digital library.

The St. Petersburg Score Project, funded by the American Society for Jewish Music, provides for the digitization of 100 scores of music composed by members of the St. Petersburg Jewish Folk Music Society. These are mostly unknown scores by composers from St. Petersburg (and, later, Moscow). The complete works of the St. Petersburg Jewish Folk Music Society will be showcased on a shared website created by The Library in an international partnership with Gratz College, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (both in the United States), the Jewish National and University Library, and the Jewish Music Research Centre (both in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

The diaries of Mordecai Kaplan, one of the most influential Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, will soon be digitized with funding from the Metropolitan New York Library Council. Kaplan's diaries will enlighten scholars, theologians, and historians on both his published and unpublished thoughts and writings. Digital access to these diaries, written between 1913 and 1981 (most of the century), will let scholars and students discover even more intimately one of the religious giants of twentieth-century America. Kaplan was a witness to and commentator on the major events of that century; he was also a motivator and institution builder. The diaries are filled with Kaplan's meticulous formulations and reformulations. Many lines are crossed out and filled with above-the-line emendations, showing how Kaplan reconsidered his earlier thoughts over time. By making digital images of the original pages available online, we will allow the student or researcher to discover the genius at work.

While Louis Ginzberg's seminal work, The Legends of The Jews, was originally written in German, it was published only in an English translation by Henrietta Szold. The Library holds the manuscript of the original German, which will now be published by the Jüdische Verlag of the Suhrkamp Verlag. As part of this process, the complete German manuscript has been digitized and will be included in the digital library.

With funding from the Lawrence family, eighty-six Hebrew manuscripts that have no other surrogate were digitized during two month-long photo shoots this year. The manuscripts, all in fragile condition, were photographed with a high-end digital camera. Each page was turned by a conservation assistant. The resulting high-resolution color photographs will be uploaded to the digital library.

With these and other digitization projects, The Library is the quintessential Jewish library of the future—one serving students, teachers, rabbis, researchers, and all interested parties around the world.


Pre-Passover Open House a Huge Success
by Sarah Diamant

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary Opened Its Doors—and Its Special Collections—to Appreciative Visitors

"Thank you for opening your doors to the public. It was wonderful to be part of the Pre-Passover Open House. I especially enjoyed viewing the different Haggadot and so very much appreciated hearing the experts at each table describe the history and point out what made each Haggadah so unique."

"The Conservation Lab was amazing, as were each of the conservationists demonstrating their craft."

As evidenced by the comments above, the Pre-Passover Open House held March 25 on the fifth floor of The Library was received with great enthusiasm and high praise from the more than 120 attendees. The event used a science fair design to showcase materials and staff from Special Collections, as well as other Library offerings relating to Passover. Visitors were amazed by the breadth and depth of The Library's holdings. Our collection of some 2,500 Haggadot provided many of the examples selected for the Open House.

Treasures on view included:

  • A Haggadah from the Cairo Genizah, dating back to the tenth or early eleventh century. Manuscript bibliographer Dr. Jay Rovner pointed out to visitors that this manuscript was not written by a professional scribe and may be an example of a lay or popular rite, perhaps a work written by a head of household for use at his family's seder.
  • Two of the earliest printed Haggadot, selected by Rabbi Jerry Schwarzbard, librarian for Special Collections, who described them to visitors as milestones in the history of the early printed book.
  • The Prato Haggadah, one of the crown jewels of our collection, produced in Spain in approximately 1300 and among the oldest of all illuminated Spanish Haggadot. David Sclar, library specialist, explained to our attentive visitors that because the Prato is one of the few unfinished illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, the viewer has the rare opportunity to see the stages of production of an illuminated manuscript. This presentation was complemented by a Library exhibit showing how the Prato Haggadah had been conserved and analyzed to identify the composition of each paint color used in the illumination.
  • The Library's eighteenth-century illuminated Haggadot, which were chosen for the open house in order to showcase the renaissance of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts. Sharon Liberman Mintz, curator for Jewish Art, explained that during this time period there was a renewed interest in Jewish luxury books for personal use, in this case at the seder table.
  • Two images, "The Search for Chametz" and "The Passover Seder," from master engraver Bernard Picart's eighteenth-century, multivolume encyclopedia, Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World, were discussed by Sarah Diamant, administrative librarian for Special Collections. Extremely popular in its day, this anthology for the newly educated upper-middle classes of Amsterdam and beyond is a fascinating and open-minded presentation of Jews and their customs.
  • The Pesach Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust, representing the modern period in The Library's Special Collections. Dr. David Kraemer spoke eloquently on this important Haggadah. David Wander, the illustrator of this striking work, juxtaposes the traditional Haggadah text with the twentieth-century context of the Holocaust in a way that is both disturbing and deeply moving.
  • Several delightful Passover-related items, displayed by JTS archivist Ellen Kastel. They were on view from our extensive and important archival collections, including a sampling of midcentury Passover greeting cards that were much appreciated by the children at the event.
  • Images of rare materials from our digital collections that were shown and discussed by Naomi Steinberger, director of Library Services. As Naomi explained, digital initiatives are a strategic priority of The Library, making otherwise inaccessible and unique materials available to the public. The Library's digital collections also include audio materials.
  • Eliott Kahn, music archivist, shared examples from the Solomon Rosowsky field recordings, transferred from aluminum disks to digital format in a recent Library project. Visitors were treated to the haunting biblical chanting styles of different ethnic groups that had settled in British Palestine during the pre-World War II period.
  • The Library's Conservation Lab, which visitors found quite impressive. Founded in 1990 and expanded in 2001, the lab continues to be the cornerstone of the preservation of our special collections for future use. Amy Armstrong, senior conservator, and her staff gave visitors a fascinating glimpse into the world of conservation with an impeccably organized and presented survey of the work that is done in the lab as well as the equipment and methods used in conservation work.

A visitor summed up the feelings about The Library's Pre-Passover Open House:

"All of the presenters . . . showed their love and excitement for their jobs and for The Library."

Beyond the contributions of the presenters, many people within The Library and elsewhere at JTS contributed to the festive atmosphere and great success of this open house.

The Library will hold its Special Collections Open House on
October 6, 2009, at 4:30 p.m.

Please join us to view selected items from our collections related to
the High Holidays, Sukkot, and Simhat Torah.


The Library at The Met

Over the last few years, The Library has enjoyed an increasingly close relationship with the Department of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York City. As the curators at the Met have come to appreciate the importance of including examples of Jewish art in their exhibits, they have discovered that the best source for such treasures—typically book art from the Middle Ages—is The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Of course, The Library is thrilled to loan pieces from our collection to the Met, where we can be confident that they will serve to educate countless visitors (several million people visit the Met each year) about Jewish art and tradition under the best possible conditions. We are pleased to report that until a few weeks ago, we had not just
one, but two significant pieces on display at the Met.

The first, part of a special exhibit titled Pen and Parchment: The Art of Drawing in the Middle Ages, was The Library's well-known treasure, the Prato Haggadah. As its name suggests, this exhibit, which ran from June through August, highlighted the art of illustration—including book illustration—in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Met's particular interest in the Prato Haggadah was due to the fact that the Haggadah is an unfinished manuscript, one which therefore exposes the process by which medieval manuscripts were illustrated and illuminated. In the Prato, it is possible to see how images were sketched, the surface prepared, and inks and gold leaf applied. For the Met's exhibit, the Prato was not only an exemplar of Jewish art, but a fine example of medieval artistic process in general. When exhibiting books, curators usually choose one page-opening (the pair of facing pages that are seen when a book is opened). However, the Met's curator was so excited by the Prato that she asked to show two different page-openings over the course of the exhibit, a request that we gladly accommodated.

At the same time, The Library has made a significant long-term loan to the Met's newly reconstructed and reconceived medieval galleries. Here, the museum simply wanted to ensure that medieval Jewish art (thirteenth century or earlier) would be amply represented—and represented it is. The first piece to be shown is The Library's Esslingen Mahzor (Germany, 1290), a monumental manuscript of exceptional quality that will be at the Met for a full year. To display the mahzor in their new galleries, the Met constructed a special case dedicated to this piece alone, and placed it in one of the most prominent locations in the galleries. Over the course of the months that the Esslingen is at the Met (it returns to The Library in November), it has been—and will continue to be—seen by literally thousands of visitors. And after the Esslingen returns to The Library, it will be replaced in the museum's galleries by another of The Library's medieval treasures, a thirteenth-century manuscript of Maimonides' great legal work, the Mishneh Torah.

OTHER LOANS:
Between August and November, The Library has two items on loan to the
Jewish Museum in Prague: a seventeenth-century manuscript of gezerot
(decrees) and a seventeenth-century volume of the Talmud, tractate
Niddah, printed in Prague.

Both are part of a special exhibit devoted to the
Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (c. 1520–1609), one of
the most important rabbis of this period.


Helping Hands, Devoted Friends: A Conversation with Dr. David Kraemer and Library Volunteer Al Moldovan

For several years, Abe Kremer and Al Moldovan devoted time each week to helping The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary identify potentially rare materials for recovery from our high-density stacks. As they pursued their goal, these two volunteers spent hours in our cataloging department together and joined us at Library lunches and other functions. Before long, they became our friends. So when Abe, approaching his ninetieth birthday, stopped coming in to spend time with us, we—and Al, of course—were very sad. Our sadness became even more profound when, after months of increasing weakness, Abe passed away on May 24, 2009.

Recently, Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS, sat down with Al Moldovan to ask him about Abe, their relationship, and Abe's contributions to The Library and the Jewish community.

Al, please tell us something about your relationship with Abe Kremer.

I met Abe years ago at auctions. I collected Haggadot and he collected megillot [meaning, in this case, translations, commentaries, artistic renderings, and any other printed work relating to the Five Megillot, the five biblical scrolls]. We soon became friendly. My wife was also a collector, but Abe always had first choice. If she saw a megillah, she would immediately notify him.

One day, Abe, who was an incredibly involved Jew and was then chair of the Jewish Book Council, invited me to become a member of the council. We decided that we also needed an organization for people who collected Judaica. We named it the Harry Friedman Society, after Harry Friedman who bought 5,000 pieces of Judaica for The Jewish Museum, creating a significant part of the museum's Judaica collection. Well, we and our wives founded the society and met at The Jewish Museum once a month. We sponsored lectures by Judaica experts, scholars, and collectors to help members understand what and why they were collecting. Abe was the society's first treasurer and remained so until he died.

How did you get involved in the project here at The Library?

One day we were consulting with Sharon [Mintz] at The Library and she complained about the tens of thousands of books in high-density stacks, some of them rare. We said, "We'll go through them!" Because we had enough languages between us, we were able to go through the collection, triaging as we went along. We put everything into three categories: save, rare, or sell [the latter for books that were not part of The Library's collection profile]. Our working together lasted for more than four years, and we went through maybe 50,000 books.

What were some of the outstanding pieces you recovered?

Well, we didn't keep a list. But, for example, we found a single page, a frontispiece. We then found that the copy of the book in the Rare Book Room was missing this page. We were able to reunite the book with its frontispiece. We also found sixteenth-century books in Latin. We found two copies of a very rare children's book by the Russian artist El Lissitzky, worth thousands at auction.

Abe was particularly keen on esoteric works. He went nuts over a book in Yiddish on Yiddish criminal jargon. I myself went for pieces of art, illustrations. Once I found a page of poetry with notations, not truly musical notations but somehow so. I showed the page to [former Librarian] Menahem Schmelzer, who identified it as a rare piyyut. Antonio DiGesu [a former rabbinic student and now rabbi] was able to identify the notations exactly as the musical mode used by Turkish Jews.

What can you say about Abe, the Jew?

Abe was a wonderful Jew. He founded the Frisch Day School [in Paramus, New Jersey]. He was fully devoted to amcha (the Jewish people). He used to say about my wife that "she made Jews." Well, Abe took care of Jews. Abe and I never fought. He never raised his voice. He was a remarkable human being.


 

Become a member of The Library.