Librarian's Lobby
Daniel D. Stuhlman

November 1998

Hebrew Manuscripts

One of our faculty members, who always has interesting questions, came to me about 3 weeks ago to ask if I could help him get a copy of a Hebrew manuscript. Actually he didn't need to see the whole document. He wanted a copy of the title page.

Standard library procedure is to verify the reader's source and then either look for an existing copy or ask the library that owns it to make a copy for us. In this case the source was a history of Jewish manuscripts titled, Historisches Woerterbuch der juedishen Scriftsteller und ihere Werke von G. B. De-Rossi. Leipzig, 1839. On page 54 De-Rossi mentions a manuscript of the Latin translation of Bechji Ben Asher's *1* Commentar zum Pentateuch (Commentary on the Torah). The Latin translation by Konrad Pellikan was supposed to be in the Stadtbibliothek von Zurich (Zurich City Library).

I went to the Internet to try to find the address of this library. I couldn't find it in a list of Swiss libraries. I found the Swiss National Library and the University of Zurich, but they did not have the manuscript. I checked the Hebrew University and other libraries for copies, but none had it listed in their catalogs. I asked my fellow librarians for help. In a day or two I received over 15 replies. The Stadtbibliothek von Zurich, which traced its roots back to 1649, was taken over in 1914 by the Zentralbibliothek von Zurich (Central Library). I found the web site for the catalog of the Zentralbibliothek. I tried to search the catalog, but there was some incompatibility with our computer systems. I wrote to the reference librarian for help and received the following reply:

     Probably the manuscript you are looking for is our "Ms Car C 24". 
     The official manuscripts catalog from Leo C. Mohlberg (published 1932) 
     mentions it under no. 240  on p. 98 "Abraham Ibn Esra: Commentarius 
     in Pentateuchum, ebersetzt von Konrad Pellikan." 

He is sending a copy of the title page and colophon. Since there is a discrepancy between the De-Rossi citation and the Mohlberg citation, we are anxiously awaiting the photocopy.

When we discuss Hebrew manuscripts for scholarly purposes we are usually referring to books, letters and documents written on papyrus, parchment, hides and paper written in Hebrew characters. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica there are an estimated 60,000 codices (book format) and 200,000 fragments (most of which are from the Cairo Geniza and the Judean Desert). The numbers do not include modern manuscripts such as Sifrei Torah.

Libraries have a dilemma -- we have to make books and materials available for use and we have to preserve the artifacts of our culture for future generations. In seeking to preserve rare and precious items, libraries zealously restrict access to them. Libraries apply the rule, "First do no harm." There are careful procedures for handling precious items. *2* Sometimes only the information is what makes the item important and sometimes the scholar needs to see the actual object as an artifact. In addition to physical protection we have used many ways to save information. Publishers re-print old books either on paper *3* or in micro-form. We photocopy the pages from books or transcribe the words to prevent harm to the original.

For precious manuscripts we want to save the originals from harm. That is why in most libraries they are locked up or in secure climate controlled rooms. Programs are underway at the Hebrew University to systematically photocopy and film all Hebrew manuscripts. Other programs are trying to digitize items and make them available on the Internet or on CD-ROM. I have seen an exhibit on the internet of a manuscript Haggadah. *4* Programs to microfilm items have been in place since the mid-1950's. But by today's standards these films are not clear enough.

The advantages of reproduction in a digital format (CD-ROM or Internet) are images that can be in wide immediate distribution. Searching documents and linking one document to another is relatively easy. The information in digital format will last a long time without changing. The disadvantage is that on Shabbat we can not use our computers.

American Rabbis: facts and fiction

Last month I reviewed the book, American Rabbis : facts and fiction, by David J. Zucker. The author is a friend of one of the regular readers of this column from Denver. He gave Rabbi Zucker a copy of the review and Rabbi Zucker sent an e-mail to me thanking me for the review. Here is a quote from his e-mail :

"I thought you did a very good job in presenting what I had to say in the book, and I enjoyed reading your words. Your Belkin quote is excellent, I have added it to my files.

I am sure that there is some truth to your comment that I am more of a reporter / gatherer than an analyzer, though we might disagree over specific points, and my intent for the major thrust of the book."

1. The name is spelled Bachya Ben Asher in the library catalog.

2. For example, for most books we place spine labels facing out so that readers can find the books quickly. For rare books we use an acid-free marker sticking out of the top. Books with brittle paper are placed in acid-free envelopes or acid-free special boxes. We lock up rare and valuable items. Hebrew Theological College Library has about 75 reels of microfilm copies of rare books and manuscripts.

3. In the March and May 1998 issues of Librarian`s Lobby I wrote about the Leningrad Codex. That project was not a re-print, but a photographic reproduction of the manuscript. The process was intended to give the reader as close of an experience as possible without touching the original.

4. Two sites on the Web are : for Haggadah exhibit and for Rabbi Lewis Barth's Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer Electronic Text Editing Project.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. They are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit their web page to learn more about knowledge management. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: He can be reached via e-mail at: <
Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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Last revised July 7, 2003