Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

December 1998

Preserving Books and Information

Many library readers ask about " latest and greatest" on a topic. Most readers will reject items that are "too"old. However, a research collection has to save materials for centuries. This month I want to talk more about old Hebrew books and a project to save Yiddish books.

16th Century information

A rabbi in the community was researching the institution of rabbinic semikha. He found a reference to a book Mahari Be Rav. He called the library to see if we had a copy. He was not sure of the author's name. After checking the catalog and Bet Eked le-Sefarim (a bibliography and Hebrew books) I did not find the book. Since the rabbi knew it was a book of responsa, I tried the Bar Ilan CD. I found the book there. The full title was : She'alot u-teshuvot Mahari Be Rav. Mahari was an abbreviation for Moreinu ha-rav Ya'akov. The rabbi needed to see the actual book. With the exact title and author I was able to find it in our catalog and retrieve a 1957 edition of the book.

This is an example of a difficulty with imprecise citations. Sometimes Hebrew books have a popular name. Sometimes these popular names were known at the time the book was written, but we don't know the books by these names now.

The author of the book, Ya'akov Berab (ca. 1474-1541) was a halakhic authority who lived in Palestine, Egypt and Syria. He was born in Maqueda near Toledo, Spain and went to Morocco after the expulsion from Spain. While he lived in Egypt he conceived of the idea of renewing Semikha.The halakhic opinion of the time was that Semikha could not be given outside of Eretz Yisrael. His halakhic decisions were reported in this book and were widely quoted by Joseph Caro and his contemporaries.

Preservation Project for Yiddish Books

Last month I mentioned that projects are underway to preserve information in a digital format. I received some news about a project at the National Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts called the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. Aaron Lansky, Center President, announced that they will be scanning every page of every title in their collection and storing the information as computer files.

When the scanning of a book is completed they will be able to produce on demand an affordable, acid-free reprint edition. Sometime in the future, they may also offer books in electronic format, either on CD-ROM (or what ever medium is best) or by direct downloads.

When the technology of optical character reading (OCR) advances to allow accurate Yiddish processing, the graphics files will be processed to save the book information in a text format.

Scanning is scheduled to begin on February 1, 1999. They expect to process about 800 items per month, or about 20,000 over the next two years. When done with their in-house collection they plan to work with several major research libraries to capture an additional 15,000 Yiddish titles. Eventually they hope to scan periodicals as well. The entire project is expected to take four to five years to complete.

The Yiddish Book Center will be posting a web page ( with a user-searchable database. Using library software from VTLS, records will include both standard romanization following library authority rules, as well as the original Hebrew characters. End-users will be able to search their database by author, title and LC subject. Within a year, they should be able to offer readers the ability to order copies through their web site.

Once it's up and running, the "Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library" should make most Yiddish titles available in unlimited quantity in perpetuity. Naturally, this is an exciting news for the preservation of Yiddish titles.This should encourage another organization to preserve titles in other languages used by Jews such as Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, etc.

Manuscript Talmud Yerushalmi

One of our teachers is very interested in the Talmud Yerushalmi. He teaches a Daf Yomi based on the Yerushalmi. He made a request for a copy of the only extant full manuscript of the Yerushalmi.The original manuscript1 in the Leiden University Library (Codex Orientalia #4720) is one of their prized possessions. It was written by the scribe, Yehiel b. Yekutiel b. Benjamin ha-Rofe. The scribe explicitly states that he copied it from a corrupt text, full of errors; although he made an attempt to correct them. In addition to the mistakes it is evident from quotations in the rishonim that the scribes freely changed some of the spellings to conform to the Talmud Bavli.

This manuscript was once owned by Daniel Bomberg, who used it as the basis for the first printed edition of the complete Talmud Yerushalmi (Venice 1523). Bomberg had three other manuscripts that were more "accurate". These other manuscripts have been lost.

The Leyden manuscript was restored in the early 1970's by Lucie M. Grimbere. On the occasion of the restoration an article appeared "Het Leide Handscripts van de Jeruzalemse Talmud" (The Jerusalem Talmud Manuscript of Leyden) in the Dutch periodical, Studia Rosenthaliana 7 (1973) pp.258-265.

We were able to obtain a photocopy of the pages that the teacher needed.


1. I found the city spelled both Leiden and Leyden. The manuscript was described by Moritz Steinschneider (1816-1907) in Catalogus codium hebraeorum : Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae. Originally published in 1858; reprinted by Biblio Verlag, 1977 and Albert van der Heide in Hebrew manuscripts of Leiden University Library, published by Universitaire Pers Leiden, 1977.

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