by Daniel D. Stuhlman
The Tanakh in Libraries
At the beginning of September I was in California meeting with my students. While in San
Jose, CA I was invited to give the Levinson Memorial lecture. [See
http//www.sjsu.edu/depts/jwss/lect-03.html for the announcement] This month's column is based on
that lecture. What is interesting is that some of the questions asked in the Q & A following the
talk could find answers in previous columns of the Librarian's Lobby. One of the courses I
am teaching in Judaica bibliography. Since this is the first time the school is offering this
course, the Jewish studies department was interested in meeting me. The Levinson Lecture
was under the auspices of the Jewish studies department at San Jose State University.
Bibles in Academic Library Collections
I started the lecture with two stories that I will not repeat here. The first was the story of the
Two Brother that you can read in my Librarian's Lobby from February 1997
and the second was the story of Acadat Yitzhak (The sacrifice of Isaac).
These two stories you know very well, but do you know the source? Do you know how old
they are? Both stories are about the place where Solomon built the Temple of Jerusalem. A
library needs sources of stories. Books are the frozen thoughts of their authors. The story of
the two brothers first appeared in about 1837; the story of Yitzhak is from the Torah.
University libraries fill many needs. They are school libraries-- they support the classes and
the everyday study needs of students. They are research collections-- holding materials for
the research needs of the faculty, students, and staff. They are museums of the book--
holding materials that are valuable for the understanding of our roots and culture.
this to a synagogue's need for books. Synagogues have humashim for following the Torah
reading. They may have several kinds to fill the personal tastes and needs of their members.
They may have a standard edition so that pages can be announced. They may have a choice
of with and without English translations. Synagogues want the books to be used and when worn, the
books will be replaced. The synagogue places value on the text not the physical item.
Libraries place value on the physical item. Items are cataloged and tracked so that they can
be stored and retrieved. When in school library mode, multiple copies may be purchased. In
museum mode they don't want multiple copies. In museum and research modes libraries do
not want books to wear old or get lost.
Since all books have their basis in manuscripts, libraries need manuscripts and facsimiles.
The oldest manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible is known as the Leningrad Codex,
was written in the 11th century and is now in the Russian State Library in St. Petersburg.
This manuscript is the basis for many our Hebrew Bibles including the Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart, 1937, 1968 (and other dates) and the Etz Hayim edition. The Koren editions (1962 and later) are based on multiple manuscripts. It was not the basis for the Meir Letteris text published by the British and Foreign Bible Society (1852) and the Hebrew Publishing Company. (3)
Early printed Bibles
The first printed
complete Hebrew printed Bible with Rashi's commentary was published by Gershom Soncino in
1488.(4) This was a small edition of 200-300 copies. It sold for 6 gold coins at a time when government workers
earned 5 gold coins per year. There were other earlier Hebrew Bibles; some have uncertain
dates of publication. A library needs some examples of early printed books as part of
their museum collection mode.
This is a page from a Bible printed in Naples in 1491. Note the big first word
and the woodcut decorations around the text.
For the study or school library mode of the library English translations such as
Jewish Publication Society (1962 or 1985), English commentaries such as
those published by Soncino(5), The Stone Chumash (Brooklyn, Messorah,
1995. Comes in several sizes and bindings.) Etz Hayim : Torah and
commentary (Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 2001), and The Torah : a modern
commentary / commentaries by W. Gunther Plaut (New York : Union of American Hebrew
Congregations, c1981) are good choices for library. The Etz Hayim is aimed at Conservative
Jews while the Plaut edition is aimed at Reform Jews.
The Bible is indeed a very special book. The text has been transmitted to us over thousands
of years when many less holy books were totally lost. Even though the scribes were very
careful variations have crept into the text. One reason is that the original Torah scrolls were in
the ancient Hebrew characters without spaces between the words and without final letters. The
Massorites carefully edited the text and added vowels and the musical notes called Ta'amei
ha-mikra. The Ta'amei ha-mikra punctuate the text and help us understand the meaning.
Sometimes the manuscripts have variations in the Ta'amei ha-mikra which are incorrect. For
example in Isaiah 3:24 כי תחת יפי
Ki tahat yofi. The correct vocalization, which is present in the Koren
text is a metek between the yod of ki and tof of tahat, and tipho under tahat with a sof pasuk
under yofi. I have seen texts without the metek and mercho under ki. One variation that is
incorrect is with a metek and mercho tipho under ki tahat. Texts exist with and without a vov in
While school children learn the Torah and its translation, at the university level this translation process is much more complex. Not every word is clearly understandable. With the help of manuscripts, commentaries, and early printed editions we can better how we got the Bible texts we use everyday.(6)
1. There is also recreational mode. Libraries collect
and circulate materials for entertainment and recreational needs of patrons. This mode is
not part of this article.
2. See Librarian's Lobby March 1998 http://home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/crc10.htm for more information,.
3. The Hebrew text in the Humash edited for Joseph Hertz also used this version of the text. Dr. Dror Bar-Natan of Hebrew University lists the differences among the manuscripts and the Koren Bible in the web site: http://cs.anu.edu.au/people/bdm/dilugim/cohen_heb1.html.
4. This is according to Cecil Roth in The Jews in the Renaissance (New York, 1959). The Socinco Bible was not the first printed Hebrew book. Abraham ben Garton produced a humash (pentateuch) with Rashi commentary in 1475. Some of the early books were without title pages or dates of publication.
5. The Pentateuch edited by Joseph H. Hertz (London, 1966), The Soncino Books of the Bible (London, 1950).
6. The full set of illustrations for the lecture may be seen at: http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/courses/220.stuhlman/world_of_bibles.ppt
©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
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