Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
October 2003

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// 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. (1) Contrast 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, (2) which 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 yofi.

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 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:
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:

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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 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised October 17, 2003