A Rare Book Mystery
Detective work involves going from the known to find the unknown. One job of a librarian is to solve mysteries. A few weeks ago one of our faculty members, Dr. Abe Lipshitz, handed me a book and asked, "What is the title of this book?" This book had a blank cover, a missing title page, and the pages for the table of contents were cut in half. The book had no running title or clues to the author. I looked at the book and immediately knew it was an 18th century book. Dr. Lipshitz found this book on the regular shelves, not in the special closed stack section for old books. My curiosity was aroused and I had to find out the name of this book.
I asked him how he found the book. He said that he had a reference to a book of drashot, but the reference didn't have a title or author. He was looking on the shelves and had a feeling that he found the book. The reference gave a page and this book was the right one. Dr. Lipshitz wanted to quote the book for an article he was writing and needed my help to find the author and title
The copy of the book had a recent binding with the title, Darkhei Noam, handwritten on the spine and inside the cover. The first step was to check this title in Bet Eked Sefarim . The title, Darkhei Noam, had several entries. None of them matched our item.
From internal evidence, the book was written by a Sephardi rabbi and published in 1753. He was living in the year 1700. It was not known if he was alive or not when the book was printed. The book has 168 pages long and measured 28 cm. It contains sermons according to the weekly parasha and some for special occasions such as a yahrtzeit.
I checked via the Internet the libraries of Jewish Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, Library of Congress, Hebrew University, and Bar Ilan University and OCLC First Search None of them had a book that matched. I concluded that the title was not Darkhei Noam. I then did another series of searches by date for all Hebrew titles published in 1753.
After searching all those libraries for books published in 1753, I still didn't find the book.
It was time to turn to my fellow librarians for help. I turned to a friend who is a rare book librarian for Judaica and Hebraica at Emory University. I sent him an e-mail. He gave me some suggestions. He recommended that I check the University of Pennsylvania I did not know they had an on-line catalog. One librarian in the Boston area gave the name of a book, but it was not correct.
Finally the curator of rare books and manuscripts Bar Ilan University, Dr. Sara Fraenkel, offered to help. She had a CD ROM called The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book, 1470 - 1960. It has more books than Bet Eked and can be searched by date in addition to author or title. She identified the book and offered to send a photocopy of the missing title page. It is called Yad Moshe, by Hayyim Moses ben Solomon Amarillo (ca. 1678-1748). It was published in Salonika. Bar Ilan owns two copies.
Amarillo has an entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica ( vol. 2 col 792) which has different birthdate (1695). This date does not make sense since one of the sermons in Yad Moshe was dated 1700. Amarillo was born in Salonika and studied with his father, Solomon (1645-1721), who was one of the chief rabbis of Salonika. Hayyim Moses filled many posts in Salonika until 1724 when he fled a plague and went to Constantinople. Amarillo was appointed one of three chief rabbis and was a prolific writer.
After getting the information, I was able to use OCLC First Search® to find the cataloging information. The book was reprinted in 1990 on microfiche from the Harvard University Library copy.
The major Jewish libraries mentioned above have publicly available on-line catalogs that can be searched on the Internet. I learned a great deal about searching for books by date. While the libraries do a good job of cataloging their current collection, older books may not be in the catalog. Also the older books may have been entered using a previous version of cataloging rules.
At lunch a faculty member asked me what I do at the computer. I said, " Catalog books." He asked if I get bored. I answered, "For me, cataloging is exciting every minute." Books are our link to the past. They contain the frozen thoughts of the authors just waiting for us to thaw out and assimilate into our minds. Each book gives us clues to the time and place it was written and affects each reader differently. As a librarian, I act as a guide to the sea of knowledge.
I just love it when I solve a good mystery.
1. OCLC FirstSearch has a data base called WorldCat
which has the cataloging records of several hundred libraries from around
2. The Center for Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is the former The Annenberg Research Institute, which used to be Dropsie University and Dropsie College.
3. Bet Eked Sefarim, by Bernhard (Hayyim Dov) Friedberg, is a standard bibliography of books in Hebrew and other languages in Hebrew character published from 1450 - 1956. The first edition, published in Antwerp in 1928, contained about 26,000 entries. A second edition appeared in 1961 and contained about 50,000 entries. (It is hard to imagine the care he had to take in the days before computers.)
4. The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book, 1470 - 1960 from The Institute for Hebrew Bibliography. Sponsored by : The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Bialik Institute, and The Israel Ministry of Education and Culture is a bibliography of all printed Hebrew language books before 1960. It contains over 90,000 titles and 12,000 authors. It is published on CD -ROM. For now only books in the Hebrew language are recorded. Yiddish and other languages using Hebrew letters will be added later. This is a massive project that has been going on for over 30 years. The HTC Library does not yet own this work.
5. The Israeli university libraries, JTS, Ohio State, and U. of Penn use a system called ALEPH. This system, from an Israeli company, is a powerful library management system that can catalog and offer public access to books in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and Cyrillic characters. The systems used by Library of Congress, and OCLC enter Hebrew books in transliteration only. Brandeis's system over the Web is in transliteration only. Their local system displays Hebrew characters.
6. Thanks to all the librarians who answered my questions
and helped me learn more about rare Hebrew books.
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