Jews and books

It is Spring and I should be out frolicking in the Sun enjoying the great outdoors.  Alas, the Portland area has endured so many overcast and rainy days this year that even the albinos are getting Rickets.  So here I am writing this blog…
But enough small talk.  I’m here today to write about books.  In the old days, a lot of hard work used to go into the production of books.  Even well after the invention of movable type, manuscripts remained the norm in some parts of the world.
I have a volume (Midrash haGadol – a commentary on the Torah) that was written in Yemen some 500-600 years ago.  Here is an example of this original archaic script:
Over years of use, much of the volume became unusable or lost.  Instead of throwing it away, a scribe simply re-wrote what was missing and bound it together with the original.  This was around 300 years ago and here’s a close-up of one of his pages:
Time marched on and the book continued to be used.  Another section became unusable and, instead of throwing it away, a scribe chose to replace the defective/lost section with his own work.  This was about 150 years ago and here is an example of his work:
At a later date, the first few pages of the volume got lost or damaged.  Instead of throwing it away, a scribe chose to replace those pages with his own.  This was about 100 years ago and here is a close-up of his handiwork:
The volume, as it exists today, is complete.  Not a single page is missing.  The only place we find a date, however, is at the very end:
Here is a translation of the last three lines:

The scribe Shalom ben Aharon (?)… Let Him forgive me for all mistakes and errors that are hidden from my eyes and anybody who finds an error, let him judge me favorably as King David said “errors who can understand”.   This was completed in the month of Siwan 18.  It was written in the name of the good scholar Si’id Saalim, may the Holy One blessed be He merit him to read from it, he and his children and his children’s children (?) Amen.  Year: 2157.

The year, as was the custom in Yemen, is reckoned from the reign of Alexander the Great.  This calendar is called “Shetaroth“.  It translates into the year 1846.
Another such example, in my collection, is a philosophical work (called Ruah Hen) printed in Yesnitz, 1744:
It was missing the last few pages – which were meticulously filled in by a Sephardic scribe.  At first he used block print:
… but then reverted to the cursive he was probably more accustomed to:
IMG_2498This type of Sephardic cursive script is now almost extinct, having been replaced by Ashkenazic cursive.  In fact, most Sephardic Jews (at least the younger ones) are ignorant of the fact that their forefathers had their own script.  What is now known as “Rashi” script (used almost exclusively in religious texts) is an offshoot of Sephardic cursive.  Few can even read Sephardic cursive these days; as for me, I can read it with difficulty.
The owners of those books were probably dismayed that sections were missing.  As for me, I am happy this was the case – because their efforts made those books all the more interesting.

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4 Responses to Jews and books

  1. I can appreciate what you’ve got there, as I’ve collected several breviaries, in Latin of course, one a complete 19th-century set, one a single volume dated 1718. This last one has been through vicissitudes like yours, with water damage and cracks. It probably saw quite a few wars.
    I described what I found in one of my breviaries here:

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