I, Collector

21 08 2011

The best thing about being a collector of books is that people come to know you as a collector of books, and when they wish to get rid of various old texts that are beginning to gather dust, they call you.

The first call was from the university, whose library is undergoing a drastic downsizement, and whose Hebrew books were going to be shipped off to the local Chevra Kadisha for burial.

Not on my watch.

An opportunity to liberate some old seforim from the clutches of the chevra, who wish to bury in the lonely earth so many tomes once salvaged from a land so raped by fire, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make me wax poetic. Lest such fine specimens prematurely enter the ground, I hurried forth with too few bags and needed to make two trips. My collection, as a result, has now been swelled by the following nineteen tomes, many of which are in urgent need of repair. I list them below, from oldest to youngest:

• The third and fourth volumes of a Mishne Torah (being the fourth and fifth books: נשים and קדושה). Berlin, 1866;

• A machzor for Rosh haShana, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, acc. to the Ashkenazi tradition. Vilna, 1873;

חובות הלבבות (“Duties of the Heart”), by Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda, an 11th c. Sephardi Jew. This ethical work was translated from Arabic into Hebrew by Shmuel ibn Tibbon. Vilna, 1874;

The Students Prayer Book: A New Interlinear Translation of the Daily, Sabbath and Festival Prayers, with the Blessings, Prayers for Children, &c., &c., to which is prefixed A Compendium of the Hebrew Accidence, Designed to Serve as an Introduction to the Study of the Sacred Language. By Rev. A.P. Mendes. London, 1874;

• The first volume of a Midrash Rabba (being Genesis Rabba and Exodus Rabba). Vilna, 1887;

Selichot for Rosh haShana. Vilna, 1911;

Schul-atlas für höhere lehrenstalten. An atlas for high school students by C. Diercke and E. Gaebler. Braunschweig, 1907;

• A translation of Chaim Meir Heilman’s 1902 בית רבי: תולדות הרב into Yiddish, the second and third parts being made by Heilman and the first by somebody who calls himself by the initials, י.ח. The text constitutes a history of Rabbi Schneur Zalman (“the Alter Rebbe”), Rabbi Dovber Schneuri (“the Mitteler Rebbe”) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (“the Tzemach Tzedek”). Vilna, 1913;

• A machzor for Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur, acc. to the Ashkenazi tradition. Pietrkov, 1913;

שפת עמנו: A Hebrew Grammar and Reader for Schools and Selfinstruction. By Moses Rath. Vienna, 1921;

מבחר השירה העברית: Anthologia Hebraica: Poemata selecta a libris divinis confectis usque ad iudaeorum ex hispania expulsionem. A selection of Hebrew poems, composed between the years immediately following the formation of the canon until the exile from Spain. The oldest poems in the text are by Ben Sirach, and the latest are by Rabbi Shlomo ben Reuven Bonfid. Leipzig, 1922;

עשרים וארבעה: נביאים אחרונים – דברי ירמיהו. The third volume of Shmuel Leib Gordon’s illustrated commentary of the Tanakh. Warsaw, 1922;

• A beautiful facsimile of a handwritten Shir haShirim. Berlin, 1924;

• A haggadah for Pesach. Vienna, 1930;

• A haggadah for Pesach. London, 1933;

• A two-park machzor for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, acc. to the Polische tradition. Vienna, 1934;

• A haggadah for Pesach. Vienna, 1937;

תרגום יהואש. A two-volume translation of the Tanakh into Yiddish, by Yohoash Farlag Gezelshaft. New York, 1941;

• And an old copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, printed in London. When? Damned if I know. My guess: early 20th.


Lest you think, dear reader, that I was blessed but once, the second call was from Heinz B., a congregant of the synagogue that I work for. He has a large library, but too many of the books in it have fallen into disuse. Would I like to have a look? Indeed I would! With many thanks to Heinz, the following are the texts that have since been added to my collection of academic literature:

• Peter Ackroyd, Israel Under Babylon and Persia (Oxford University Press: 1970);

• William Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language (The Jewish Publication Society of America: 1975);

• Peter Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Hodder and Stoughton: 1976);

• Alan Crown, Biblical Studies Today (Chevalier Press: 1975);

• Samuel Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (The World Publishing Company: 1965);

• Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (trans. Peter Ackroyd; Clarendon Press: 1974);

• William Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea (The International Critical Commentary; T&T Clark: 1973);

• Eric Heaton, The Hebrew Kingdoms (Oxford University Press: 1968);

• Isaac Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy (Atheneum: 1976);

• Yehezkel Kaufmann, History of the Religion of Israel: From the Babylonian Captivity to the End of Prophecy (Ktav Publishing House: 1977);

• Moses Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Clarendon Press: 1970).


I would that there was time enough to read them all. In the meantime, as it is books that are presently occupying my attention, the following ones were recently acquired for a fee:

Ohr Zarua, by Rabbi Yitzhak ben Moshe of 13th c. Vienna. An halakhic exposition in three volumes, following – for the most part – the order of tractates in the Talmud;

Kol-bo, a possibly 13th, possibly 14th c. collection of law and lore, arranged according to no immediately apparant order and published anonymously;

Arukh haShulchan, by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein of 19th c. Lithuania: a 13-volume revision of the Shulchan Arukh;

Ben Ish Chai, by Chacham Yosef Chaim of 19th c. Baghdad: a very curious exposition upon the individual parashot of the Torah, their relationship to various kabbalistic doctrines, and their connection to halakha l’maaseh;

Seder Olam Raba, and Seder Olam Zuta: two early midrashim, concerned with finding absolute dates for the events described in the biblical literature, up until the end of the Persian period;

Sefer Mishnat haRosh al-haTorah: a commentary upon the individual parashot of the Torah, culled from the writings of Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, of 13th c. Ashkenaz.


And in the realm of academia:

• Shmuel Safrai (ed.), The Literature of the Sages. First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987);

• Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, Peter Tomson (eds.), The Literature of the Sages. Second Part: Midrash and Targum; Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism; Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum; Fortress Press, 2006);

• Menachem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles (4 vols.; trans. B. Auerbach and M.J. Sykes; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1994);

• J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (2nd ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006);

• Hanokh Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah (6 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik Insitute, 1957);

• Ephraim Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (2 vols.; trans. I. Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1987).




3 responses

21 08 2011
John Hobbins

You make me so sick to my stomach, Simon. So sick.


21 08 2011
Simon Holloway

Ha! Thanks, John :)

23 08 2011
Tommy Sterling

I may drop round to borrow some titles – v. jealous

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