Ex Libris

6 11 2011

If you live in Sydney and you count yourself something of a bibliophile, go to Berkelouws in Paddington, where much of the late Professor Alan Crown’s library can be found on the third floor. Like a child in a candy store, I actually began to feel rather ill with the sheer amount of books that were there for the purchasing (a feeling that I have not had since the last time I wandered through a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem), but I wisely limited my acquisitions and kindly left at least some books for the next patron.

I walked away with a mere six books, which is most unlike me, but then my shelves are very heavy and my wallet rather light. The following were the ones that most appealed to me:

• Raphael Posner and Israel Ta-Shema (eds.), The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1975). This handy volume contains a great deal of information on the history of Hebrew publishing, the many faces of Hebrew typography, the evolution of the printed Hebrew book, and the science of bibliography. Large and hardcover, it also features a number of interesting pictures of manuscripts (illuminated and non-illuminated), as well as first pages of important editions. Thanks to these pictures, I now know that Alan Crown’s bookplate features an image of the Gutenberg Press;

• Solomon L. Skoss, Saadia Gaon, The Earliest Hebrew Grammarian (Philadelphia: Dropsie College Press, 1955). Actually, this one was from the library of an R.J. Hosking, and comprises a study of Saadia Gaon’s Hebrew grammar. With the exception of two sections at the back on morphology, and one on the influence of Arabic, the “grammar” in question appears to be a sustained study on orthography and phonology, the latter being determined solely through a study of the former;

• Joseph Weiss, Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism (ed. David Goldstein; London: Oxford University Press, 1985). I was hesitating between this volume and a scholarly biography of the Maharal, but a quick glance through the introduction of this one had me convinced of its superiority. Having read only those twenty pages, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never questioned the traditional explanation of the origins of the Hasidic movement: that it arose under the charismatic influence of the Baal Shem Tov, and the leadership of his most celebrated disciple, Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezeritch. Weiss suggests a far more complex reading of its origins, and draws lines of congruence between early Hasidic doctrines and the Sabbatean movement, which I have found most fascinating. I look forward to reading this one soon;

• Hyam Jacoby (ed. and trans.), Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (London: Associated University Presses, 1982). This volume constitutes a fascinating historical analysis of three major disputations: Paris in 1240, Barcelona in 1263 and Tortosa in 1413-14. It also includes translations of, and commentaries on, both the Christian and the Hebrew accounts of all three, together with biographical notes on the chief personages present at the Barcelona disputation, and textual considerations in approaching the Ramban’s version of the event. I have been fascinated by the disputation at Barcelona ever since I first read the Ramban’s Vikuach in 2002, so I think that this one might be next on my reading list;

• Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (2 vols; trans. D.R. Ap-Thomas; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962). This one is a classic, and while I have no particular interest in Biblical poetry (leastways, no particular interest in the book of Psalms), Mowinckel’s form-critical considerations are of great value to me in my consideration of Hebrew liturgy: particularly the liturgical sections found within the post-exilic biblical literature.

Speaking of prayer, I recently read a superb review of Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber’s On Changes in Jewish Liturgy. I have since ordered the book from Amazon, and I eagerly await its arrival! For those of you who are interested in such things, the review can be found here, and is entitled “The Wrong Changes in Jewish Liturgy”. It is the contention of the reviewer (Rabbi Professor Aryeh Frimer) that Sperber is mistaken in his analysis, and that the sorts of egalitarian changes to the liturgy that he recommends are inconsistent with the halakha. It is a sensible and well-reasoned review, and it has inspired me to read more by both authors.

A follow-up to that review, by Rabbi Dr Seth Kadish, is entitled Each River and its Channel: Halakhic Attitudes Toward Liturgy. He disagrees with the first reviewer, although he doesn’t go into specific details about those changes in particular, and it is so erudite an analysis that I was also inspired to purchase his book (Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer), which I ordered from Barnes and Noble.

Books that have, at last, arrived, are by Professor Raul Hilberg, and concern the academic study of the Shoah: a topic that I have long been interested in, but have shied away from approaching with too much detail. Seeing Prof. Hilberg interviewed on the first disc of Claude Lanzmann’s nine-and-a-half hour documentary, Shoah (1985) inspired me to take the plunge. I ordered, and have received, his monumental three-volume The Destruction of the European Jews: Revised and Definitive Edition (New York: Holmes & Meyer, 1985), and his sober and reflective Sources of Holocaust Research: An Analysis (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001).

Finally, it remains only to mention the recent acquisition of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein’s eight-volume Arukh haShulchan he’Atid, which nicely complements my thirteen-volume Arukh haShulchan, by the same author. I wouldn’t be so fastidious, were it not for the fact that he fascinatingly so fit to include rabbinic agricultural law in the volume that otherwise treats only of the halakhot of messianic times, and I have been learning (or trying to learn) Seder Zeraim. It would be nice to do so with a little be’iyyun, as they say, though that’s probably something of a pipe dream at present.

I have more than enough reading to be getting on with, nowhere near close to enough space in order to store the books that I am not in the process of reading, and considerably more than enough to be doing outside of my scratching these itches.

Thesis: write thyself.




One response

6 11 2011

I’ve been thinking recently about whether I might ever come back and study more. Would I be able to think in the way that’s needed, and would be right or best to? I usually feel torn between reading, learning, and all the other parts of life, the people and responsibilities I give most of my time to. I wish I could hibernate in the library, or perhaps solve the problem by making a career out of learning and teaching at an academic level.

You make it seem like a deceiving allure; the mountain of reading only grows when you take to it! Impossible, and still a magnificent trek.

Do you have a planned finish date for your thesis?

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