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Jewish Studies Research Guide

Rare Books

The special collections include major works pertaining to scriptural studies by several of the representatives of the early modern Humanist scholarly movement, known as Christian Hebraism. Their academic efforts in which they often involved learned Jewish men (otherwise excluded from European universities) constituted a precursor of modern Jewish Studies. Christian Hebraists’ works in the Pitts Library include copies of the first printed Hebrew Bibles  (תנ"ך)that the Christian printer, originally from Amsterdam, Daniel Bomberg (1483–1549) published in Venice in 1517 and 1524, respectively. The second publication of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible was a major accomplishment: in addition to the Masoretic text, it includes the commentaries of the eleventh-century scholar Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Itshak of Troyes) and the twelfth-century Iberian author Abraham Ibn Ezra, as well as the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch produced circa 80–120 CE., known as Targum (translation) Onkelos. Bomberg’s Bible established a standard for Hebrew and non-Jewish Bible printing for centuries to come. Like other European printing houses supporting scriptural studies, he employed learned Jewish men who worked together with Christian employees on producing texts that Jews and non-Jews equally considered authoritative. The case of the Babylonian Talmud, a Jewish text of upmost scholarly and practical importance was similar. Of the four editions of the Babylonian Talmud (תלמוד בבלי) Bomberg printed, the first is considered complete including all forty-four tractates. Given that only one complete manuscript of the Babylonian Talmud is known to survive until today, this early printed version would be of high importance even if it was not edited and corrected over time to become one of the authoritative versions of the text. (To see a comparative textual database for the Talmud, visit the Talmud Online Databank, available for Emory affiliates.) In the Pitts Library, additional works by Jewish authors treated by Christian Hebraists that stem from the Bomberg press are also noteworthy. His 1546 edition of the Provencal Rabbi David Kimchi’s (Radak) (1160–1235) Sefer ha-shorashim(ספר השרשים) , a Hebrew dictionary with etymological explanations, including an Aramaic lexicon for the Biblical text, composed between 1185 and 1235, illustrates Christian Hebraists’ interest in medieval Jewish authors’ grammatical and linguistic treatises as a basis of their own work on the biblical text. David Kimchi’s  commentary in the Biblical Book of Isaiah, Sefer Yeshiʻyahu (ספר ישעיהו(, published in Hebrew in 1492 in Lisbon, unmediated by Christian scholars, is also included in the collection.

Another important work illustrating Cristian Hebraists’ interest in medieval Jewish thought is Judah Halevy’s Book of Kuzari ספר הכוזרי)). The information on the medieval Khazar kingdom’s conversion to Judaism inspired this philosophical treatise, which is available in Pitts Library in the Latin translation and with the commentary of Johann Buxtorf, the younger (1599–1664), a towering figure of seventeenth-century Christian scholarship in Switzerland. It is titled Liber Cosri. An additional example of the richness of Christian Hebraists’ works that mediated Jewish texts in translation is the 1714 reprint of Clavis Talmudica Maxima. This work is based on the Iberian Talmudist (born in Tlemcen, Algeria and in approx. 1467 fled to Toledo, Spain) Jeshua ben Joseph HaLevi. In Toledo, supported by the community, he authored the treatise Halikhot ʿOlam on the methodology of the Talmud. Halevi’s book was first printed in Lisbon in around 1490, then, after he expulsion of Iberian Jewry, in Constantinople in 1510. Later it saw various additional editions. The Latin translation by the Christian Hebraist Constantin l’Empereur is included in this Hanover publication.

The Pitts Library’s early printed Haggadah(הגדה)  editions illustrate the history of Jewish booklore from the early modern period that was independent from Christian theologians’ work. The Pitts Library is the custodian of a significant Haggadah Collection, a donation of Rabbi David Geffen and Richard K. Goldstein. The library organized an exhibition of these books in 2016. It includes Haggadot ( -- הגדותplural of Haggadah) from the earliest periods of European book printing until today, in its original Hebrew and Aramaic, Judeo-Italian, or various European languages. The Haggadah includes the traditional text read at the Seder, the beginning of the Passover Holiday commemorating the liberation from Egyptian slavery and return to the land of the forefathers in Canaan, as related in the Second Book of Moses, Exodus. The performance or reading of the text is fashioned after the ancient Roman symposium and, according to the rabbinical tradition, each generation should retell the story as if experienced first-hand. The Haggadot in the Pitts Library reflect the ways in which various congregations and publishers had been shaping editions throughout the centuries in display of their commitment to retell of the story of Exodus.