Some anecdotes from the Introduction to Hebrew Manuscript Studies Workshop , Berlin July 15-19.

by sboyarin

In this post I will not attempt to present the important points we learned in the Introduction to the Hebrew Manuscripts Studies workshop ( there are far too many of them to this adequately- but rather I want to present some anecdotal information about and from the workshop (I hope to follow up with some more in depth posts derived from the workshop in the near future).


Entrance to the library

One of the things that made the workshop really special was generous way the Staatsbiblothek Zu Berlin made actual Hebrew manuscripts available for use in illustrating points of codicology and paleography. Petra Figeac and Sophia Fock, from the library put a lot of effort in making this happen, and their work was appreciated by all (as well as all the others who put a lot of work into the planning and execution of the workshop). For example here are all the shelfmarks of the manuscripts they brought out for us to look at during one segment on one day:

Mittwoch 9:30-11:00

 fol 581, fol 583, fol 585, fol 4105, fol 4200, fol 4215; quart 9, quart 514, quart 516, quart 568, quart 576; octavo 256, Hamilton 80, fol 120, fol 581, fol 585, fol 628, fol 4105, fol 4215,

fol 4223, quart 1, quart 9, quart 514, quart 568, quart 570, quart 576, quart 578, quart 835

octavo 256, octavo 351, octavo 516, Hamilton 80


Sample of manuscripts on a book-cart

Among the manuscripts we got to see were, the Erfurt Giant Bible- the biggest Hebrew manuscript, the oldest dated Yemenite manuscript, the oldest copy of the Tosefta, and a Bible copied by the son of Berachiah HaNaqdan in which he mentions his fathers’ works (I hope to post about each of these manuscripts in the near future). Not a single glove was worn during the week!

Some more anecdotes (things I learned either from Malachi Beit-Arie or Judith Olszowy-Schlanger):

Medieval Jewish texts circulated via an active “Open Accesses” Policy:

  1. In his responsa The Rosh (Rabbi Asher Ben Yehiel 1250-1328) writes: “As for what you have asked about a judge who ruled about one who has books and does not want to lend them [to be copied], and he [the judge] fined him ten gold coins for every day because of bitul torah [i.e. causing the loss of learning] in the city due to the lack of books in the city and there were people who had books but did not want to lend them- he [the judge] ruled properly and I agree with him.” (My translation from The responsa of the Rosh, principle 93, 3. here:  also quoted in M. Beit-Arie Hebrew Codicology footnote 60).
  2. Authors would frequently send out sections of a book to be copied even before the whole book would be completed. There is much evidence for this practice, including the RaDaK (Rabbi David Kimhi 1160-1235) apologizes in his Sefer Hashorashim, “the Book of Roots” (a dictionary of Hebrew based on the roots of words) that he had put a certain root earlier and it should have been later, but the section containing the root had already been released to the public.
  3. Sons mention that people would look through their father’s books and copy their “teaching notes” and publish them before they (the father or the son) had had a chance to prepare them for publication.
  4. Books were frequently left unbound so that multiple people could make copies of different sections at one time. I.e. Person A would copy section 1 and person B section 2 at the same time, then they would swap and when they were done 2 new copies were ready at the same time that it would have taken to make one copy of a bound manuscript.

A scribe prays for an “Alt” career:

In a certain colophon a scribe amended a standard scribal formula asking God to make him worthy of copying more books (as in this example: “Just as God made me worthy of finishing this book, may he make me worthy of starting and finishing more books”) word “not”- i.e. that God allow him “not” to copy more manuscripts, because says the scribe: “the pay is meager and the work hard. Perhaps he could find a different source of income.” (Sorry I’m paraphrasing from memory, I did not catch the source for the colophon when M. Beit-Arie read it in class…)

A long memory:

An anecdote told by Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (quoting Joseph Shatzmiller) to illustrate the frequent heterogeneous nature of medieval Jewish communities: in Northern France a fight broke out between two Jews and one of them said to the other that it was because the Jews of England had been clipping coins that they were expelled from England and are now causing problems in Northern France- this was 60-70 years after the expulsion…