Thursday, July 30, 2020

Preserving Books and Information

Librarian's Lobby December 1998, Daniel D. Stuhlman Talmud Yerushlami Manuscript Saving Yiddish Books

Librarian's Lobby
December 1998

Preserving Books and Information

Many library readers ask about " latest and greatest" on a topic. Most readers will reject items that are "too"old. However, a research collection has to save materials for centuries. This month I want to talk more about old Hebrew books and a project to save Yiddish books.

16th Century information

A rabbi in the community was researching the institution of rabbinic semikha. He found a reference to a book Mahari Be Rav. He called the library to see if we had a copy. He was not sure of the author's name. After checking the catalog and Bet Eked le-Sefarim (a bibliography and Hebrew books) I did not find the book. Since the rabbi knew it was a book of responsa, I tried the Bar Ilan CD. I found the book there. The full title was : She'alot u-teshuvot Mahari Be Rav. Mahari was an abbreviation for Moreinu ha-rav Ya'akov. The rabbi needed to see the actual book. With the exact title and author I was able to find it in our catalog and retrieve a 1957 edition of the book.

This is an example of a difficulty with imprecise citations. Sometimes Hebrew books have a popular name. Sometimes these popular names were known at the time the book was written, but we don't know the books by these names now.

The author of the book, Ya'akov Berab (ca. 1474-1541) was a halakhic authority who lived in Palestine, Egypt and Syria. He was born in Maqueda near Toledo, Spain and went to Morocco after the expulsion from Spain. While he lived in Egypt he conceived of the idea of renewing Semikha.The halakhic opinion of the time was that Semikha could not be given outside of Eretz Yisrael. His halakhic decisions were reported in this book and were widely quoted by Joseph Caro and his contemporaries.

Preservation Project for Yiddish Books

Last month I mentioned that projects are underway to preserve information in a digital format. I received some news about a project at the National Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts called the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. Aaron Lansky, Center President, announced that they will be scanning every page of every title in their collection and storing the information as computer files.

When the scanning of a book is completed they will be able to produce on demand an affordable, acid-free reprint edition. Sometime in the future, they may also offer books in electronic format, either on CD-ROM (or what ever medium is best) or by direct downloads.

When the technology of optical character reading (OCR) advances to allow accurate Yiddish processing, the graphics files will be processed to save the book information in a text format.

Scanning is scheduled to begin on February 1, 1999. They expect to process about 800 items per month, or about 20,000 over the next two years. When done with their in-house collection they plan to work with several major research libraries to capture an additional 15,000 Yiddish titles. Eventually they hope to scan periodicals as well. The entire project is expected to take four to five years to complete.

The Yiddish Book Center will be posting a web page ( with a user-searchable database. Using library software from VTLS, records will include both standard romanization following library authority rules, as well as the original Hebrew characters. End-users will be able to search their database by author, title and LC subject. Within a year, they should be able to offer readers the ability to order copies through their web site.

Once it's up and running, the "Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library" should make most Yiddish titles available in unlimited quantity in perpetuity. Naturally, this is an exciting news for the preservation of Yiddish titles.This should encourage another organization to preserve titles in other languages used by Jews such as Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, etc.

Manuscript Talmud Yerushalmi

One of our teachers is very interested in the Talmud Yerushalmi. He teaches a Daf Yomi based on the Yerushalmi. He made a request for a copy of the only extant full manuscript of the Yerushalmi.The original manuscript1 in the Leiden University Library (Codex Orientalia #4720) is one of their prized possessions. It was written by the scribe, Yehiel b. Yekutiel b. Benjamin ha-Rofe. The scribe explicitly states that he copied it from a corrupt text, full of errors; although he made an attempt to correct them. In addition to the mistakes it is evident from quotations in the rishonim that the scribes freely changed some of the spellings to conform to the Talmud Bavli.

This manuscript was once owned by Daniel Bomberg, who used it as the basis for the first printed edition of the complete Talmud Yerushalmi (Venice 1523). Bomberg had three other manuscripts that were more "accurate". These other manuscripts have been lost.

The Leyden manuscript was restored in the early 1970's by Lucie M. Grimbere. On the occasion of the restoration an article appeared "Het Leide Handscripts van de Jeruzalemse Talmud" (The Jerusalem Talmud Manuscript of Leyden) in the Dutch periodical, Studia Rosenthaliana 7 (1973) pp.258-265.

We were able to obtain a photocopy of the pages that the teacher needed.


1. I found the city spelled both Leiden and Leyden. The manuscript was described by Moritz Steinschneider (1816-1907) in Catalogus codium hebraeorum : Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae. Originally published in 1858; reprinted by Biblio Verlag, 1977 and Albert van der Heide in Hebrew manuscripts of Leiden University Library, published by Universitaire Pers Leiden, 1977.

 ©2020 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised July 7, 2003

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Hebrew Manuscripts

Librarian's Lobby Hebrew Manuscript November 1998, Daniel D. Stuhlman
Librarian's Lobby
November 1998
Hebrew Manuscripts

One of our faculty members, who always has interesting questions, came to me about 3 weeks ago to ask if I could help him get a copy of a Hebrew manuscript. Actually he didn't need to see the whole document. He wanted a copy of the title page.

Standard library procedure is to verify the reader's source and then either look for an existing copy or ask the library that owns it to make a copy for us. In this case the source was a history of Jewish manuscripts titled, Historisches Woerterbuch der juedishen Scriftsteller und ihere Werke von G. B. De-Rossi. Leipzig, 1839. On page 54 De-Rossi mentions a manuscript of the Latin translation of Bechji Ben Asher's *1* Commentar zum Pentateuch (Commentary on the Torah). The Latin translation by Konrad Pellikan was supposed to be in the Stadtbibliothek von Zurich (Zurich City Library).

I went to the Internet to try to find the address of this library. I couldn't find it in a list of Swiss libraries. I found the Swiss National Library and the University of Zurich, but they did not have the manuscript. I checked the Hebrew University and other libraries for copies, but none had it listed in their catalogs. I asked my fellow librarians for help. In a day or two I received over 15 replies. The Stadtbibliothek von Zurich, which traced its roots back to 1649, was taken over in 1914 by the Zentralbibliothek von Zurich (Central Library). I found the web site for the catalog of the Zentralbibliothek. I tried to search the catalog, but there was some incompatibility with our computer systems. I wrote to the reference librarian for help and received the following reply:

     Probably the manuscript you are looking for is our "Ms Car C 24". 
     The official manuscripts catalog from Leo C. Mohlberg (published 1932) 
     mentions it under no. 240  on p. 98 "Abraham Ibn : in Pentateuchum, ebersetzt von Konrad Pellikan." 

He is sending a copy of the title page and colophon. Since there is a discrepancy between the De-Rossi citation and the Mohlberg citation, we are anxiously awaiting the photocopy.

When we discuss Hebrew manuscripts for scholarly purposes we are usually referring to books, letters and documents written on papyrus, parchment, hides and paper written in Hebrew characters. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica there are an estimated 60,000 codices (book format) and 200,000 most of which are from the Cairo and the Judean Desert. The numbers do not include modern manuscripts such as Torah.

Libraries have a dilemma -- we have to make books and materials available for use and we have to preserve the artifacts of our culture for future generations. In seeking to preserve rare and precious items, libraries zealously restrict access to them. Libraries apply the rule, "First no harm." There are careful procedures for handling precious items. *2* Sometimes only the information is what makes the item important and sometimes the scholar needs to see the actual object as an artifact. In addition to physical protection we have used many ways to save information. Publishers re-print old books either on paper *3* or in micro-form. We photocopy the pages from books or transcribe the words to prevent harm to the original.

For precious manuscripts we want to save the originals from harm. That is why in most libraries they are locked up or in secure climate controlled rooms. Programs are underway at the Hebrew University to systematically photocopy and film all Hebrew manuscripts. Other programs are trying to digitize items and make them available on the Internet or on CD-ROM. I have seen an exhibit on the internet of a manuscript Haggadah. *4* Programs to microfilm items have been in place since the mid-1950's. But by today's standards these films are not clear enough.

The advantages of reproduction in a digital format (CD-ROM or Internet) are images that can be in wide immediate distribution. Searching documents and linking one document to another is relatively easy. The information in digital format will last a long time without changing. The disadvantage is that on Shabbat we can not use our computers.

American Rabbis: facts and fiction

Last month I reviewed the book, American Rabbis : facts and fiction, by David J. Zucker. The author is a friend of one of the regular readers of this column from Denver. He gave Rabbi Zucker a copy of the review and Rabbi Zucker sent an e-mail to me thanking me for the review. Here is a quote from his e-mail:

"I thought you did a very good job in presenting what I had to say in the book, and I enjoyed reading your words. Your Belkin quote is excellent, I have added it to my files.

I am sure that there is some truth to your comment that I am more of a reporter / gatherer than an analyzer, though we might disagree over specific points, and my intent for the major thrust of the book."



1. The name is spelled Bachya Ben Asher in the library catalog.

2. For example, for most books we place spine labels facing out so that readers can find the books quickly. For rare books we use an acid-free marker sticking out of the top. Books with brittle paper are placed in acid-free envelopes or acid-free special boxes. We lock up rare and valuable items. Hebrew Theological College Library has about 75 reels of microfilm copies of rare books and manuscripts.

3. In the March and May 1998 issues of Librarian`s Lobby I wrote about the Leningrad Codex. That project was not a re-print, but a photographic reproduction of the manuscript. The process was intended to give the reader as close of an experience as possible without touching the original.

4. Two sites on the Web for Haggadah exhibit and for Rabbi Lewis Barth's Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer Electronic Text Editing Project.

 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised
July 7, 2003

Review of American Rabbis

Librarian's Lobby Review of: American Rabbis, by David Zucker October 1998, Daniel D. Stuhlman

Librarian's Lobby
August 1998

American Rabbis

Recently the Hebrew Theological College Library received the book, American Rabbis facts and fiction, by David J. Zucker (Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1998). The author is a chaplain, formerly he was a congregational rabbi and professor. He earned a Ph. D. from University of Birmingham in England. The topic of the book fascinated me immediately, since I have been involved in a search for a new rabbi of my synagogue. I was anxious to learn about the rabbinate from a rabbi's point of view.

This book still leaves me with mixed feelings. I don't know if I should praise the book or criticize it. Rabbi Zucker has done an excellent job of surveying the literature both fictional and non-fictional rabbis. Much of the findings will probably sound very familiar to you and some will probably sound like something from "left field."

One story that Zucker quotes, I found particularly revealing about the mixed expectations of a shul board and the rabbi. The story, "The Wise Men of Wentworth," by Stanley F. Chyet, originally appeared in Chicago Jewish Forum 21:1 in 1962.

When Rabbi Gotthelf comes to the town of Wentworth, he meets with the Board of Directors. He explains that he intends to take weekday mornings for study. His board was uniformly appalled. They asked why he had to study if he is a rabbi. "You don't know rabbi,we're running a shul, not a yeshiva. ... When Rabbi Gotthelf explained that a rabbi's studies are never completed, he met with incredulity. The president groans, "When a rabbi graduates from the yeshiva, he's a scholar. So why do you have to study?" The board then fires Rabbi Gotthelf on the spot. They refer to him as an "unfinished, a half-baked rabbi."

The next rabbinical candidate fares completely differently. He too, wishes to be left undisturbed Monday through Friday mornings. When the board asks why, Rabbi George Handler related the fact that he is a married man, and explains that he sleeps best in the morning. "A sign of relief, of understanding, of satisfaction had welled up from the board members and the president.

"You see gentlemen, a rabbi what is a rabbi, a full, finished rabbi, we got." "A full-baked rabbi," another congregant caustically remarks."

This story highlights some of the great difficulties in human communications. The first rabbi was just trying to continue his life-long learning. Perhaps in 1962 congregants didn't understand the preparation required to deliver sermons and prepare for classes? Perhaps the second rabbi knew what he needed and told the congregation what they wanted to hear?

Zucker examines many of the sub-groups of rabbis and explains some of the differences and similarities. One chapter covers rabbinical training. HTC is mentioned in the section about Orthodox rabbinical training, but Yeshiva University is the most prominent.

The book has chapters on how congregents view rabbis, the rabbi's family, non-congregational rabbis, and how rabbis view the rabbinate. Zucker ends with the future of the rabbinate.

It is hard to be a Jew, and it is harder to be a rabbi .. the rabbinate is a cultured profession; it is honorable. ... Rabbis are in a position to influence the future of Judaism. What could be more exciting and rewarding!

Every profession has its rewards and challenges. After serving on a search committee I have come to realize that a rabbi has to be a great communicator. Great communicators know when to talk, when to listen, and when to admit they don't know the answer.

My first criticism of the book is the way Zucker deals with rabbis in fiction. There is a certain amount of "truth" in fiction. Fiction has a way of dealing with issues that can't compare to a scientific survey. In fiction the author can support, condemn, or invent the facts to tell a better story. While literary analysis has an important place in scholarship and even the understanding of the society that surrounds the story, Zucker seems too free in his mixing of the stories of fictional rabbis and the hard facts about rabbis. Rabbi David Small and his congregation may have some great interactions, but Rabbi Small lives in a fictional town invented by Harry Kemelman. One can not use Rabbi Small as an example of an American rabbi. He is an American fictional rabbi. Zucker freely uses fictional events and stories and leaves out stories from real rabbis. His bibliography has no biographies or auto-biographies of American rabbis.

My second criticism is that Zucker tries to survey too much and leaves some topics covered too shallowly. Zucker is more of a reporter and gatherer of facts than an analyzer. He weaves a picture of the rabbinate from hundreds of sources yet tells us nothing new. After reading the book I am left with the question "So---?"

Zucker could have saved a lot of time if he just read what Dr. Samuel Belkin wrote: The rabbi, according to Dr. Samuel Belkin,1 "is the custodian of the ideals for which the Synagogue stand for. .. leader of the Jewish community .. social worker, the social architect. ... The rabbi must symbolize the beth ha-tefillah ... His true function is to be the Jewish scholar, the authority on Jewish law, teaching the Torah to his community." Forty years later Dr. Belkin's analysis is still accurate no matter what kind of rabbi the person is -- Orthodox or not; congregational or institutional. Zucker does not even mention Dr. Belkin's article in the bibliography.

Three other books on the topic of the American rabbinate that the Library owns are :

Herring, Basil, editor. The Rabbinate as Calling and Vocation : models of rabbinic leadership : a project of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1991.
Polner, Murray. Rabbi : the American experience. New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.
Zeitlin, Joseph. Disciples of the Wise the religious and social opinions of American rabbis. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1945.


1. "The Rabbi," by Samuel Belkin in The Sanctity of the Synagogue, edited by Baruch Litvin. New York, 1959.

© 1998. Last revised October 25, 1998

Sunday, July 12, 2020


Librarian's Lobby Mahzorim August 1998, Daniel D. Stuhlman

Librarian's Lobby
August 1998


It is gratifying to me to hear the wonderful response that this column has generated. This is the 14th column. I have heard from readers in person, by phone, by written note and by e-mail. Readers have asked library reference questions, and I have been able to answer them. Thanks for the support. Shanah Tovah.


This time of year, rabbis and their congregations are thinking about Yomim Noraim. The Library has an exhibit of books related to the season. I would like to describe some of the Mahzorim in the display. If you want to learn more about the history of Tefillah and how the siddur evolved I would suggest : The story of the prayer book, by Philip Arian and Azrial Eisenberg and Jewish liturgy and its development, by A. Z. Idelsohn.

Imagine you are in a shul before the days of printing. It is already several hundred years after Rashi and Saadia Gaon. The order of prayers and local customs are somewhat fixed. The hazzan no longer improvises the words. How many books are in this shul? The answer is one for the Hazzan and a few for the very rich members who are able to afford to pay for a manuscript copy. Most of the congregants must either memorize the prayers or listen very carefully to the hazzan. The Hazzan's siddur is written in big letters so that a few people can look over his shoulder.

The word Siddur is from the root [sdr] meaning order. The Siddur is a book of prayers in a fixed order. The word Mahzor is from the root [hzr] meaning cycle. The complete phrase for the name of this book was, Mahzor shel Tefillah. A mahzor was a collection of public and private prayers for the complete cycle of life from birth to death. For example, a mahzor would contain the Pesah seder, while a siddur would not. These are the earlier uses of the words. Today the connotation is to use the word mahzor for a prayer book associated with a particular holiday, usually Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of the earliest mahzorim, called Mahzor Yannai, was discovered in the Cairo Genizah. Another early edition, Mahzor Vitri, combined the text of the tefilot with commentary.

The HTC Library owns a manuscript mahzor that was written for individual use (i.e. not for the hazzan). It is about 442 pages and 19 cm. tall. The copy does not indicate a date, place or owner.

Printing made books affordable for the masses. The oldest printed prayer book that the Hebrew Theological College Library owns is from about 1699. The following are samples from our collection.

Sha'ar bat rabim : mahzor halek sheni 'im perush haderet kodesh ki-minhag kahal kodesh Ashkanazim yishmeret ha-'el. Venice, 1711. Leather cover. 2 vol. ; 40 cm.
Both volumes start with Selihot with a very fancy box around the word . The table of contents is in the back of volume 2. Volume 1 has a section of halachot before shaharit. The main text is in large letters with commentary on the outside. Volume 2 contains the prayers for Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. The order of tekiat shofar appears in volume 2.

Mahzor li-rosh ha-shanah vi-yom kippurim, Vilna, 1865. Leather cover. 336 p. ; 29 cm.
he volume begins with shaharit. The text of the prayers is in large letters, with a Yiddish commentary in smaller print in another font on the bottom. Instructions are in Yiddish. Even though the title pages says this is for Rosh Hashanah, the prayers for Yom Kippur are included starting at page 163.

Minha hadasha : mahzor liyom sheni shel Rosh haShanah min Michael Minahem Konavo. Kratashin, 1838. Gold stamped leather cover. 128 p. ; 22 cm.

On display is one volume out of a set, containing a volume for each holiday. The Hebrew text is in one font and a German commentary in Hebrew letters is on the bottom printed in another typeface. The Haftorah has a German translation.

Mahzor likhol mo'ed ha-shanah : ki-minhag ha-midinot Polin, Behemen, Mehareo, vi-Ungaran ... fun Mendel BR"Y Shtern. Wien, 1862. Tooled leather cover.
This is from a set of nine mahzorim, each for different holiday. The Hebrew text and German in Hebrew letters are in parallel columns. The print is mostly in one size font.

Mahzor li-Rosh haShanah = Form of prayers for the New Year with English translation. New York, 1866. Leather, gold stamped cover. Gilded edges. 2 vol. in 1. ; 20 cm.

English translation and Hebrew text are on parallel pages. This edition was actually prepared in 1864. What is interesting is that this is a traditional mahzor in English at a time when many of the American Jews spoke German and were leaning away from the traditional liturgy. There is no introduction to explain the prayers or how the book came to be published.

Seder tephilot kol ha-shanah Gebetbuch fur die neue Synagogue in Berlin. Theil II Neujahrsfelt und Versohnunstag. Berlin, 1881. Leather tooled cover. Gilded edges. 464 p. ; 21 cm.
Hebrew text with German translation and instructions. Includes a prayer for Kaiser Wilhelm in German. The German text is in Gothic typeface.

Mahzor li-Yom Kippur = Prayer book for the Day of Atonement with English translation by A. Th. Philips. New York, 1937 [c1931]. 361 p. ; 20 cm.

Hebrew text and English translation are on parallel pages. This was the standard English translation of the Mahzor used before Philip Birnbaum edited his edition. A companion volume was published for Rosh Hashanah. There is no commentary. The few instructions are in Hebrew.

Mahzor rinat Yisra'el li-Rosh ha-Shanah : nusah Sephard. Yerushalayim, [1978] 365 p. ; 22 cm.

This Mahzor is aimed at an Israeli audience. The print is clean, crisp and easy to read. There are notes and explanations in Hebrew at the bottom of some of the pages.

Cataloging Mahzorim

All forms of prayer books require a uniform title. The uniform title is the form found in the Encyclopedia Judaica. The uniform title is the means for the library to keep like materials together. The terms for liturgical works are all familiar to us, i.e., Siddur, Haggadah, Mahzor, Kinot, Selichot, Zemirot. We would also add a date so that the items can be more easily arranged. For example : Mahzor. Hebrew and English. 1978; Mahzor. Hebrew and German. 1881. Added entries are included for the title as it appears on the title page and editor, translator, or other person (or corporate body) responsible for the content. Because so many editions can be published, finding items in the catalog without an exact title or editor may require help from the librarian.

Items are generally cataloged under the uniform title that the editor or publisher suggests on the title page. A book that contains daily prayers and Shabbat prayers is a Siddur.>/i> A book with festival prayers may be a Mahzor or a Siddur, depending on the publisher. A book that contains multiple liturgical works would be cataloged under the most prominent one or if none is prominent, under the first to appear in the book.

 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised July 12, 2020

More on Bankes

Librarian's Lobby July 1998 More on Bankes and book reviews  
Librarian's Lobby
July 1998


When I wrote last month's column mentioning the expression Helphen vi a toiten, bankes I couldn't believe that it would cause a large discussion. I would just like to summarize some of the comments. Rabbi M. wrote me a letter saying that in 1917 he had the flu and application of bankes cured him. Several people asked if bankes were still used and just as many gave me stories about the application of bankes. One person offered to give the Library some bankes cups for our museum collection.

I would like to make one clarification. Bankes are glass cups about the size of an egg shell. The treatment involves warming the cups with a fire to remove most of the air. Then the cups are placed in a row on the back of the "patient". The semi-vacuum causes the cups to stick and pull the blood to the surface, leaving circular marks on the back that stay for a few hours. A physician told me that when he was on call for the emergency room he got a frantic call from an intern who saw a Russian patient with a row of circles on his back and was suffering from a high fever. The intern wanted to know how the circles could be related to the fever. The physician knew that the circles were from an application of bankes and reassured the intern that the circles were not a symptom of the fever, but a home remedy that did not work.

Summer Reading

Here are a few recent books received by the Library that you may enjoy during your summer vacation.

Judaism on line : confronting spirituality on the Internet, by Susan M. Zakar and Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1998.

This is the remarkable spiritual journey of a women, who began as a fundamentalist Christian and became on Orthodox Jew. Zakar is a familiar presence on the internet and frequently gives advice to others who are in the process of converting or becoming more observant. Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann is the director of campus activities for Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana and an adjunct professor at Tulane University. This book is based on their e-mail conversations.

Zakar started college away from home and found herself lonely and driven to find some kind of truth. She turned at first to Christian circles and later something deep inside her soul was attracted to Judaism. Kaufmann replies with words of understanding, comfort and Hasidism. Zakar eventually moves to Baltimore and her whole family converts to Judaism.

This inspirational book is a window into the thoughts and feelings of person who with her family becomes Jewish.

The Scholars Haggadah : Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Oriental version, with a historical-literary commentary by Heinrich Guggenheimer. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1995.

With the use of four different Hebrew fonts (type faces) the editor gives commentary on the Haggadah as well as three different versions of the text. For those of us who grew up with one custom this Haggadah is a way to see the significant differences in the ritual. For example the Yeminite kiddush adds pesukim from Tehilim not used in Ashkenazic or Sephardic versions.

The Jewish way : living the holidays, by Irving Greenberg. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1998.

While Rabbi Greenberg is well known as a speaker, lecturer and Orthodox thinker, this is his first book. According to the preface this book is written for four types of readers: non observant Jews who seek to deepen their Jewish identity; observant Jews who wish to avoid the pitfall of practicing details while missing the goals, learned Jews who search for new insights, and non-Jews who wish to understand Judaism and who may find that it resonates in their own religious living.

In addition to covering the Shalosh Regalim, Hanukkah, Purim, and Yomim Noraim, part four deals with "modern observances: such as Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Pioneers in Jewish medical ethics, edited by Fred Rosner. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1997,

Dr. Rosner is an internationally known expert on Jewish medical ethics who has written and edited many books and articles. He is also a noted scholar of Maimonides and has published translated most of Maimonides medical works. This book covers the responsa and other halakhic works of four pioneers, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Lord Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, and Rabbi Yehudah Waldenberg. Personal insights are given into the lives or these scholars. This book is aimed at reader who wants to know about the field of Jewish medical ethics and is not yet a scholar in the field. While the book quotes many responsa it is not a substitute for reading the original works.

Echoes of glory : the story of the Jews in the classical era 350 BCE - 750 BCE, by Berel Wein. Shaar Press ; distributed by Mesorah Publications : Brooklyn, 1995.

Rabbi Wein is a Hebrew Theological College graduate. He moved to New York to work with the Orthodox Union and later to be a congregational rabbi in Suffern, NY. This book is the third and final part of Rabbi Wein's trilogy describing the story of the Jewish people. Rabbi Wein retells history in a way that is exciting to read, using the Talmud as one of his primary sources. This trilogy is aimed at a general audience.

 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised July 7, 2003

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Leningrad Codex-- part 2

Librarian's Lobby The Leningrad Codex May 1998, Daniel D. Stuhlman

Librarian's Lobby 
The Leningrad Codex -- part 2

May 1998
In my last column I described the project that prepared The Leningrad Codex (hereafter L) for publication. This month I would like to describe some of the features that add to our understanding of the transmission of the Biblical text.

I. Order of the Biblical Books

A librarian is interested in keeping books in a set order to enable readers to find the books they need. Ordering the Biblical books is one of the earliest classification systems. The order of the books of the Torah and Early Prophets is in chronological order. The tradition for the rest of the Later Prophets and the Writings is not the same in all the sources. The earliest discussion on the order of the books is in Bava Batra 14b. With the exception of Iyov the order in the Talmud is meant to be chronological. The order from the Talmud was used in some German and French manuscripts. The Spanish and oriental manuscripts contain the order that we use in our printed Bibles.


Talmud BB 14b 
Modern Hebrew Bibles
Leningrad Codex
Minor prophets 
Minor prophets 
Minor prophets 
Divre Ha-Yamim
Shir ha-Shirim
Shir ha-Shirim
Shir ha-Shirim
Divre Ha-Yamim
Divre Ha-Yamim 

II. Large and Small Letters

The custom of writing small and large letters never became legally fixed, although some examples are well known. The Massorah itself gives more than one list. Megillah 16b mentions some of the letters written in small print.

Meanings or interpretations are associated with these letters. 2 The Leningrad Codex does not have large or small letters in all of the places mentioned in the Massoretic lists. In most of the cases in the L a careful examination with a magnifying glass was required to determine if the letters were enlarged. Without the Massoretic lists of words containing large or small letters, one may miss finding them, in a casual reading of a page in L.

For example: the word יגדל (Num. 14:14). According to one Massoretic list, the initial yod is enlarged; according to a second list the gimmel ג is enlarged. The gimmel in L is enlarged. In our Hebrew printed text and Sifrei Torah, the yod is enlarged. The Aleph of beginning word of Va-yikra is not small in L. In Genesis 27:46, קצתי has a small ק in the Massorah list, our printed Hebrew text, and the Torah scroll; but L has a normal letter.

III. The Reading Tradition

The written text is generally conceived as stable since the second century. 3 Verse divisions show almost no variations in any of the vocalized manuscripts. Vowel letters (Aleph, Vav, and Yod) differ among the manuscripts. These variations occasionally effect the meaning of the words or their translations. The vocalization was not stabilized until much later than the orthography. For example, the reading tradition of ben-Asher and ben-Naftali disagree concerning the placement of the vowel before a yod as in בישראל. Ben-Asher requires that a sheva be under the yod. Ben-Naftali treats the yod as a vowel letter and places a heriq under the bet and no vowel under the yod. 4 Codex L follows the ben-Asher tradition.

There are few places in L with variations that may be classified as "typos". For example Gen. 15:10 in the word : הצפר is missing the dagesh in the צ. The grammar rules indicate that after a hey ha-yediah (definite article) a dagesh is required. The dagesh or lack of one may change the meaning, however, most readers would not change the way this word is pronounced.

Some places may be following a different tradition for the vocalization. For example, in Gen. 22:13, the word נאחז has a kamatz under the het in many manuscripts while L and other manuscripts have a patah. After examining the text, one can not call this a careless error.

IV. Conclusion

The Leningrad Codex5 is one of the most important manuscripts of the Bible in existence due to its completeness, Massoretic notes and beauty. While the scribe who prepared this Codex was very careful, there are a few cases of errors in vocalization or diacritical marks. These errors are minor, but nonetheless emphasize the enormous responsibility required to transmit a holy text.


1. The Talmud uses Kinot קינות for the book we call Aicha איכה or in English Lamentations. Ezra and Nehemiah were considered as one book in the Talmud. The Talmud text discusses some of the reasons for the order of the books.

2. For example in Deut. 6:4 the large letters in שמע and אחד are interpreted as the word עד and used as an interpretation of the first verse of the Shema. The full list of these words is from the Massorah and can be found on page 230 of : Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible by Jacob Ben Chajim ibn Adonijah edited by C.D. Ginsburg. New York, 1968. The Massorah has two lists ; one with 25 examples and the second with 27 examples.

3. R. Isaac, a 3rd cent. Amora, said that the text was handed down as law to Moses at Sinai (Ned. 37b-38a). The division of the verses was handled down orally with evidence in the Talmud for the divisions. Kid. 30a says the Torah contains 5,888 verses; according to the Massorah there are 5,845. See Encyclopedia Judaica, v. 16 "Massorah".

4. This is the way modern Hebrew is vocalized. 5. Codex L is the basis for our Hebrew printed Bibles. Modern editors have made changes based on halakhah, Massorah, and other manuscripts. This article is a very brief treatment of topic that requires further study.

 ©2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised July 2, 2020