Page 75 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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if it was attributed to a scholar. If to his mind, steeped in Lurianic
Kabbalah, the Torah teemed with esoteric meaning, why should
not the life of the scholar or mystic, the embodiment of Torah,
also be replete with significance?
Too, there is that phenomenon as old as literature itself— the
bibliophile. And Azulai was
par excellence
a bibliophile. With him
it was a lifelong passion that found excellent opportunity for
expression in his wide ranging travels. In the expense account kept
on his journeys, he recorded the books and manuscripts he pur-
chased and the prices he paid for them. Both in
Shem ha-Gedolim
and in
Maagal Tob
, we see him examining at every opportunity
rare books and manuscripts. The catalogue of his personal library
bears testimony to the activity of an indefatigable booklover and
book collector. Everything about a book interested him: when
and where it was published, and how the printed text differed
from the manuscript (printers occasionally took the liberty of
printing radically abridged texts without troubling to indicate the
fact). He describes manuscripts not only by subject matter but
also by noting, where the information is available, the date, the
former owners, and, occasionally, something of its history, includ-
ing its purchase price.
These aforementioned motivations — bibliography and history
as an aid in the elucidation of the Halakhah, an innate interest in
books, and reverence for the learned and pious — moved Azulai,
in an age whose historical sense had all but atrophied, to write a
bio-bibliographical dictionary of Jewish literature covering the
whole post-biblical period down to his own day. Azulai drew on
all his predecessors in the field in varying measure, quoting his
source and, occasionally, where the reference was brief, omitting it.
But bibliographers, even more than historians, are prone to repeat
one another and thus duplicate old errors. The sixteenth and
seventeenth century historians copied from one another without
much restraint and without troubling to verify at first hand,
wherever possible, their predecessors’ statements. Once a previous
chronicler had erred, his successors would as often as not blindly
repeat the error. A bibliographer bent on making a real contribu-
tion would first have to sift the work of his forerunners with utmost
care. He certainly could not accept as corroborative evidence the
fact that the identical statement appeared in various historical
works. Again and again Azulai points out how a misstatement in
Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah
is reproduced in the
Seder ha-Dorot.
In one instance, the author of the
Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah
Rabbenu Jacob Tam and R. Jacob of Rameru as being two distinct
individuals, an error repeated in the
Seder ha-Dorot.
In another
case, Joseph Conforte in his
Korey ha-Dorot
had copied from