Page 76 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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David Gans’
Zemah David
, who in turn had culled his information
from the
Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah.
Since the latter’s original state-
ment was in error, his successors became accomplices in dissem-
inating the misstatement.
To this task of sifting previous works and rectifying errors,
Azulai brought the gift of a truly phenomenal memory and the
experience of wide travel and extended converse with a host of
scholars. Describing the scholarship and methods of the scholars
of Tunis, he wrote, “They are not well acquainted with the codes
and responsa literature and they have a short memory; so much
so that I who, to my sorrow, have a poor memory was considered
by them as possessing a memory of great retentiveness.” His
disparagement of his own memory is, of course, due to a diffidence
prompted by his pietistic training.
The second aid in his equipment for the task of writing
was the rich opportunity his travels afforded him to
inspect books and manuscripts. The state libraries of Turin,
Modena, Venice, Florence, and Paris contained important collec-
tions of Hebrew manuscripts. He visited them all and duly noted
in the
Maagal Tob
the manuscripts he saw. Where time permitted,
he copied portions of the manuscripts that interested him or had
friends copy them for him. “Even though I had but one foot on
the ground and David was anxious to get on with his sacred
mission, I gave no sleep to my eyes until I copied the notes on the
margin [of the mss.] into my own copy of
/ ’
printed text that has recently appeared is full of errors and omis-
sions.” In Paris, through the good offices of a kindly disposed and
highly placed Gentile, he was accorded the unusual privilege of
borrowing a manuscript from the National Library. The most
valuable single manuscript he came across was undoubtedly the
famous Munich manuscript (1243) of the Talmud, which he found
in the tiny German village of Pfersee. “ I read four or five pages of
the Tractate
and found there numerous variant readings.
I wanted to delight further in this Talmud but the wealthy Jewish
owner ordered his servant to hurry me on my way and they did
not let me rest. Let this too be reckoned for good.”
His travels not only widened his knowledge of manuscripts; they
also added considerably to his store of books. He acquired these
either by purchase or by gift. Despite the inconvenience involved,
he carried with him many valuable books picked up in his travels.
Sheer good fortune spared the two boxes of books purchased in
Frankfort from the disastrous fire that broke out in the Ghetto
in 1754.
A bibliographic work like
Shem ha-Gedolim
is the product of
years of labor. Azulai’s practice of keeping literary journals in