Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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e w i s h
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and translator, has left us the injunctions he laid upon his son
for the care of his library: keep the books, he enjoins, well covered
against dust and damp and protected from mice; write a list of
the books placed on each shelf, affix the list to the shelf, and
arrange the books in the same order as on the list; check over
the Hebrew books once every month, the Arabic books every two
months, and the cases of unbound books every three months;
restore and have restored all loaned books on Passover and on
Succot. I t was Ibn Tibbon who wrote some of the most gracious
and inviting words ever applied to a library: “Let your cases and
shelves be your pleasure-grounds and orchards." I would like to
see this motto inscribed in every Jewish community library,
which like all libraries should be enjoyed for both its delights
and its fruits.
One of the great private collectors was the 17th-century court-
Jew of Vienna, Samuel Oppenheimer. Eventually his 7000 printed
volumes and 1000 manuscripts became the basis of the Bodleian
Library’s magnificent collection of Judaica (at Oxford). The
earliest modern communal collection of which the precise origin
can be dated was that of Mantua in Italy; it was founded in 1767
upon the acquisition of 4500 volumes from the private library of
Raphael Emanuel Mendola.
Communi ty Libraries in Far-off Places
I have visited some of these old traditional community libraries
while they still flourished in far-off places. I recall being led by
a youngster up an obscure back-alley in Tangiers, a town, by
the way, far more cosmopolitan, experienced and wordly-wise
than most American cities. Removed from this sophisticated
bustle I found myself in a small dusty room—the neighborhood’s
House of Study. I t was mid-afternoon. A half-dozen greybeards
were squatted around a single large, worn and tattered tome,
reading in a sing-song intonation and discussing what they read.
They appeared to resent my intrusion, the more so because,
despite my assurances, they did not believe I was a Jew. I had a
hard time establishing my identity. My young guide could not
understand my French and I could not understand the old grey-
beards’ Arabic-sounding Hebrew. At last they thrust the big tome
in my hands, its pages still open to where they had been reading
in it, and asked me—as a sort of pass-word—if I could tell them
what book it was. Luck was with me, for I am no Hebrew scholar;
but a few words told me, and I in turn triumphantly told them
that the book was the Zohar. I was
and could examine their
whole little collection at leisure. In the holy city of Sheshawan,
a rocky eaglesnest built on top of a peak in the Riff mountains
and long forbidden to foreigners, I found in the synagogue’s
book-cupboard a 16th century copy of an Aramaic translation