Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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in English, that of 1761; the first Jewish periodical in this
country,
The Jew,
published from 1823-1825; and several can-
didates for the first Hebrew book written and printed in America.
The Library has an excellent Josephus collection. Six 15th
century editions and well over fifty 16th century editions and
issues attest to the strength of the holdings. The editions are
in Latin, Greek, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and
Spanish. There is also one Czech edition of
The Wars,
printed
in 1553 in Prossnitz, Moravia, which might be a unique copy.
No short summary of holdings can do justice to the scope
of the rare book collection, to the quality and rarity of these
treasures, or to their scholarly importance. There is a wealth of
subject source material in the individual books and in the
smaller groups, and a sweep of cultural history in the varieties
of books—who printed them, where, when, and why. Here are
Karaitica from the 16th, 18th and other centuries. Three of the
four Karaitic books printed in the 16th century are represented.
Here are Sephardica including the Constantinople, 1547, polyglot
Pentateuch which has Ladino as one of its languages. Also present
is the first Spanish Bible (Ferrara, 1553), as well as the first
Spanish Bible for Christian use (Basel, 1569). Jews were the first
to bring printing to Turkey—in the 15th century. A 1659 edition
of Manasseh Ben Israel’s
Esperanga de Israel
published in Izmir
(Smyrna) shows that the Jews also introduced printing in Roman
characters into Turkey. Early Yiddish books of the 16th century
and other Yiddish rarities add luster to the collection.
Early Hebrew Books
The Library’s fine collection of 16th century Hebrew books
is the largest single group among the rare printed books. Over
1,300 volumes, perhaps three-quarters of the known Hebrew
books of the century, are gathered here. Bible editions are, of
course, well represented, as are commentaries, liturgies, and
precedent-setting editions of grammars, dictionaries, halaka and
ethical works. Occupying a place of high honor is the famous
first edition of the complete Talmud, printed in Venice in 1520־
23 at the press of the Christian Daniel Bomberg. The Library’s
beautifully clean and well preserved copy in six majestic volumes
is the only known complete copy, uniformly bound in contempo-
rary binding.
The crowning jewel of any rare book collection is the book
printed in the first half century of printing. The Library is
proud to have 141 such jewels, 65 in Hebrew and 76 in other
languages. Among the non-Hebrew are a leaf of the Gutenberg