Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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10
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
equated with
pidyon se’forim,
“redeeming books” purloined by
bandits who periodically swooped down to plunder Jewish
settlements. They learned from previous experiences that, no
matter how indigent a community might be, its members would
manage somehow to collect funds for the recovery of their
literary treasures. A “buyer” of Jewish books was never wanting
among Jews.
A Middle Age document which goes back to the bloody mas­
sacre in York Castle in 1190 contains the following entry dealing
with a case of
pidyon se’forim:
“The enemy spoiled gold and
silver and beautiful books, of which Jews of York had written
many—more precious than gold or fine gold, and not to be
equalled in all the world for beauty. These they brought to
Cologne and to other places in Germany, and sold to the Jews.”
Jewish Gallantry Toward Books
An admirable example of Jewish gallantry toward books is
reflected in the declaration of the medieval poet and historian
Moses ibn Ezra (1070-1138): “A book is the most delightful com­
panion . . . An inanimate thing yet it talks . . . it stimulates your
latent talents. There is in the world no friend more faithful
and attentive, no teacher more proficient. . . it will join you
in solitude, accompany you in exile, serve as a candle in the
dark, and entertain you in your loneliness. I t will do you good
and ask no favor in return.”
No less significant than the purport of this monition is the
age in which it was promulgated—in the early twelfth century,
when a large segment of humanity was steeped in ignorance and
superstition. Ideas which vied for acceptance by the illiterate
masses were frequently the offspring of chaos spawned in un­
tutored minds. It is therefore all the more amazing that as many
as five centuries after ibn Ezra’s death, here in our country
in 1656, two Quaker women were arrested and thrown into
dungeon for reading books. I t was probably this type of naive,
immature mentality that later inspired Rabindranath Tagore’s
satirical epigram, “The worm thinks it strange that man does
not eat his books.”
This brings to mind Disraeli’s caustic reply to a taunt by
Daniel O’Connell in the British Parliament: “Yes, I am a Jew,
and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were
brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the
Temple of Solomon.” 1 believe the analogy is relevant. Five
centuries before English justice concerned itself with witches
who dared to read books, Moses ibn Ezra enshrined books as
altars for the human mind.