Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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S
te in b a c h
— H
eartbeats
o f
B
ooks
11
Another example of Jewish reverence for books is provided
by the sublime utterance of Moses ibn Tibbon (1220-1283):
“My son, make your books your companions. Your book cases
and bookshelves shall be your garden and your paradise. Find
your nourishment in their fertile fields, pluck their roses, gather
their fruit, enjoy their flavor. When you tire, walk on; from
garden to garden, from furrow to furrow. Then your zeal will
be reawakened and your mind will be refreshed.”
The two quotations cited above testify to the enlightened
cultural status of Jews even in those backward eras. Despite
humiliation, discrimination and persecution, notwithstanding
physical and social barriers that restricted and inhibited them,
the Jews radiated more light extracted from books than did
their tormentors who swaggered and strutted under the chan-
deliered glitter of castles and pavilioned mansions. When only
paltry crumbs could be their fare, they embraced their books
and manuscripts as if they were miniature mines of phan­
tom gold.
What literature can parallel the teachings propagated in the
13th century by Judah the Hasid of Regensburg, Germany, in
his
Sefer Hasidim
: “If a drop of ink fell at the same time on
your book and on your coat, clean the book first and then
the garment.” “If you drop gold and books, first pick up the
books and then the gold.” “If a man in straitened circumstances
must sell his property, he should first dispose of his jewelry,
his house and estate, and only when no other alternative is
left should he strip himself of his library.” In case of fire or
flood, wrote this same Judah, books had to be rescued before
all other possessions. “If a man has two sons, one of whom is
averse to lending his books while the other does so willingly,
he should have no hesitation in leaving all his library to the
second son, even though he be the younger.” Rabbi Jacob Moelin
(14th century) wrote: “If two men are about to enter or leave
a house and one is carrying a book, the man with the book
should be permitted to proceed first.”
Books are couriers sent forth, each to communicate its special
mission. A book is the soul, the mind, the heart, the thirst,
the sleeplessness, the solitude of a brain flaming like Vesuvius
with a fire that must burn itself on page after page after page.
There is much wisdom in Milton’s declaration, “A good book
is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and
treasured up on purpose for a life beyond.” And as if hurling
a scornful condemnation against the barbaric practice of con­
signing books to the hellish flames of
autos-da-fe,
he thundered
prophetically: “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book;
who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but
he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”