Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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T H E J E W I S H D I V I S I O N OF T H E
N EW Y O R K P U B L I C L I B R A R Y
B
y
A
braham
B
erger
T
h e m o s t
important aspect of the Jewish Division of the New
York Public Library is its being part of the Reference
Department on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, a collection of
4/2
million volumes with thousands of readers daily, the busiest
library in the Western World. The Reference Department has
often been characterized as a combination of reading room, ready
reference and information center, and research library, the key
to its use being vast, all-inclusive catalogues. On a smaller scale
this is also true of the Jewish Division, which may be viewed as
an isotope! of the general library. It presents in 110,000 volumes
a record of the Jewish people in many languages throughout the
ages and in all lands, and on all subjects in Hebrew and in
Yiddish. This record is bolstered by many thousands of works
in other divisions which directly or indirectly add to the depth
and completeness of its potential.
In 1897, two years after the formation of the New York Public
Library, the Jewish Division was established, and Jacob H.
Schiff offered $10,000 for the purchase of Semitic literature.
Abraham Solomon Freidus, the first chief of the Division, had
the exciting task of culling from the Astor Library all the
Hebrew books and those in other languages on Jewish subjects
published after 1600 (about 2,000 volumes, 300 in Hebrew
characters). To these were added some Hebrew treasures from
the Lenox Library, including a fine copy of a vellum Hebrew
Pentateuch printed in Bologna in 1482.
In November, 1897, the Division acquired through A. M. Bank
the fine working library of Leon Mandelstamm, a scholar and
educator who! had once served as secretary to the commission set
up by the Russian government to prepare a system of education
for the Jews. It consisted of about 2,000 volumes in Hebrew,
German and Russian, with emphasis on history, literature and
classic Hebrew texts, some of them printed in the sixteenth
century. Two years later a fine collection of 500 volumes was
added, part of the library of Meyer Lehren of Amsterdam. This
collection was strong in rabbinical responsa which form the
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