Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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FAMOUS JEWISH BOOK COLLECTIONS
AND COLLECTORS
B
y
C
ecil
R
o th
I
a m
n o t
q u i t e
s u r e
who was the earliest known Jewish book-
collector. King Solomon, I am inclined to think: for his aphor-
ism in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “there is no end to collecting
books,” appears to me like the frank admission of the blase col-
lector rather than the sarcastic observation of the Philistine.
Nor can I imagine that the remark of Hai Gaon in the eleventh
century (“To three possessions that shalt look, Acquire a field,
a friend, a book”) could have been made by a person who thought
in terms of a single bookshelf. Samuel haNagid, the Vizier to
the King of Granada, Hai’s great admirer, is known to have
given books away lavishly to students, and it cannot be imagined
that this eminent scholar-statesman did not have a choice library
himself. But the recorded history of Jewish bibliophiles begins
a trifle later than this. In the Cairo Genizah, there have been
discovered several library catalogues, some of them made for the
purpose of auction sales after the owner’s death: the best known
is that of R. Abraham the Pious, who probably had been an asso-
ciate of Moses Maimonides. Of how books were kept and how
they were regarded at this time, we know from the ethical will
of Judah ibn Tibbon, in the most graphic detail. But somehow,
I find it difficult to believe that a man who advised his son to
go through his books every month or so could have had a really
great library. In the Middle Ages the most remarkable Jewish
book-collector of whom we know was the globe-trotting physician,
Judah (Leon) Mosconi of Majorca, two inventories of whose
library have been preserved: one of them for the auction sale
after his death in 1377. It is not generally known that the King
of Aragon ultimately cancelled the sale and seized the library
for himself. In very many wills of Spanish Jews at this time we
find records of the books they owned; and one is extant from
Genoa in Italy in 1231—which is all the more remarkable be-
cause no Jews were supposed to live in that city at the time.
When we come to Italy, of course, we are in the land of biblio-
philes, and the Jews, who managed to absorb so many of the
characteristics of the Italians in the Renaissance period, fol-
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