Page 97 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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77
R
o t h
— F
a m o u s
J
ew ish
B
ook
C
o l l e c t io n s
Ultimately, he owned 5,000 works, apart from nearly 1,000 manu-
scripts, possibly the most important Jewish library that has ever
been brought together in private hands. Others have exceeded
it in bulk, but never in quality. But the tragic aspect of his
collecting was that, owing to the ecclesiastical censorship prev-
alent at the time in Catholic countries, which imperilled the
entire collection, he housed it not in Prague where he lived,
but in the care of relatives in Hanover. After his death in 1736
the collection underwent all manner of vicissitudes. It was ped-
died from place to place without success (nothwithstanding the
enthusiastic appraisal of Moses Mendelssohn), and was vainly
offered to the Napoleonic Sanhedrin in Paris in 1806. It was
finally purchased in 1829 by the Bodleian Library in Oxford at
a price which would today be considered insignificant, thus
elevating that great institution to a position of near primacy
in the world of Jewish books and making the ancient university
city a mecca of pilgrimage for Jewish scholars and students from
all the world over. This it still is, thanks in part to further im-
portant additions to the collection in subsequent years and in
part to the magnificent series of catalogues of its treasures that
have been published. Hebrew bibliography, as an exact science,
is to this day founded on the
Catalogue of Hebrew Books in the
Bodleian Library
—mainly from the Oppenheim Collection—
compiled over a century ago by the great Moritz Steinschneider.
Shortly after Chief Rabbi David Oppenheim built up his col-
lection, an Italian Catholic Abbe Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi
(1742-1831) followed on his path, with success almost equally
striking. He was a Hebrew scholar of repute and a book-collector
of genius; and in Italy, the land of Hebrew bibliophilism, he
had opportunities which were equalled nowhere else. His great
collection of Hebrew manuscripts, lovingly catalogued by him
and comprising several superb illuminated codices, is now housed
at the Palatine Library in Parma, having been acquired after his
death by the Duke of that petty principality. What treasures are
comprised among the printed book collection is still barely
known, but they include, for example, the only known copy of
the earliest Hebrew printed book, the Rashi, produced in Reggio
di Calabria in 1475. Once De Rossi owned two copies of this
book; one, however, was lost with other literary treasures when
the barge conveying them was sunk en route in the River Po.
The next century produced a large number of more self-con-
scious collectors whose names are still remembered with reverence
by Hebrew bibliophiles: men like Heimann Joseph Michael
(1792-1846), a not very affluent Hamburg business man, but at
the same time a considerable scholar. The learned catalogue com-
posed by him and still a standard work of reference, lovingly
describes no fewer than 860 MSS. and over 5,000 printed books,