Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

Basic HTML Version

S h a p i ro
S o u rc e o f J ew is h H i s t o r y
Kagan had published an important work in Yiddish on his own
war-time experiences in Polish woods, A Yid in Vald, and had
served as a member of the library staff of the YIVO. In the course
of his work, he stumbled upon an aspect of Jewish cultural life
of Eastern Europe and pursued it privately to its present state
of completion. He had become aware of the excessive losses of
Jewish historical sources in that area. The annihilation of Jewries
was accompanied by the wanton destruction of communal records,
pinkassim, minute-books of various societies, journals, and other
pertinent documents. Happily, a few Jewish communities had sent
their records to organizations or libraries overseas, thereby sal­
vaging them for Jewish historical research. Professor Israel
Halpern stated there was a total of only thirteen communal
pinkassim in the National Library in Jerusalem. The number
of communal records in the hands of individuals or other organi­
zations is lamentably small. In such circumstances, other sources
of Jewish history and patterns of life must be sought. While they
cannot equal the communal records in importance, they might
illuminate various areas of Jewish cultural and spiritual life
which prevailed in that great diaspora center, Eastern Europe.
Inventory of Subscribers to Boo\s
A productive source is the listing in Jewish books of names of
pre-publication subscribers. For a few hundred years up to our own
time, it was customary for authors, mainly rabbinical, to collect
monies needed for the publication of their books from potential
future purchasers. Since no author could hope to raise sufficient
funds in his own town, he would canvass the neighboring com­
munities, and at times his excursions led him considerable dis­
tances from home. Upon arrival in a town, the author would pre­
sent himself to the rabbi and submit his manuscript, together
with testimonials to the value of the work. If these were lacking,
the rabbi would read the manuscript to determine if it was
written in the “spirit of the Torah” and merited publication.
If so, the rabbi would assign one or two worthies, baalei-batim,
to accompany the author in visiting individuals who might obli­
gate themselves to purchase the book. The author would record
the donors’ names, residences and occupations in the book when
published, and generally grouped them by the towns in which
they lived. Inasmuch as many lists are extant they constitute a
significant and interesting source of Jewish cultural history in
Eastern and Central Europe.
Mr. Kagan, now Research Librarian at The Jewish Theological
Seminary of America in New York City, has spent the past twelve
years studying this source. He has searched through tens of thou­