Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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The Zohar mentions the practice of devoting to study the
whole first night of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the
Torah. For this purpose a Tikkun shel Shavuot was compiled,
containing excerpts from the beginning and end of every book
in the Bible and Mishnah, selected Biblical passages, extracts
from Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar, and the 613 commandments.
In many communities the Tikkun was read also during the nights
preceding Hoshana Rabbah and Adar 7, the legendary anniversary
of the birth and death of Moses. Before the invention of printing
such Tikkunim were frequently written as tiny volumes, generally
in the rabbinic characters known as “Rashi script.”
Larger than the miniatures described above but belonging to
their genre, are the numerous miniature Torah scrolls written in
various countries and at different periods. While not so tiny as
the books mentioned earlier, they frequently measure no more
than six inches in height and reveal the skill and artistry expended
on them. The beauty of the vellum and the lettering is occasion­
ally enhanced by artistically wrought staves around which they
are rolled and the tiny finials which surmount them.
The Challenge of Tiny Boo\s
What prompted the scribes, and later the printers, to devote
their skills to the production of these tiny manuscripts and books?
Undoubtedly, one reason is the challenge these miniature master­
pieces offer their creators. To work within difficult limitations, to
extract the utmost from inflexible materials, to outdo other prac­
titioners in the field—these considerations certainly encouraged
scribes, printers and bookbinders to their best efforts in this most
difficult medium. Another reason is their handiness. The observant
Jew requires many books for his religious obligations, and it is
more convenient to extract a tiny Siddur from one’s pocket for the
afternoon and evening prayers than to carry a heavy tome.
A painful consideration is the Jewish pattern of mobility, some­
times voluntary but in most cases compulsory. To be able to pack
prayer books and scrolls at a moment’s notice and in the smallest
possible space was of considerable value. Julian I. Edison of St.
Louis, a noted collector of miniature books and publisher of the
quarterly Miniature Book News, quotes from a statement by the
London bookseller, Louis Bondy, also a specialist in this field:
“When I left Germany as a refugee from Nazi persecution and
during later travels as an exile in France and Spain, my then
still small miniature library was almost the only property I could
easily take along with me.” His tiny books survived both Hitler
and the Spanish civil war, unfortunately a statement inapplicable
to the many irreplaceable treasures destroyed in the Nazi holocaust.