Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

Basic HTML Version

person of such exceptional piety should have deserved this post-
humous maltreatment, until he appeared to an acquaintance in a
dream and revealed that it was in punishment for the fact that he
had neglected to have his books (sacred books,
bien entendu
) proper-
ly bound when they became worn. Another pious man, we learn
in §676, enjoined his sons on his death-bed that they should not
refuse to lend books even to those with whom they had had a
serious quarrel, as thereby the cause of learning would suffer.
If a man is in reduced circumstances, and forced to sell his property
he should (§1,741) dispose first of his gold and jewellery and houses
and estates, and only at the very end, when no alternative is left,
denude himself of his library.
Reverence fo r Volumes
When a man is travelling on business and finds books that are
unknown in his own city, it is his duty to purchase them in pref-
erence to anything else and bring them back with him, so that he
may be an agent in the diffusion of knowledge (§664). When a
man is buying a book, he should not try to reduce the price by
saying “This is a bad book.” All he should do is to state the price
that he is prepared to pay without degrading the quality of the
literature (§665). The whole is succinctly summed up in a pithy
general injunction: “I t is a man’s duty to have an eye to the honor
of his books.”
This conception was carried beyond the present evanescent
state: for otherwise Paradise would be deprived of the greatest of
possible delights. The Jewish pietists pictured the future world
as a vast library, where all the good books that had ever been
written were treasured up for the posthumous delectation of the
righteous. The souls of the blessed, the “Book of the Pious” in-
forms us (§1,546), have books lying before them in decent array
on tables, so that they study in death even as they studied in their
lifetime. One Friday evening, we are told, a non-Jew passed
through the Jewish cemetery after dark and there he actually saw
a Jew, who had passed away some time before, sitting and conning
a book which lay on a desk before him. A later fantasy informs
us how the Heavenly librarian was the Archangel Metatron,
who brought books from the shelves before the Holy One, Blessed
be He, who in turn handed them for study to the Academy on
High. When a certain work was written in the eighteenth century,
when the shelves were already full, the books in the celestial library
pressed themselves together of their own accord to make room for
the newcomer.
As great merit is attached to the lending of books, it might be
imagined that a man acquires vicarious righteousness by borrow-
ing them, purchase being thus a superfluous extravagance. But
this is by no means the case. A Spanish Rabbi, who lived a cen-
tury before Christopher Columbus discovered America, deals with
this question trenchantly. R. Judah Campanton, in his intro-
duction to the Talmud (c.
. )
1400), wrote:
— 5 —