Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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Of a truth, a man’s wisdom goes only as far as his books go. Therefore, one
should sell all he possesses and buy books; for, as the sages put it: “He who in-
creases books increases wisdom.”
. .
Rashi, of blessed memory, speaks to the same effect in interpreting the injunc-
tion of the Rabbis: “Acquire thyself a companion.” Some read, according to him:
“Acquire thyself a book” ; for a book is the best of all companions. I f a man reads
only borrowed books, he is thus in the category of those of whom the Bible speaks:
“And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee” (Deuteronomy, xxviii, 66).
But the prince of medieval Jewish book-lovers was Judah ibn
Tibbon, the great scholar, grammarian, and translator, who lived
in Provence in the thirteenth century. His will, in the form of last
injunctions to his son, deals to a large degree with the treatment
of his library. I t is worth while to quote one or two passages
from the translation by Israel Abrahams:
My son! Make thy books thy companions, let thy book-cases and shelves be
thy pleasure grounds and gardens. Bask in their paradise, gather their fruit, pluck
their roses, take their spices and their myrrh. If thy soul be satiate and weary,
change from garden to garden, from furrow to furrow, from prospect to prospect
I have honored thee by providing an extensive library for thy use, and have thus
relieved thee of the necessity to borrow books. Most students must bustle about
to seek books, often without finding them. But thou, thanks be to God, lendest
and borrowest not. Of many books, indeed, thou ownest two or three copies . . .
Examine thy Hebrew books at every New Moon, the Arabic volumes once in
two months, and the bound codices once every quarter. Arrange thy library in
fair order, so as to avoid wearying thyself in searching for the book thou needest.
Always know the case and the chest where the book should be. A good plan would
be to set in each compartment a written list of the books therein contained. If,
then, thou art looking for a book, thou canst see from the list the exact shelf it
occupies without disarranging all the books in the search for one. And cast thine
eye frequently over the catalogue so as to remember what books are in thy library.
Never refuse to lend books to anyone who has not the means to purchase books
for himself, but only act thus to those who can be trusted to return the volumes.
Thou knowest what our sages said in the Talmud, on the text: “Wealth and riches
are in his house; and his merit endureth for ever.” But, “Withhold not good from
him to whom it is due,” and take particular care of thy books. Cover the book-
cases with rugs of fine quality; and preserve them from damp and mice, and from
all manner of injury, for thy books are thy good treasure. I f thou lendest a volume,
make a memorandum before it leaves thy house, and when it is returned draw thy
pen over the entry. Every Passover and Tabernacles call in all books out on loan.
Similarly, about 1400, the grammarian, chronicler, and wit,
Profiat Duran, gave advice to the intelligent student in the intro-
duction to his Hebrew grammar “Maaseh Ephod.” Use works
which are brief or systematic, he said — advice which would be
fatal to many authors of the present day, especially in view of his
further injunction to the reader to keep to one book at a time.
But he goes on with a really memorable piece of advice. Use
only books that are beautifully written, on good paper, and well
and handsomely bound. Read in a pretty, well-furnished room,
and let your eye rest on beautiful objects the whilst, so that you
will be brought to love what you read. What an advanced outlook
for a provincial student of five centuries ago! I t is only in our
own day that schools and libraries have begun to catch up with
this medieval Jewish point of view.