Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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To Give Voice to the Silence o f the Past*
In E a s te rn Eu rope,
whence most of us present probably stem,
there was a difference between the Yiddish terms buch and sefer.
The word buch was employed essentially for a secular book, a
novel, something published in a language other than Hebrew,
other than loshen qodesh; sefer, on the other hand, designated
a holy book, a book that dealt with the Bible o r the Talmud or
commentaries on them, invariably written in the Holy Tongue.
(Aramaic would in these instances be included in the latter
category along with Hebrew.) Since Jewish collections of books
un til very recent times consisted almost exclusively of sacred
books, these collections of sefarim were treated with the respect
due to what was ultimately the word of God, divinely inspired
Our literature contains numerous references to the special
attention and care that these books should be given. Thus the
twelfth century Spanish-French translator-scholar, Judah ben
Saul ibn Tibbon, in his noted ethical w ill (tsavva’ah), “A Fath­
er’s Admonition” (musar av) wrote:
My son! Make your books your companions, let the cases
and shelves be your pleasure-grounds and gardens. Bask in
their paradise, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take
their spices and their myrrh. I f your soul be satiate and
weary, change from garden to garden, from furrow to fur­
row, from prospect to prospect. Then w ill your desire re­
new itself, and your soul be filled w ith delight! . . .
A fascinating and authentic picture o f how sefarim, holy
books, were regarded in the Jewish communities o f Eastern
Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—alas, a
civilization so destroyed that it has given birth to the capital
letter H in the term Holocaust—was painted recently in the auto-
* From an address delivered on the occasion of the dedication of the
Frances-Henry Library of the Hebrew College-Jewish Institute of Reli­
gion, Los Angeles, California, in 1972.