Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
similar kind have we, the handful, le ft along the road? T h e r e are a
few Maccabean coins and some Bar Kochba coins to collect. T h e r e
are Israeli stamps, but they are only recent. You can collect old
Jewish art; but there are only some decorations o f med ieval
Haggadahs. A n d you can collect art by Jews or about Jews, but all
that is recent in ou r life. O r m odern painting; after the lo g jam
broke and Jewish boys from Eastern and Central Europe f loo d ed
the Latin Quarter, we got into a wild ep idem ic o f art. C eremon ia l
objects is a very fine f ie ld fo r collectors, but, by and large, what is
available begins with the seventeenth century, when Jewish finan ­
cial agents served the princelings in Germany. T h e court Jews
who had money and were still or th odox go t German goldsmiths
to make beautiful objects that are still worthy o f collecting. For
example, Mordecai Meisel was the rich man o f Prague at the time
o f Y om T o v L ipmann Heller, and o f course he was pious. H e had
an immense financial fortune, made by loans to the Em peror o f
Austria, and had many ceremonial objects made fo r him. N ow
here is something special fo r a collector: As you know, when you
redeem a first-born child (P idyon Ha-ben) you have to g ive the
priest five silver Shekels (Numbers 18:16). T h e r e is a lot o f Jewish
law as to how much this amount is in con temporary coinage. So
Mordecai Meisel got permission from the Emperor to mint some
golden Shekels with his name on it. T w o are still supposed to be in
existence. Now , collectors, try to find one o f those!
A t all events, Jewish objects are lim ited in scope. Y e t one Jewish
fie ld is still relatively unlimited, namely, Jewish books. T h e r e is an
important reason fo r the fact that Jewish books are in such p ro fu ­
sion in the world. Peop le talk about us and say we are “ T h e Peop le
o f the Book.” (By the way, it was Mohamm ed who said that, and
not only o f us alone. H e said it o f the Christians as well as o f us. H e
meant that we and the Christians are the Bible peop le.)
RO LE OF TH E BOOK
But we Jews are exceptional fo r a very strange reason which has
bearing on the expansion o f Jewish books. First o f all, it was
strange to be the on ly monotheists in a world o f polytheism. T o
have kept that little light burning, that lantern in all the hurricane
o f the w o r ld ’s superstitions, in itse lf is quite an achievement.
Secondly, we Jews were the first peop le who included the de-