Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

Basic HTML Version

versity should take the place o f the vanished Jewish communities
o f Europe. Th is was a main foundation o f their library o f books
and manuscripts. T h e rest was distributed, and our Chaplaincy
Committee got some rather rare books in the fie ld o f Responsa.
L e t me stop to say a word about Responsa. Jewish legal ques­
tions are answered chiefly from books o f responsa. “ Responsa”
was a word used originally by the Romans. When, fo r example,
you had a complicated legal case in Rome, in the time o f A u ­
gustus, and you wanted to know whether it was worthwhile to
institute a suit, the Emperor appointed certain scholars, “ above
the battle,”
and they gave you an answer. These answers
were the
Responsa Prudentium.
T h e y were like our opinions o f the
Attorney General, which are not jud icial decisions, but courts take
cognizance o f them. Similarly, these responsa o f the wise became
almost the ch ie f vehicle o f Jewish law. T h e great scholars (like
Solomon ben Ad ere t, who lived in Barcelona about 1250) re ­
ceived questions concerning Jewish law from Jewish communities
ove r ha lf the Jewish world. T h e scholar discussed the questions
and answers with his pupils. T h e y cop ied them. H e sent the
answer and the copy was retained in manuscript. Th en when the
age o f printing came, two and a ha lf centuries later, they were
printed and thus we have seven thousand responsa o f this one
Rabbi o f Barcelona. Similarly it was with thousands o f scholars
through the centuries. T h e main body o f Jewish law is in the
books o f responsa, o f which there are about thirty-five hundred,
many still in manuscript. Thus you m ight say that Jewish law is
chiefly case law. I t is only partially embodied in the codes.
From the trove in O ffenbach the Chaplaincy Comm ittee got
some rare responsa. By that time, I had “ caught the fe ve r .” I
started to collect on my own and from various sources, from T e l
Av iv , from Jerusalem, from the Island o f Djerba (where a curious
congregation o f only Cohanim exists). From all these sources I
have accumulated a large library o f responsa, and am still add ing
to it. I have “ exclusive possession” o f some rare books, and I have
built up an integrated unity. But what is the good o f it? Does it
throw any cultural light?
A t least two hundred questions, some o f them important, were
answered fo r the A rm ed Forces out o f this collection as it grew.