Page 95 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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MICHAEL POLLAK
Dealing with Jewish Libraries -
Mainly from Afar
I
h a v e
n o
mag ic
form ula
for calculating the number of titles
contained in the catalogues of the world’s great libraries that may
reasonably be classified under the heading of Judaica; but taken
as a percentage of the whole, the figure must surely be a dozen or
more times larger than our low demographic ranking would
suggest. This imbalance is attributable, I suppose, not only to our
own historic passion for resorting to script and print at the
slightest provocation, but also to the disproportionate frequency
with which non-Jewish writers have chosen to cast us as the
dramatis personae of their particular literary endeavors.
While it is obviously gratifying to have so rich a bookish heri­
tage to draw upon, that same heritage, by virtue of its sheer bulk
and diversity, is apt to pose an assortment of logistical problems to
those of us who for one reason or another feel called upon to
probe into its more obscure components but are not fortunate
enough to live within striking distance of a really first-class Jewish
library. In most medium-sized and large urban centers through­
out the United States, it is true, the general reader can ordinarily
expect to find all or nearly all the Judaica titles he will ever need.
For the displaced specialist in the field, on the other hand, the task
of bringing together the source materials he requires can become
formidable. Similarly dispersed explorers of the arcane byways of
other cultural disciplines may expect to face comparable difficul­
ties, of course, but for those who are engaged from afar in
detailed Judaica investigations that prospect is almost never ab­
sent. A single illustration will suffice: at least one public or aca­
demic library in each of the hundred most populous cities of the
country will probably own the works of the leading Christian
thinkers of the patristic or scholastic eras; how many of these
same institutions, by contrast, will have the writings of a Saadia
Gaon, a Nahmanides, or a David Kimhi on their shelves?
In the late 1960s, having developed an active interest in the
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