Page 96 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
history of printing, the craft on which my livelihood depends, I
began to write a series of studies dealing with the technological
and economic aspects of wooden-press printing — virtually the
only kind of printing that was done in the western world from the
time of Gutenberg until the opening decade of the nineteenth
century. The reading I did in the courst of preparing these
studies made me acutely aware of the prominent role played by
Jewish artisans and entrepreneurs in the growth and diffusion of
the craft. As a consequence, I soon found myself in pursuit of
whatever scholarly literature could be had on the beginnings of
Hebrew typography — and this, I should point out, from my
home city of Dallas, whose libraries, it need scarcely be said, are
not notably overladen with materials conducive to this kind of
research. What I needed, plainly enough, was easy access to a
Judaica library that was endowed with bulging card catalogues to
thumb through, endless stacks in which to browse, and a staff that
could be persuaded to let me take full advantage of both its good
nature and its specialized professional skills. Unfortunately, the
nearest institution of this type was hundreds of miles away.
The richest assemblage of Judaica materials in Dallas happens
to be located on the campus of Southern Methodist University —
on the premises, to be precise, of the Perkins School of Theology’s
Bridwell Library. Bridwell, as its grateful patrons know, is justly
celebrated for its outstanding collections of incunabula and other
bibliographical rarities, but its Judaica holdings, excellent though
they may be in so many other respects, were never designed for
the intensive study of Hebrew typographic history. To complicate
matters, I soon became enmeshed in an entirely different branch
of Judaic research, one for which our local resources were even
more inadequate. This came about as the result of a question
Bridwell’s director saw fit to pose to me one day as the two of us
stood in a corner of his library: Could I tell him when and where a
Sefer Torah lying on a nearby table was written? He had acquired
this Torah several years previously, he explained, as part of an
impressive collection of old bibles originally amassed by Mr.
Thomas A. Harrison of Pryor, Oklahoma, and later transferred
to the custody of Bridwell by the terms of Mr. Harrison’s will. This
scroll, he went on, was slightly different in certain physical and
stylistic features from those normally occurring in what, for want
of a better term, might be described as “conventional” Sifrei
Torah.