Page 118 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

Basic HTML Version

notwithstanding. It was felt that such an exhibition would do
much to further the good relations between these two American
communities. Another reason was the willingness of the Vatican
Library to lend, for the first time, their Hebrew manuscripts
for a popular, public exhibition.
Jewish scholars and Hebraica specialists had known for over
a century of the Vatican Library’s treasures. Indeed, after
World War II, the Vatican Library, being aware of the peril
global warfare presented to libraries, was among the first to
microfilm its entire manuscript collection for security purposes.
An immediate result was that its manuscript collection became
available to scholars on microfilm, a boon for those who could
not otherwise travel to Rome in order to consult it. Since the
Vatican Library is a very exclusive institution and restrictive with
regard to whom it admits, this exhibition would make these
treasures available to lay people and non-specialists, people who
otherwise would never have the opportunity of seeing them.
There were, however, those in the Jewish community who
demanded to know the source of these manuscripts and how
they came to be in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.
Some were convinced that the manuscripts had to be booty con­
fiscated from their Jewish owners who were doubtlessly mar­
tyred for the faith, broken on the rack or burnt at the stake.
To such people, the Vatican had absolutely no right to possess
any Hebrew manuscripts, and a cry went up demanding their
There is insufficient space to go into the complex matter of
provenance of the Hebrew manuscripts at the Vatican Library.
Suffice it to say that this writer wrote a popular article on this
subject which appeared in the November 1988 issue of
magazine. (I note here for the record that the article’s title,
“Theirs or Ours,” was not mine, for I personally do not see
this as the primary issue. Rather, the title was assigned by the
magazine’s editorial staff, perhaps in an effort to create or per­
petuate controversy, which, after all, is what sells magazines.)
In a subsequent issue of that magazine, Dr. Manfred Lehmann,
the self-appointed head of the effort which demanded the