Page 119 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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manuscripts’ return to Jewish hands, was given space to present
his view.
It is perhaps significant to note that Umberto D. Cassuto,
former chief rabbi of Florence and head of the rabbinical sem­
inary there, a historian and noted scholar who served as a pro­
fessor of Bible at the Hebrew University until his death in 1951,
did extensive research at the Vatican Library, cataloguing in
detail over one hundred individual manuscripts, and studying
the provenance of one major collection, the Palatine. Nowhere
in his writings on these subjects (which were published by the
Vatican Library) or in any statement, written or printed, after
he left Italy, did Cassuto ever criticize or take issue with the
Vatican Library’s possession of these Hebrew manuscripts.
The collection of Hebrew manuscripts at the Vatican Library
contains a number of significant items. One of the more famous
is Vat. ebr. 66, a manuscript of
Sifra,
a rabbinic commentary
on Leviticus, considered to be one of the oldest extant manu­
scripts — if not the oldest — of rabbinic literature. Especially
interesting is its Babylonian vocalization, which has the vowel
signs above the letters, rather than the Tiberian which we use
today, in which the vowels are largely written below. It has been
dated to the eighth century, although some scholars maintain
that it dates from the ninth or tenth century. Regardless, it
is, nevertheless, unique.
Manuscript Vat. ebr. 35 is the commentary on the Pentateuch
by Levi ben Gershom. Written on paper and in red and black
ink, on pages which measure over sixteen inches by eleven and
contain fifty lines of writing per page, this manuscript was com­
pleted in 1484 at Villalon, Spain. Umberto Cassuto, in his partial
catalogue of the Vatican Library’s Hebrew manuscripts, indi­
cated that the text of this manuscript differed greatly from that
of the printed edition. To date, however, no one has researched
this manuscript in order to bring out a correct and complete
edition of this major exegetical work.
Similarly, Neofiti 47 is a manuscript of a work based on
Aristotle’s
Oekonomia.
Written on vellum in gold and black ink,
this manuscript was completed in Hita, Spain in 1466. Knowing,
as we do, what a terrible time in history this was for the Jews
of Spain, we can only marvel at them. For such works required
not only diligence on the part of scribes, but wealth to com­