Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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evening when the ghetto gates closed them off from association
with the outside world.
In consequence, the Jew was, from early times, book-conscious.
He copied books. He owned books. He patronized literature. He
was interested in intellectual life and productions and movements.
Thus, even in the most soul-destroying period of oppression, it
might be assumed that almost every ghetto Jew, however humble
his circumstances and however lowly his calling, was likely to have
his modest library. A book was not to him, as to his neighbor, an
object of veneration, of mystery, of distrust. It was a sheer necessity
of everyday life.
We Jews, above all people, venerate the memory of our martyrs.
But even among our martyrs the highest place is held by our liter­
ature. If anything excels the brutality with which Jews were treated
during past ages, it is the brutality with which their literature was
tracked down, condemned, burned, destroyed. From the thir­
teenth century down to the nineteenth, censors, ecclesiastical and
lay, devoted their hateful attention to every work printed with He­
brew characters or dealing with Jews. From 1240 onwards, there
was a long series of autos-da-fe, in which Jewish literature was the
victim. There were periods when it was a crime for a man to pos­
sess any Jewish book whatsoever, excepting the Bible and censored
editions of the prayer book; and sometimes even these reservations
were overlooked. Down to the close of the eighteenth century,
there were frequent searches in ghetto after ghetto, and the few
volumes that, is spite of everything, the Jewish householder had
been able to bring together were dragged out, submitted to ruth­
less examination, and in the end committed to the pyre. These ho­
locausts were mourned by the Jews no less bitterly than the loss of
their own kith and kin; for they realized that here it was the soul
and not the body that was imperilled. This long persecution is
largely responsible for the fact that so many Hebrew books once
known to exist are now lost, that Hebrew incunabula (that is, works
printed before 1500) are so few that the complete text of the Tal­
mud, for example, is preserved in only one single ancient manu­
script. Yet such was the tenacity of our fathers that more than this
Jew ish Love o f Books