Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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11
Jew ish Love o f Books
people in the Second Expulsion, from Portugal. I therefore abandoned all my
books, and determined to take with me to Lisbon (the port o f embarkation)
only the commentary I had composed on the Pentateuch and the commentary
on the Five Scrolls, and a commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers, and the
work Hibbur ha-Kasefthat I had composed in my youth. When I arrived in Lis­
bon, certain Jews came and told me that a proclamation had been issued, that
any person in whose possession a Hebrew book was found should be put to
death. Forthwith I went and concealed them beneath a certain olive tree, ver­
dant and fruitful, but in my eyes bitter as wormwood: and I called it the Tree
of Weeping, for there I had buried all that I held most dear. For my commen­
taries on the Pentateuch and the Precepts were precious to me more than gold
and treasure. Therewith, indeed, I had comforted myself for my two sons, the
very walls o f my heart, who had been seized by force and baptized: and I saw
them no more, for immediately they were thrown into prison. Therefore I said
o f my books, “Surely these are better for me than sons and daughters.” So I re­
mained there for nearly six months, until through the merits o f my forefathers
God enabled me to reach Fez, where I determined to restore the Chaplet and
to attempt to recall a little at least o f what was written in my books.
The reading of this text is doubtful, and it seems that there is
some scribal confusion. The translation should perhaps run: “and
I saw my books no more, for immediately afterwards they threw
me into prison.”
A NEW YEAR HOLOCAUST
My second instance is slightly later than this. In the autumn of
1553, in consequence of the slanders of a couple of spiteful apos­
tates, a search was made in the houses of all the Jews of Rome, and
all copies of the Talmud and subsidiary works were seized. Shortly
after, the New Year’s day, Rosh Hashanah, the great solemnity of
the Jewish religious year, was chosen by the arch-persecutors to
commit these treasures of the Jewish spirit to the flames; and they
were burned by the common executioner on the Campo dei Fiori
at Rome. The example was followed all over Italy with a ridiculous
lack of discrimination, copies of the Bible itself suffering because