Page 20 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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they happened to be printed in the sacred tongue. Hear, now, the
words of an eyewitness taken from the introduction to R. Judah
Lehem Jehudah
(Sabionetta, 1554):
This work o f mine I published for the first time in Venice. Now on the New
Year’s Day of the year “For God hath dealt bitterly with me” (that is, 1553) the
Curia o f Rome issued an edict in all the countries that owed it obedience and
they burned the Talmud and all works allied thereto. In the month o f Mar-
heshvan, the Bitter Month, the edict was published in Venice and they burned
the Talmud and all like works on a Sabbath day, and among them were all the
copies o f my book which I had just printed, 1,500 volumes in all. Thus I lost
everything that I had in Venice and I did not have even so much as a single leaf
either from the original or from the printed work as a remembrance. So I was
forced to begin all over again and to write it from memory from the very com­
mencement. After I had written three chapters anew, I found one single copy
o f the printed work in the hands of a non-Jew who had snatched it from the
blaze, and I purchased it at a very high price; and I found that by the providence
o f God I had made the second copy more complete than the first.
A work which represents so vast a sum of human suffering, over
which a man labored and wept and yet, undaunted, labored again,
surely acquires a sanctity of its own. The literature that was the ob­
ject of these persecutions must be sacred for all time among the de­
scendants of those who fought to produce it, and had to fight again
to save it. That today it can be treated with neglect or contempt
passes human understanding.
The Jewish love of books is demonstrated time after time in the
old literature. In the most unexpected sources, one finds quaint il­
lustrations of book-lore, sometimes curiously in advance of their
age. It is worth while to assemble a few instances. Let us begin with
a charming instance from Hai Gaon. In his
Musar ha-Sekhel
, a
rhymed ethical treatise consisting of counsel for guidance in life
(“Advice to a Young Man,” we would call it today), we find (§§32-