Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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As great merit is attached to the lending of books, it might be
imagined that a man acquires vicarious righteousness by borrow­
ing them, purchase being thus a superfluous extravagance. But this
is by no means the case. A Spanish Rabbi, who lived a century be­
fore Christopher Columbus discovered America, deals with this
question trenchantly. R. Judah Campanton, in his introduction to
the Talmud (C.E. 1400), wrote:
O f a truth, a man’s wisdom goes only as far as his books go. Therefore, one
should sell all he possesses and buy books; for, as the sages put it: “He who in­
creases books increases wisdom.”
Rashi, o f blessed memory, speaks to the same effect in interpreting the in­
junction of the Rabbis: “Acquire thyself a companion.” Some read, according
to him: “Acquire thyself a book”; for a book is the best o f all companions. If a
man reads only borrowed books, he is thus in the category o f those o f whom
the Bible speaks: “And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee” (Deuteronomy,
xxviii, 66).
But the prince of medieval Jewish book-lovers was Judah ibn
Tibbon, the great scholar, grammarian, and translator, who lived
in Provence in the thirteenth century. His will, in the form of last
injunctions to his son, deals to a large degree with the treatment of
his library. It is worthwhile to quote one or two passages
in extenso
from the translation by Israel Abrahams:
My son! Make thy books thy companions, let thy book-cases and shelves be
thy pleasure grounds and gardens. Bask in their paradise, gather their fruit,
pluck their roses, take their spices and their myrrh. If thy soul be satiate and
weary, change from garden to garden, from furrow to furrow, from prospect to
prospect. . . .
I have honored thee by providing an extensive library for thy use, and have
thus relieved thee o f the necessity to borrow books. Most students must busde
about to seek books, often without finding them. But thou, thanks be to God,
lendest and borrowest not. O f many books, indeed, thou ownest two or three
copies . . . .
Examine thy Hebrew books at every New Moon, the Arabic volumes once
Jew ish Love o f Books