- Nathanja Hüttenmeister
From the bookshelves of a Franconian rabbi c. 1600
That the rabbis and scholars in the major religious centers of the Early Modern period were learned men is well known. We know many of their works, and we know the titles and editions of the first books printed in Hebrew; but we know far less about the learning of individual rabbis in small – sometimes tiny – rural Jewish communities, who left no important writings. Against this background, the turbulence arising from a family dispute provides us with a rare insight into the library of a Franconian rabbi around 1600.
In the early 17th century, the Mid-Franconian town of Pappenheim had a small but long-established Jewish community affiliated to the rural communities of the Altmühl Valley. Upon the death of Rabbi Samuel in 1607, his son Hirschlein, at the time a student at a Frankfurt yeshiva, returned to Pappenheim. In 1611, however, he converted to Christianity – probably as the result of a longstanding family quarrel – and took the name Veit Heinrich.
Hirsch had probably been destined to follow his father Shmuel in a scholarly career and had evidently inherited his extensive religious library. After his conversion, a list of these books was drawn up in Latin script, and the books were valued and presented to a Christian “scholar of the Holy Scriptures” who wanted to purchase some of them. He, however, was dissatisfied with the findings of the valuer, whom he accused of “blindness,” saying that he was unfamiliar with some of the titles on the list, others were wrongly described, and yet others misspelled.
As well as such standard works as the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Mishnayot, midrashim, and prayer books, the list includes biblical interpretations, halakha, dictionaries and grammars, moral literature, philosophy, and cabala, as well as the Sefer Hassidim and collections of responsa. The following paragraphs classify and explain – as far as possible – the titles of these works, whose geographical and thematic variety and temporal range is astonishing.
Bavarian State Archives, Nuremberg (Domain of Pappenheim, file no. 4692 (“smaller Jewish holdings”), 11.12.1611; Repro: Bavarian State Archives, Nuremberg
Transcription of book-list and identification of works concerned
© Nathanja Hüttenmeister
A Jewish scholar‘s library
The list contains 59 titles, not all of which can be identified with certainty. Three titles note where they were printed – Basel, Venice and Cracow. Most (or all) the other works are probably hand-copied manuscripts, as was usual at that time.
The list opens with by far the most comprehensive as well as expensive work in the collection, valued at more than 250 imperial thaler, a 13-volume Babylonian Talmud (1) printed in Basel in 1578-1581. Next come Talmudic Mishnayot (10), collections of Mishnaic texts. These are followed by Ein Yaakov (17), a classical compendium of aggadah (non-legal aspects) of the Babylonian Talmud by the Spanish scholar Jacob ben Solomon Ibn Habib (1445-1515 Thessaloniki). This is followed by a quarto edition of the Chochmat Shlomo (33), glosses on the Talmud (dated 1582 or 1587) by Solomon Luria (d. 1583 Lublin).
Also listed are two small editions of the Bible (12, 40), a two-volume commentary on the Prophets (2), and a series of biblical commentaries. These include Torat Adonai Temima (5) by Nachmanides (aka. Ramban), a 13th century Catalan scholar; Aḳedat Yitzchaḳ (8) by Isaac ben Moses Arama, a 15th century Spanish rabbi; Toldot Yitzchak (45) by the Spanish scholar Isaac Karo (Toledo 1458-1535); and a series of commentaries (23) by Abraham ben Meir ibn Esra, a 12th century Spanish scholar. Attributed to various authors, the Yalkut haTorah (15) comprises a collection of early midrashim. Midrash Shemu'el (43) refers either to a midrash on the Books of Samuel or to the commentary by Samuel ben Isaac de Uceda (b. Safed, first third of 16th century) on the Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers).
Religious, philosophical and other works
Chief among the halakhic works are Shulchan Arukh (26) by Joseph Caro (1488-1575 Safed), an authoritative compendium of religious law; and Bet Josef (11), in which Caro expounds the Talmudic foundations of that law. There seem to be two copies of the Book of Mordechai (7, 14), a compilation of the entire Ashkenazi halakha of the previous three centuries named after its author, Mordechai ben Hillel (murdered 1235 in Nuremberg), a pupil of the famous Meir of Rothenburg. Kol Bo (32), a collection of Jewish laws, is the work of an unknown (probably 15th century) author.
Sefer HaHalachot by Isaac Alfasi (Algeria 1013–1103 Lucena, Andalusia) – here known by its short title Alphes (9) – is concerned with the parts of the Babylonian Talmud still in force at that time. Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (13) – the “Great Book of Commandments” – compiled in 1247 by Moses ben Jacob from Coucy in Northern France, explains and comments upon all 613 religious prescriptions and prohibitions. In seven sections in verse form, Amudei haGola (53) – better known as Sefer Mitzvot haKatan (“Small Book of Commandments”) – by Rabbi Isaac ben Joseph (d. 1280) of Corbeil in France, combines halakha with haggadic and ethical elements. Issur veHeter (haAroch) (36) is a detailed treatise on dietary laws by an unknown 14th or 15th century author; a similar treatise, Torat haChatat (44, 55) by Moses Isserles (c. 1525–1572 Cracow), is present in duplicate. Named after its author, Jacob ben Moshe Halevi Molin (MaHaRIL, Mainz 1375–1427 Worms), the Book of Maharil (38) is a detailed description of Ashkenazi customs and rites – also known as Sefer Minhagim (the “Book of Customs”), it is here bound together with Sevach Pessach, a commentary on Passover Haggadah by Isaac Abrabanel (Lisbon 1437–1508 Venice).
Sch’chitot uWedikot (48) by Jacob Weil from Weil (c. 1400) is a handbook for kosher slaughter and inspection. Responsa (She’elot u-Teshubot, questions to and answers by learned authorities) is present in several copies, one with rules for slaughter (48) – probably meant for practical guidance – and another copy with no further qualification (54).
Cabalistic, ethical and philosophical works
The collection contains two copies – printed in Venice 1567 and Cracow 1577 respectively – of Avodat haKodesh (28, 29), a work completed in 1531 by the Spanish Cabalist Meir ben Ezekiel ibn Gabbai. Biur al haTora (52) is a commentary on the Pentateuch by another Spanish Cabalist, Bahya ben Asher (d. 1340 Saragossa). Reshit Chochmah (46) and Toz’ot Chajim (59) by Eliyahu de Vidas (1518–1587, Hebron) are works of morality and ethics. Menorat haMaor (4) by Isaac I. Aboab (Spain, c. 1300) is a popular-style compendium of Talmudic ethics with an introduction (hactomo) by the author. Seder haJom (20) by Moshe ben Machir from Safed (16th century), a halakhic-cabalistic description of and commentary on devotional practices, was first printed in 1599 in Venice, which makes it one of the most recent works in Rabbi Samuel’s library.
The titles Rabbenu Bahay (16) and Chaues Haluoves (37) could both refer to Chowot haLewawot (Duties of the Heart), the major work of Bahya ben Joseph ibn Pakuda. The first important treatise on Jewish ethics (dated c. 1080), it was translated from Arabic into Hebrew by Yehuda Ibn Tibbon in 1161.
Chufo – on repentance (Part I) (6) could refer to one volume of a three-part ethical treatise, the major work of the Catalan scholar Jonah ben Abraham Girondi (d. 1264). Ta’amei haMitzvot (39), by the (13th–14th century) Italian Cabalist Menachem ben Benjamin Recanati, is evidently bound together here with the Sefer Hasidim of Judah ben Samuel (“the pious,” d. 1217 Regensburg) and with Brachot (blessings).
Among the philosophical works is the Torat haOla (30) of Moses Isserles (1525–1572 Cracow), a profound explanation of the significance of the Temple in Jerusalem and its rites. Neveh Shalom (51) is a philosophical and theological treatise by the Catalan scholar Abraham ben Isaac Shalom (d. 1492) on the fundamental principles of Judaism. Ohel Ya’akov is a commentary by Jacob ben Samuel Koppelman (Freiburg, 1584), first printed in Freiburg in 1584, on the Sefer haIkkarim of the Spanish religious philosopher Joseph Albo (c. 1380 – c. 1444). Ruach Chen (41) is a general introduction to science, here (as also e.g. in the Venice printing of 1549) with a commentary (perush) – the work is falsely ascribed to the great Spanish translator Yehuda Ibn Tibbon (Granada 1120–1190 Marseilles).
Several titles cannot be clearly ascribed. Mekor Chaim (31) could refer to the late 14th century explications by the Spanish philosopher Shmuel Ibn Zarza of Ibn Esra’s Bible commentaries, or (more probably) to the main work of the 11th century Spanish philosopher Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol (aka. Avicebron). Likewise the works Choschen haMishpat (18) and Orach Chajim (19) are two parts of either the Schulchan Aruch of Josef Karo or the Arba’ah Turim of Jacob ben Asher (Cologne 1283–1340 Toledo), whose division of the Schulchan Aruch Josef Karo follows. Sephra Hagota (24) could refer to Sefer Hagada: i.e. the Passover Haggadah. Three Tefillot – prayers or prayer books (35, 49, 50) – are listed. Finally, item no. (3) may refer to a haskama: the approbation (imprimatur) of a rabbinic scholar on a religious work.
Rabbi Samuel was evidently also profoundly interested in Hebrew. His library contained the Sefer ha-shorashim (25), a dictionary by the grammarian and exegete David Kimchi (1160–1235 Narbonne), as well as a Hebrew grammar Dikduk (56). A further entry, Sepher Dikodim (47), might refer to another grammatical work, Sefer Dikdukim.
The list of Rabbi Shmuel’s books testifies to the breadth and solidity of his learning. It contains not only the standard works of medieval scholarship, but also contemporary works and books on philosophy, language, and science, as well as religion. It demonstrates that Jewish learning in the early 17th century was not confined to the major centers: it penetrated to the smallest rural communities of (in this instance) contemporary Franconia.
Nathanja Hüttenmeister is a researcher at the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim Institute in Essen where she specializes in epigraphy and memo-books.