Over the course of his life, Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736) collected thousands of books, manuscripts, and documents, which the historian Joshua Teplitsky has called “history’s most enduring and remarkable Jewish library.” Reviewing Prince of the Press, Teplitsky’s recent book about Oppenheim’s collection, Rachel L. Greenblatt writes:
[This] was an era of private libraries, collected by princes and nobles, and Oppenheim was Jewish nobility. He was born to a wealthy, learned merchant family in Worms, Germany, the heart of Central Europe’s Jewish settlement from medieval times. He chose to pursue the rabbinate, a career that culminated in Prague, where he presided as chief rabbi during the last twenty years of his life. His close family circles included leading “court Jews,” financiers whose proximity to the rulers of German principalities propelled them to great influence in their own communities as well. . . .
This combination of Judaic erudition, wealth, and extensive social and rabbinic networks perfectly positioned Oppenheim to buy expensive books, an activity he had already begun in earnest by his late teens. He purchased from local sellers, bought up small collections, had books sent to him, received them as gifts, and commissioned manuscript copies. As he gained influence, his contemporaries would offer him books in return for contacts or favors.
From 1703 on, Oppenheim housed his collection in Hanover, Germany, far from Prague, where censorship and Talmud-burnings threatened. . . . Among the thought-provoking gems of Prince of the Press is Teplitsky’s observation that, while away from his collection, Oppenheim carried a codex catalog with him, a list that functioned in some sense as a virtual replication of its contents. . . .
Once collected, books and their contents also traveled outward—scholars visited to consult them in situ, used them as sources of legal precedent and interpretation for rabbinic courts, or discussed them in correspondence. Printing houses published some of the manuscripts, distributing them ever more widely.
After Oppenheim’s death, the collection remained in his family until 1829, when it was acquired by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where it remains to this day.