The Lost Hebrew Manuscripts Hidden in Christian Books

Dec. 28 2022

In the 16th and 17th centuries, bookbinders, printers, and notaries routinely used pages from discarded manuscripts to cover documents or to make bindings for new books. This procedure has led to the preservation of thousands of fragments of Jewish books and historical documents—which Simcha Emmanuel dubs the “European Genizah” by analogy to the trove of discarded manuscripts discovered in a Cairo synagogue. Although these fragments are sometimes found in Hebrew works, more often than not they are found in Gentile ones.

How did hundreds and thousands of Hebrew manuscripts come into the possession of Christian bookbinders? Rabbi Joseph Yuspa Hahn Nordlingen [1570–1637] writes: “most of the parchment books common nowadays came into Christian hands during persecutions.” A more explicit account is found in . . . a description of the pogrom against the Jews of Frankfurt in the year 1614. The author, an eyewitness to the pogrom, reports acts of plunder and clearly distinguishes between the fate of printed books—which were sentenced to destruction—and that of parchment manuscripts which were sold to the bookbinders.

This writer’s words are corroborated in full by non-Jewish sources, and documentation from Frankfurt in those years records, in detail, that many Hebrew manuscripts were stolen from the city’s Jews during the pogrom and sold to bookbinders.

In Jewish society as well, starting in the 16th century, printed editions began to replace manuscripts on bookshelves, and manuscripts whose time had come were pushed to the margins. It is therefore possible that due to the major decline in the value of manuscripts, some members of the Jewish community voluntarily sold the valuable parchment pages of their manuscripts to bookbinders of their own free will, as was the custom among their Christian neighbors.

While scholars have been aware of these scattered fragments for over a century only in recent years have they made progress in mining them, piecing together medieval rabbinic works that were long thought lost—among other discoveries.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish history, Manuscripts, Rare books


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan