It will probably come as no surprise to faithful readers of this blog that I have fallen in love again. My newest historical boyfriend is Thomas H. Jones, an African American soldier in the 4407th Quartermasters Service Company who served in Europe during World War II. We know, from plenty of evidence, that African Americans were not treated fabulously during this time period, despite fighting for their country. However, based only upon the two scrapbooks Jones created, one would never know that this was the case–and that is because Jones seems to have looked at the world through gloriously rosy glasses. His sense of humor is omnipresent.
It seems that one way he kept his spirits up was through a solid appreciation of the ladies. He seems to have made friends everywhere he went and he requested letters and photographs from all the lovely ladies he met.
William Steig is best known as a writer/illustrator of children’s books—or, if you’re younger than forty, as the inspiration for the DreamWorks animated film Shrek. But Steig didn’t begin writing books for younger readers until he was sixty-one. For much of his career he was most well-known as a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, where his cartoons and covers combined a satirical view of American life with an immediately identifiable visual style: loose, ragged lines shaded with watercolor and attached to pithy, sardonic captions, as if a drawing on a cocktail napkin somehow majored in philosophy.
Joseph Castaldo (1927-2000) was a composer of classical music and a teacher of music theory and composition. He was a talented musician, but at the very early age of 11, he had begun to compose his own pieces and after he returned to the United States after a stint in the United States Army Band at the end of World War II, he had determined to focus on composition. In addition to his compositions, he is known for his service to the institution that became the University of the Arts.
The bulk of Castaldo’s collection consists of scores to his compositions. I am not a musician, but Kislak has a number of pretty extraordinary music collections and I have seen my fair share of scores. However, as I was foldering away, I came across a score that looked positively different. I went to my colleague, Sam Sfirri, who IS a musician; and he gave my colleague and me a quick tutorial on “graphic scores,” a moment the three of us, in our nearly empty Covid office, remember as a return to our more typical collegial collaboration at work. Continue reading →
In the past, when I have studied the Holocaust, my thoughts tended to focus on the people who were murdered and the survivors who witnessed the horror, knew about siblings, parents and kids being murdered, and lived with the memories. I had not really thought the children who were either too young to remember or who were born after 1945, but were raised by people who were fundamentally altered by their experiences.
Irene Eber was a survivor and she definitely was a witness to the horror. At the start of World War II, she was nine years old and living in Mielec, Poland. Over the next six years, this kid was sent to a camp, escaped, and hid in the chicken coop of a sympathetic Polish family for two years. When the war was over, she reunited with her mother and sister, emigrated to the United States, earned an education and became a respected scholar/professor of Chinese intellectual history and the Jewish community in China. She is the definition of a success story.
Front pastedown of the Kislak Center’s copy of “Problematum Aristotelis Sectiones Duaequadraginta : Problematum Alexandri Aphrodisiei Libri Duo” (1537) with manuscript Italian lute tablature (ca. 1600?). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.
The use of manuscript waste in bindings has been a delight to me ever since I first encountered it. As a print cataloger, my professional commerce with manuscripts is largely limited to these fragments, but fortunately the Kislak Center’s Incunable Collection and Culture Class Collection have put more than a few instances of such waste in my way. Seven times out of ten or so, it comes from liturgical books; twice out of ten from theological or canon law texts; and very occasionally from something else: a Greek grammar, a Latin medical text, a German legal document. One of my favorites, however, is the leaf of lute tablature pictured above, which has been incorporated into the binding of a sixteenth-century science book—a favorite not least because after it was identified for me by Dr. Arthur J. Ness, I was able to record the music it transcribes for this blog post. Continue reading →
The Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Center at the University of Pennsylvania is the 2nd oldest LGBTQ+ center in the United States … Gays at Penn formed in the 1970s and not too long after, became Lesbians and Gays at Penn (LGAP). In 1982, following some really awful homophobic events on campus, the University hired Bob Schoenberg, a Philadelphia social worker (and Penn grad) to serve as an advisor to the LGBTQ+ community. If I have learned anything from processing the 22 boxes of LGBT Center records, it is that Bob Schoenberg shaped and sustained the LGBTQ+ community on campus (and dare I say, a much larger community) for more than 35 years until his retirement in 2017. I am not saying he did it alone, as I hope, very much that this blog post will show; but he was a driving force behind a supportive and judgment free Center, for which Penn can be very proud.
Today, I am going to talk about just a tiny portion of this incredibly important collection–in fact I am going to talk about only 4 folders worth of material … the office logs that Lesbians and Gays at Penn (LGAP) kept as they staffed the phones of the office and provided support to the campus community. Their log, entitled “Journal of Oddity, Frivolity, and Strange–But–True Facts OR The Dish Log,” is a delightful combination of reporting, discussion, and gossip. Whoever started the first Dish Log, seemed to anticipate the range of topics that might arise, stating, “Please record any business calls or visitors and/or events of import to LGAP. Please feel free to enlighten us all, but please, don’t get carried away.” Over the years, the type of reporting varied, just as the writers’ (some of whom did get carried away) personalities and sass varied. But I can tell you a few things … the original office was messy! And it frequently smelled terrible! And everyone was really excited when someone collected the trash! Someone always took the key home and others could not get into the office without help! And there was a piano outside the the office, and there were many occasions when “a mercilessly dreadful piano player be[gan] a concert!” And more seriously, there were a lot of phone calls and comments which were ignorant or hurtful. The staff seemed to take these in stride (which is perhaps the saddest statement of all) and handled them with grace.
Today, in my admittedly liberal and academic bubble, the LGBTQ+ community is simply part of my world; but I am not naive enough to think that that is the case everywhere and this collection shows that even liberal and academic bubbles are not always particularly accepting. The number of acronyms in this collection is a bit overwhelming, and in part that is because the acronyms evolved over time as conceptions about the community developed and evolved. Gays at Penns became Lesbians and Gays at Penn; the LGB Center became the LGBT Center, etc. In September of 1985, for example, LGAP loggers discussed the addition of “Lesbian” to flyers that were just printed. Is “lesbian” a noun or an adjective? When the conversation in the Dish Log began, it was about the awkwardness of the language. It ended, however, with a much more philosophical discussion where a logger states, “To many, many people, ‘gay’ means only ‘gay men.’ It’s the ways lesbians are assumed not to exist.”
In 1986, one student (whose writing is incredibly easy to read; and yet their signature is illegible), finished the year with an A-Z list of what LGAP meant to them. Perhaps more than any other document in the collection, this entry allows 21st century readers to step into the shoes of an LGAP-er in the turbulent years of the 1980s. In an article in Penn Gazette, a student described Penn in the 1980s as “a very, very hard place to be gay … a place many of us felt physically and emotionally unsafe” (Penn Gazette). LGAP was a place (a physical place [the smelly, messy, dreadful piano concert-y office] and a community) where students could be safe. And I am not saying that this was a perfect organization–there was some fairly snarky gossip, the group frequently talks about the bureaucracy of too many meetings, etc., but all in all, the A-Z student perhaps sums it up best with, “Y and Z are to be left blank–we have much to accomplish before the end. For all our work, we are incomplete.”
I find this “wanted” broadside from the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, very interesting. The broadside provides information about an illicit diamond dealer named Isaac Joel and was put forth by John Fry, the Chief of the Detective Department of Griqualand West, Kimberley, South Africa on March 10, 1884. Along with his photograph, the broadside provides quite a detailed description of Joel’s physical appearance, including the facts that he walked with one hand in his trouser pocket, appeared to have a stiff leg, and that he was an English Jew. The specifics of his intended route of escape from Australia to New York via South Africa and San Francisco are also included in the description. To me, that begs the question of whether someone close to Joel informed on him to the authorities.
The broadside also requests that anyone who sees him land in San Francisco contact the San Francisco police force, suggesting that there was some kind of agreement between the authorities in both countries to work on this case together. Unfortunately, I have not found further records regarding Isaac Joel’s case or if he managed to evade capture. However, this little glimpse into the life of an illicit diamond dealer, and the many questions it leaves unanswered, is intriguing and provides hints at the relationship and cooperation between international law enforcement entities in the late 19th century.
The Abraham J. and Deborah Karp Collection of Judaica at the Penn Libraries is in part a collection of manuscripts and pamphlets collected by the late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Jacob Karp (1921-2003).
Upon cataloging multiple items of manuscript ephemera from the collection, one item caught my eye – something very uncommon. What I mean by this is that there is no real comparable equivalent to this manuscript that I have seen in other collections or in Judaica auctions.
I will briefly introduce the Wayfarer’s Prayer. This prayer is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (which quotes it from an earlier source) instructing that one should silently recite a prayer upon leaving a city border while traveling. The text of the prayer translated into English is as follows (translation by Sefaria.org; brackets are mine, as only the Ashkenazic custom recites the final blessing):
May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, support our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination, for life, joy, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. [Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer.]
Printer’s device of Nikolas Brylinger (“Basler Büchermarken” no. 171 (IV)) from title leaf of Agostino Steuco’s “De Perenni Philosophia Libri X” (1542). Courtesy Provenance Online Project.
Lions are primarily pursuit predators, although “ambush behaviour has been observed … mainly during daylight when stalking prey is more difficult” (“Predatory Behaviour”). I presume this accounts for the way three more books from the press of sixteenth-century Swiss printer Nikolas Brylinger—he of the clock-watching lions—leapt out at me from the Kislak Center’s holdings after I had finished my post on his career. Two of his textbooks were hiding under Dewey Decimal call numbers: a 1553 edition of Thomas Linacre’s De Emendata Structura Latini Sermonis Libri VI (475.3 L63a) and a 1545 edition of Theodōros Gazēs’s introductory Greek grammar (485 G259), the latter presented to the Penn Libraries by University alumnus, faculty member, and prolific donor Dr. Charles Walts Burr (1861-1944).¹ The third volume lurking in the stacks is a 1542 edition of humanist Agostino Steuco‘s De Perenni Philosophia Libri X (B785.S8 A3 1542), an attempt to reconcile classical philosophy with Christian doctrine and one of three titles Brylinger printed with Sebastian Franck. This book contains two different versions of Brylinger’s device, one on the title leaf (shown above) and one on the verso of the last printed leaf; they are also the earliest examples of his lion logo in the Kislak Center’s holdings, predating the one in Brylinger’s Xenophontis Philosophi ac Historici Excellentissimi Opera (1545) I identified in my previous post. Adding to its interest, the Kislak Center’s copy of De Perenni Philosophia came to Penn by a decidedly circuitous route: it contains marks of provenance identifying six former owners across three centuries, all of them traceable.
This volume was formerly in the rare book collection of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Cape Town and donated to the Penn Libraries in 2019.
There was a major figure in the world of rabbinic leaders of the Ashkenazic Jews – R. Aryeh-Leib Günzburg of Metz. He lived ca. 1694 – 1785. Although he lived on the eastern front of the fading Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for most of his years, the rabbinate he was known for was more famously that of Metz, which is close to the northern border of France near Germany. His novellae (novellae in the context of Talmudic and Halakhic writings are theoretical and practical dissertations on the minutiae of conceptual Talmudic writings, in contrast to Hidushe halakha or hidushe dinim, which are legal and practical sets of opinions and writings) – are considered to be among the highest achievements of Talmudic genius; fore-mostly with his publication of his responsa, Sha’agat Aryeh in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1755; Ṭure even, on tractates of the Talmud, Metz 1781. His other writings were published posthumously.
During the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it was common for distinguished rabbis to originate in Eastern Europe and move westward into Germany or to distinguished rabbinates in Bohemia or Moravia. R. Günzberg is one such example, serving the extremely important rabbinate in Metz; other examples are like that of R. Joseph Teomim originating in Lemberg, to Berlin, and afterward Frankfurt an der Oder; R. Jacob Reischer originating in Rzeszow, Poland, going to the rabbinates of Worms and Metz; R. Ezekiel Landau from Poland to Prague, and R. Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, originally from today’s Lithuania, assuming the rabbinate of Altona, Germany.
Aside from the obvious economic considerations of this fact, there is also very important intellectual consequences that came from this. Talmudic and Halakhic novellae – which during the middle ages seldom moved at this volume, accuracy and adaptivity – spread with ease during the 18th century. One of the books in the Cape Town Holocaust Collection shows this point precisely.
Turning to the volume at hand; Ḳorban reshit, by R. Judah-Loeb Margoliot (Zboriv, Ukraine, 1747 – Frankfurt A.d. Oder 1811) we find one such great work of Talmudic novellae, on the tractate Rosh ha-shanah, authored by an Ashkenazic rabbi from Eastern Europe who made his way west. Early in his career, he headed yeshivot in the towns in Poland where he lived and worked. The manuscript writing in our volume of his novellae, published in Frankfurt an de Oder in 1777 show the detail of his studies in the halakha (Jewish law) and the spread of his teaching among yeshivah students.
R. Margolioth was a rabbi in a number of Polish towns, but he is best known for having served as a Resh Metivta (head of Yeshivah) in Kopyczyńce (קאפשיניץ, also called Kopychyntsi, located on the Ukrainian border near Poland in the Tarnopol area); this biographical fact is an important clue that informs our discovery. Although this was a small town, the practice of the yeshivot at the time was for students to travel to study with famous talmudists even if the yeshivah where the scholar taught lacked a formal educational system (in contrast to what was often found in a large city with curricula). The purpose of such travel was to learn and develop under the tutelage of an eminent scholar, and R. Margolioth was one such figure to whom students flocked.
Our volume in the Kislak Rare Book Collection is specially inscribed with manuscript notes covering both sides of the endpapers. The Hebrew scribal hand is Polish-Lithuanian in style, typical of an Talmud scholar also with eastern European influence. The page layout consists entirely of one continuous disquisition (i.e., the text is not formatted in paragraphs). It addresses a single topic in one lengthy note.
The line begins: מה שהקשה הגאון המחבר רשכב”ה בעל ש”א זצ”ל – ‘[the following is] that which the prolific author [of this volume] asks [from] the rabbi of all of the [Ashkenazic] diaspora, the author of Sh.[a’agat] A.[ryeh], of blessed memory”. The manuscript then proceeds to answer at length a complex question that was initially raised by R. Günzburg in his work Ture even.
We don’t know when exactly this note was written but sometime after its composition, we find this volume, originally printed in Frankfurt, shows signs of having traveled east to Poland and subsequently Russia. One such sign is a common stamp in Russian made by a censor working under the command of the Czar.
This appears to have been written from an oral retelling (possibly a witness retelling). The script is careful and precise.
After his death, the Sha’agat Aryeh gained the reputation of being the greatest expounder and thinker of the Talmud of his day, and possibly the greatest “head of yeshivah” of the past few (how many? since the time of the rishonim?) centuries; for example, the extended title statement for the Brno edition of the Sha’agat Aryeh (the first edition postdating his death) states that “he is named, among all, as Rabbi Löb, Rosh Yeshivah”. This honorific is recorded in many biographies of him. The notes in our volume attest to R. Margolioth having a significant place in the widespread study of the work of Sha’agat Aryeh. Moreover, we elsewhere have documentary evidence of a living connection between the two scholars. The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book records a rare variant printing on the verso of the title page of the first edition of the Sha’agat Aryeh (Frankfurt an der Oder, J.D. Grillo, 1755-6) which mentions a written correspondence between R. Gunzberg and R. Margolioth (BHB, no. 000116993)!
In sum, we see from our copy the author having moved from eastern Europe to the west; we also find him moving again via the agency of the halakhic work he published and the notes someone, perhaps a student of his, inscribed on it traveling from Germany back into Poland and/or Russia. We also find two parallel lives of two famous Resh Metivtot (heads of Yeshiva) who originated in the east of Europe, who moved to prominent rabbinates in western Europe, and who published their Talmudic novella in the west, and who later gained even greater prominence in the east. Although the title and position of the western rabbinate was quite different than that of a Resh Metivta in eastern Europe, the eastern style of learning persisted, was published, and circulated in the west and found its way back east during this period of history.