Examples of Safrut at the Penn Libraries Manuscript Collections, part 1: Polish-Lithuanian and Jerusalemite Safrut

Recently, I cataloged a number of items for the Kislak Center which are examples of historical Safrut, or ritual scribe writing.

A Sofer is a Jewish ritual scribe; Safrut is the ritual writing by a Sofer. Ritual writing follows a strict set of rules and small details will disqualify the item from ritual use.

Disqualified Torah scroll fragments are permitted to be used for study purposes but it is impermissible to recite the texts or the blessings pronounced over the texts in a ritual context. A misspelled word, certain misshapen letters, disorderliness, and even beginning certain columns with the wrong word can sometimes disqualify an entire scroll (more on this later). Maimonides (b. Cordoba 1135 – d. Fustat (Old Cairo) 1204), an eminent medieval Jewish legal authority, writes: “[A Sefer Torah which is] invalid, and does not have the holiness of a Sefer Torah in any way, only that of a bible [text] like any other used to teach schoolchildren” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tefilin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah, chapter 7 law 11).

Continue reading

CAJS Rare Ms 484 – The Tiḳun Ḥatsot of Casale Monferrato

CAJS Rare Ms 484 is part of the Moldovan Family Judaica Collection at Penn Libraries and was gifted to the library in 2018.

There is a custom for Jews to pray at midnight remembering the Temple in Jerusalem; the specific ritual prayer is called Tiḳun Ḥatsot. Tiḳun means “a fixing” literally, while in this context meaning “a composition for”, Ḥatsot, midnight.

Continue reading

CAJS Rare Ms. 485: The Hartmannsweiller Community Record

CAJS Rare Ms. 485 is a manuscript from the Moldovan Family Judaica Collection at the University of Pennsylvania and was presented to the Penn Libraries in 2018.

The title page of the Hartmannsweiler Pinkas. Notice the note under the attribution about the lack of rabbinical position for the village.

Known by the title of Pinkas Hartmansweiller, Cajs Rar Ms 485 is a very special manuscript not only because it shows the number of ways Jewish community life developed in the Alsace,but also because, unusually, it shows a unique Jewish settlement in a rural environment.

Continue reading

A Travelogue to the Holy Land: CAJS ms. 477

CAJS RAR Ms 477 caught my eye in December, and when I cataloged it I realized that it is a manuscript which is very multi-faceted and stands out in a number of ways.

The title of the manuscript is Hibat ha-kodesh, which is translatable as “the affection for the holy”. This is the title written on the title page, and it resounds with the tone of the writing; Feivush Friedmann, a “hasid” of the dynasty of Sadigur, embarked on travel from his hometown in the Ukraine to the Holy Land, and after a long and arduous journey settled in Safed in the Upper Galilee, today in Northern Israel.

Continue reading

CJS Rare MS. 493: A historical record and eyewitness account from 18th century Jewish Alsace

CAJS Rare Ms. 493 is a manuscript donated to the Penn Libraries in 2018 and part of the Moldovan Family Collection of Judaica at Penn Libraries.

This manuscript is called a Pinkas, which is a historical ledger most often owned by a community. The purpose of these were to document histories and people important to the specific community. Also, Pinkasim are sometimes especially valuable because of eyewitness accounts of events and personalities which can be written in the hand of the author.

In this case, a Pinkas was a ledger for Avraham Freimann, a mohel (ritual circumcisor), using it to record each circumcision ceremony, while providing the name of the family and child, the place, date, and often time of day. He often provides even more detail; if a prominent person was in the audience, or another event was taking place.

Bischheim is a suburb immediately north of Strasbourg, the capital city of the Grand Est region of France. During the 18th century Alsacian Jews lived in suburbs and villages around Strasbourg, but most often not in the city. The information provided in the Pinkas is very valuable showing the spread of Jewish life across Alsacian towns in the Strasbourg area.

Hebrew tombstones in the Jewish Cemetery in Bischheim. Credit: Beit Hatfutsot

Freimann visited many towns and some cities to perform his work. Towns and villages cited in Alsace include Botwiller, Mundolsheim, Ittenheim, Haguenau, and Osthoffen; some travels across the Rhine into German lands include mention of ceremonies in Shopfloch, Dresden, Friesenhausen, and Reishaufen.

Freimann’s opening entry for his relocation to the Alsace (on f. 2r)

He also records two ceremonies performed in the presence of a famous philanthropist and member of the courts of Louis XVI of France, Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim (Mendelsheim? ca. 1730 – Strasbourg 1793) and notes his prominence in the entries. Cerfbeer was a supporter of a yeshivah in Bischheim as well.

Oil portrait of Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim, now in the collection of the Musée historique de Strasbourg. Wikimedia Commons.
Entry describing a ceremony in the presence of Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim.

So, this volume contains Freimann’s eyewitness accounts to historical events as well. For example, he notes hurrying a procedure during an expected invasion on the synagogue he was in by armed mercenaries from neighboring La Wantzenau, though it didn’t happen; as he writes, “God foiled their evil plot”. I will paste the full cataloging note, including the war that was taking place during this time in the Alsace environs:

“Document[ed] events in the community involve the War of the First Coalition between France and the European Powers: a hurried ceremony on 19 Av 1794 in Bischheim during a riot of “haters of Rofichlun [?], שונאי ראפיכלין” from neighboring “Ṿantsine” (La Wantzenau, sometimes called Wanzenowe) would destroy the synagogue, but “God foiled their evil plot” (f. 10r); an elaborate inscription celebrating a family arriving on a boat on the Rhine after being held capture by the invading German troops, in which Shimon b. Mosheh and his family escaped using the Schiffsbrücken (pontoon bridges) near Strasbourg to Kehl in secret while the Germans were dozing (“yeshenim shenat ha-sus”) after the enemies were driven to the Donau, and upon the arrival of the hostages and a circumcision ceremony there was great celebration (f. 13r-13v). He inscribes his grief and sorrow on the day his son was enlisted into service by the armies of Napoleon, in Switzerland, and had to move to Basel to wage war against England and notes that he prayed daily for his return and that he should remain Jewish (f. 19v-20r); the last entry by Freimann possibly mentions his son’s return, during a ceremony in which he served as sandaḳ, perhaps for his grandson. The entries are written in simple form, most being two lines containing the date, name, and sometimes place of the circumcision performed. Written in Ashkenazic cursive script, with many entries hastily written and with different color inks. In a colored board binding with a soft leather spine, likely original.”

An Illustrated Manuscript for Terefot: CAJS Rar Ms 480

I cataloged a manuscript which contained three parts, each relating to another. It covers the practical aspects of ritual law, roughly based on the order and topics of Shulḥan ‘arukh Yoreh de’ah, or the code of Jewish law’s section for ritual and dietary law.

A word about the provenance: the manuscript is without a mention of a scribe and originally appeared to have been missing place of writing; all that was apparent was that it was from Italy, because of the Italian captions and the script style. However, there was a passing mention of a conversation the unknown author had with Yeḥi’el Treves, naming him as a local rabbinical figure in Vercelli. Vercelli is a city in the Piedmont, which is in the northwest of Italy. It has a history of Jewish communal life.

The Great Synagogue of Vercelli, built 1878. Credit: Jewish Virtual Library.

The three parts go as follows: The first part is the work Yemin Yisra’el by Yisra’el Malvano, both a practical and dissertation-style work on Hilkhot sheḥiṭah, or the laws of ritual slaughter; this is a work which survives in numerous manuscripts today. Following is a dissertation on Hilkhot ṭerefot (The laws of unfit meats) in which the unidentified author uses illustrations, descriptions, and definitions to Italian to illustrate the laws of defects which render an animal unkosher. Since the inspection for Terefot involves analysis of the anatomical details of the animal, the author created a manual for the slaughterer to study and to teach with. The third work is an abridgment of the text of the Shulḥan ‘arukh Yoreh de’ah, with other information supplied occasionally.

refot involves analysis of the anatomical details of the animal, the author created a manual for the slaughterer to study and to teach with. The third work is an abridgment of the text of the Shulḥan ‘arukh Yoreh de’ah, with other information supplied occasionally.

The first illustration in the anatomical text: heads of kosher animals.

Above is an example of an illustration in this manuscript; it shows the heads of kosher species of animals. The heading reads ha-Rosh, (the Head); while showing five illustrations of animal heads; Rosh shor (ox’s head, in the center), Rosh gedi (goat’s head, at the corner), Rosh paṿas (with a gander depicted, and perhaps meaning ברוז, barṿaz; lower right), Rosh tarnegol (chicken’s head; upper left) and Rosh aṿaz (duck’s head; lower left).

Below is another depiction in the manuscript; this is a combination of parts delineated in the Mishnah (Hulin 3:1). The author of the manuscript drew the “Keres, beit ha-kosot, meses, ḳevah ve-daḳim” (stomach, recticulum, omasum, abomasum, small bowels); each part is numbered, with the illustration mentioning the author seeing examples such as this one.

Five parts of the abdomen, numbered.

Here is what appears to be bronchial tubes:

Bronchial tubes.

These are just a few examples of the numerous illustrations in the manuscript. I will provide a list of illustrations and headings from the catalog record:

ha-Rosh, (the Head); five illustrations of animal heads, Rosh shor (ox’s head, in the center), Rosh gedi (goat’s head, at the corner), Rosh paṿas (with a gander depicted, and perhaps meaning ברוז, barṿaz), Rosh tarnegol (chicken’s head) and Rosh aṿaz (ducks head), (f. 36r); ha-Moaḥ – Cerebro (the brain, f. 38r); Ḥuṭ ha-shidrah – Il midolo della spina dorsale (the spinal cord, f. 39v); ha-Leḥayayim – Mascelle (the jaws, f. 42r); ha-Lashon – Lingua (the tongue, f. 42v with double illustrations); ʹEtsem ha-mafreḳet – Osso o vertebre del collo (neck vertebrae, f. 43r); Esofago (the esophagus, f. 43v); ha-Ḳaneh o ha-gargeret – La trachea o dura arteria (the trachea, f. 47r); ha-Reʹah – Polmoni (the lungs, f. 49r); ha-Lev – Il cuore (the heart, f. 63v); ha-Kaved – Il fegato (the liver, f. 65r); ha-Marah – Il fiele (the gall, f. 68r); ha-Ṭeḥol – La milza (the spleen, f. 71r); ha-Kelayot – Reni o rognoni (kidney or kidneys, f. 73r); ha-Em ve-shalpuḥit shel me raglayim – Matrice ossia utero e la urinaria (the matrice, namely the uterus and the bladder, f. 75v); Keres, bet ha-kosot, meses, ḳevah ṿe-daḳim (stomach, recticulum, omasum, abomasum, small bowels, f. 75v); ha-Ḳurḳevan – Il ventricolo, ossia magone (the gizzard, or ventriculous; ‘magone’ is a term specific to Milanese; f. 82r); Bene ha-meʹayim o ha-daḳim – Viscero o intestini (f. 84r); Yede ha-behemah ṿeha-agapayim shel ʹof – Zampe / Ale (the paws of an animal, the wings of a bird, f. 95r); ha-Tselaʹot ṿe-ḥuliyot ha-shidrah – Coste o vertebre della schiena (the ribs or vertebrae of the back, f. 97v); ha-Regel u-pirḳaṿ – Il piedi (the legs and feet, f. 100v).

CAJS Rar Ms 481: A Kabbalistic and Polemical Manuscript Fragment from 1605 Egypt, with Provenance

CAJS Rar Ms 481, Ḳunṭres Imre emet with Ṿikuaḥ ‘al ha-R.M. di Lonzano, was recently acquired at auction, thanks to the support of the Elis and Ruth Douer Endowed Fund for Judaica Collections.

I cataloged a manuscript fragment (or, what originally appeared to be a fragment) of a polemical nature, dated to the first decade in the 17th century in Egypt. The manuscript contains writing from possibly a number of hands, and may have even been partially a letter written by a scribe or transcribed by a scribe for a response, as is the nature of polemics.

David Roberts (1796-1824), The Gate of Metwaley, (Cairo). Wikimedia Commons. For illustrative purposes.

The manuscript is 7 folios, unbound but sewn into a gathering. There are two (at least) scribal hands, already identified by Mosheh Hillel in “Ginze nistarot,” in Meḳabtsi’el vol. 38 (Ṭevet 5772), 55-88. Hillel also transcribes the manuscript.

Continue reading