Library opening

The Lion of Judah stealing a lamb
A while ago we discovered in the figure of King David, lifting his goblet for blessing in the 14th-century Catalan Haggadah, the owner of the codex Dávid Kaufmann, who expressed in an apocryphal “Psalm of David” his joy of the acquisition of the most ancient – 10th century Palestinian – manuscript of the Mishnah. This is why we chose that image as the emblem of the electronic library of the Kaufmann Codices. But we prefer to see the great collector of ancient Hebrew books also in another symbol of King David, in the lion of Judah who is just stowing away in safety a recent gorgeous finding from the competition in the marginal decoration of a 13th-century Mishneh Torah.

On – very rare – occasions, however, even Dávid Kaufmann was let down by his good luck. It was a close shave that one of the most important Jewish manuscript findings, the one hundred and forty thousand fragments that had been accumulated for a thousand years in the genizah of the synagogue of Cairo, did not get to him – and then, through him, to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences – but to the University of Cambridge. Through his network of agents covering all the Mediterraneum, Kaufmann had learned about this material, even more important than the scrolls of the Dead Sea, much earlier than the fantastic Scottish twin sisters, Agnes and Margaret Smith, scholars of many Biblical languages and discoverers of several manuscripts, who in 1896 discovered the collection following the traces of some fragments found on the Cairo market, and then bought it in its entirety. However, at this time Kaufmann was already bargaining over the material, and in 1894 he even received a sample of five hundred pieces of it. Today only this much is in the possession of the Academy. Nevertheless, he bore the news of the Cambridge purchase like a man, and later he even remarked that the manuscripts are in a better place there. What’s more, he also participated in their scholarly description. Incidentally, it is interesting that the family of Salomon Dov Goitein who published the complete material in six volumes, came from the same Moravian town of Kojetein like that of Kaufmann. This aroused our curiosity in this town, whose subsisting Medieval Jewish quartier we will soon visit and report about it.

The Kaufmann Collection, including six hundred codices and more than a thousand printed books besides the genizah fragments, is even so among the most important ones in the world, and we in Studiolum are proud to be the first to publish it on the internet, on behalf of the Oriental Collection of the Hungarian Academy. We have just completed the first version of the electronic library – or rather bookshelf yet – containing the five most important codices of the collection: the above mentioned 10th-century Palestinian Mishnah, the starting point of all Mishnah editions, the French Mishneh Torah of 1296, the summary of Jewish law in four volumes, two Southern Germanian Mahzor from the age of Dante with all the prayers of the year, and the most beautiful piece of the collection, the lavishly illustrated 14th-century Catalonian Haggadah, the ritual of the Passover night. But, scanned from a black and white microfilm, we will also include one of the most painful losses of the collection, the 15th-century Renaissance codex of the Siddur of Pesaro, stolen in the ’80s together with some other books on an Israelian order. Since the Academy managed to claim back in court one of the stolen books from an auction of Israel, this codex is latent somewhere together with the rest.

Until the official presentation in November the library will receive some final touches, we will include a bibliography and an iconographic index, some additions and corrections, or maybe even more codices. However, the readers of our blog can enter already now by presenting a copy of this entry. Go ahead, go ahead, come in, look around, and make your bettering comments.