Monday, June 19, 2006


Booklists are a tantalizing, but sometimes illuminating, class of documents which can teach a great deal about medieval literature. They are, on the whole, simply lists of books that were owned by private individuals or by booksellers. They usually include only the title of the book, but sometimes also the name of the author, the size of the volume and its codicological form - how many volumes, on paper or parchment, in what kind of script.

Hebrew booklists have been published in scattered places over the past 150 years, originating and reflecting different cultures and time-periods. But most of them are either late medieval lists from Italy, or early medieval lists from the Geniza.

The star booklist producer of the Geniza was Rav Yosef Rosh ha-Seder. In fact, it sometimes seems as if that was his main genre of self-expression. He was a talmudic scholar whose father came from Baghdad, and he himself wandered around Egypt at the time of Maimonides and his son (the only year he mentions explicitly is 1211). He composed, or at least began, or at least meant to begin, several large literary projects - a commentary to the Mishna, a summary of the Talmud, a commentary on Rav Saadia's siddur and more. Some fragments of these books have been identified (as well as his work on the laws of writing a Torah scroll, published by Elkan Adler and ascribed by him to Judah Barceloni, the author of Sefer Ha-Ittim). But his impact on Jewish scholarship in the post-Genizah age has mostly been through his booklists - of books he wrote and of books he copied, owned and offered for sale.

I mention all of this because Nehemiah Allony's long-awaited (the author died more than 20 years ago) work, incorporating all known (many unpublished hitherto) booklists from the Genizah, has now been published by Yad Ben Zvi. Evening of speeches next Sunday.

(It was the kind of book that spent years in manuscript form, with privileged individuals receiving access to it and utilizing it for their research. The publication of a book like that makes the Jewish studies community a healthier place, in my opinion).


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