Bibliotheken Tentoonstellingen Judaica in Leiden

Judaica in Leiden

An exhibition in Leiden University Library at the occasion of the Congress of European Association of Jewish Studies, Amsterdam 21-25 juli 2002.




by Albert van der Heide

The Hebrew Manuscripts of Leiden University Library
In all imaginable respects, the Leiden collection of Hebrew manuscripts is a scholarly collection. Written by and for scholars, the manuscripts were purchased and collected, primarily by J.J. Scaliger and L. Warner, for scholarly purposes, and nowadays still serve Judaic scholars all over the world as sources for their research.
As the manuscripts were never chosen for their outward appearance and beauty, the appreciation of their value depends upon the knowledge of their content. It is therefore most fortunate that in the 1850s, no less an authority than Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907) graciously accepted the task to prepare a full description of the collection. His opinion, quoted above in his own inimitable and terse Latin, gratifies all those who know how to appreciate the words of an absolute master in the description and evaluation of ancient Hebrew texts. This excellent and variegated collection is unsurpassed, as regards antiquity, importance and rarity.
The collection as a whole consists of three chronologically distinct parts. The oldest holds eighteen Hebrew manuscripts from the legacy of the famous historian and orientalist Josephus Justus Scaliger (1540–1609), who accepted the invitation to work at the recently established Leiden University in 1593. During a long and active scholarly life, Scaliger acquired such sensational items as the unique manuscript of the Palestinian Talmud, which had once belonged to the printer Daniel Bomberg (Or. 4720), a complete medical library in one majestic volume (Or. 4719), and an early copy of Rashi’s Biblical commentary (Or. 1197).
Levinus Warner (1619–1665) was an orientalist of German descent who for many years served as a representative of the Dutch government in Istanbul. He collected (and studied) a great number of oriental manuscripts in Hebrew, Arabic and other languages, which,after his untimely death, he bequeathed to his alma mater, the Leiden University. Of particular interest were his contacts with the Karaite community of Istanbul, which forhim, as a Protestant, had a specific fascination. Not only the acquisition of a volume with 23 different Karaite works (Exhibit 20), but also his personal notes in many of the Karaite manuscripts (e.g. Exhibit 5) testify to this special interest. In addition, the Warner bequest contains many important medieval philosophical and scientific works, among which an early copy of the Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides (Or. 18; see also Or. 4745 and Or. 4723).
The latter part of the collection, sometimes called the ‘Codices post-Warneriani’, stems from a variety of provenances and, although it contains some interesting items, it is decidedly less distinctive. Remarkable nonetheless are, for example,the voluminous liturgical manuscript from Fez (Or. 4814) and the almost completely unpublished oeuvre of the early Haskalah philosopher Naftali Herz Ulman (Or. 4808). In this same category belong the various products of Christian Hebraism at the University and elsewhere in the Dutch Republic (Or. 1459a and Or. 3148a).

The exhibition aims to give a well-balanced choice of the material available and tries to visualise this by a division over several categories. Unfortunately, too many interesting and valuable books had to remain on the shelves.

M. Steinschneider, Catalogus Codicum Hebraeorum Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae (Leiden 1858)
Albert van der Heide, Hebrew Manuscripts of Leiden University Library (Leiden 1977), esp. pp. 1–25: Introduction
Levinus Warner and his Legacy. Three Centuries Legatum Warnerianum in the Leiden University Library (Leiden 1970)

(Leiden, July 2002)

by Gerrit-Jan Bouwman and Albert van der Heide

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