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