This week, ten scholars from around the continent gathered at HUC-JIR’s Klau Library in Cincinnati for a symposium titled “The Jewish Book in the Early Modern World.” Though a private program, the symposium was open to HUC faculty and students to attend, and also included two public lectures. The first public lecture was a lunch and learn with Dr. Joseph Skloot, one of our faculty members on the NY campus, who recently published “First Impressions: Sefer Hasidim and Early Modern Hebrew Printing.” His talk focused on one of the works published by a printer’s guild in Bologna in 1540; a Mahzor of annual prayers in the Roman Rite. This popular publication included a unique commentary by R. Yohanan b. Joseph Treves (1490?-1557?) that provided a wealth of insight about the context of prayer rituals and how they were executed in 16th century Italy.
Dr. Alexandra Gillespie, of the University of Toronto, delivered our evening Feld Memorial Lecture on the global history of printing. Among Dr. Gillespie’s many projects and interests, she heads the Hidden Stories project funded by the Mellon Foundation, which uses a variety of investigative techniques to reveal new information about early printed books. In her talk, Dr. Gillespie shared about the various technological tools used to analyze these rare books. For example, new equipment has illuminated watermarks and manuscript notes that had previously been illegible. These discoveries lead to further investigation about how the books were made and in whose hands they resided. In Dr. Gillespie’s address, her team’s new research was shared within the greater framework of the significance of printing, its origins that preceded Gutenberg’s efforts, and its impact on society both historically and in the present day. One current area of Dr. Gillespie’s focus is the publication of R. Yakov ben Asher’s Arba’ah Turim, featured recently on our Instagram account here.
The scholars who joined the symposium and shared their latest research often focused on materials from the Klau Library’s collection. The papers presented included Frederica Francesconi’s work on a 17th century Pinkas (register) for the dowries of Italian brides, Michela Andreatta’s investigation of Daniel Bomberg’s introduction to a book of Hebrew grammar, Ishay Mishori’s discussion of 16th century woodblocks shared between printers of both Jewish and non-Jewish texts, Joshua Teplitsky’s ongoing research on how manuals for ritual slaughter were used both as educational texts and certificates of credential, David Sclar’s discovery of the first printed work to reference Shabbatai Zevi, and Roni Cohen’s research about the humorous plays, commentaries, and poems for the holiday of Purim. Lastly, our Director of Libraries, Yoram Bitton, presented his preliminary investigation into the publishing of Psalms as it shifted from a scriptural work to a text used liturgically for new ritual practices in the 17th century and onwards. The works they discussed were brought along to the sessions and many were highlighted in our latest library display, pictured here.
This gathering allowed the scholars to present new research and respond to questions and suggestions for new lines of inquiry. Despite all of these scholars’ interests spanning such wide topic areas, they each had ways to contribute and enhance the ongoing work of their colleagues. Additionally, a number of attendees were able to extend their stay to spend more time in the Klau Library involved with the materials, many of which had been available to them only remotely on microfilm or other digital media. We look forward to a compilation dedicated to the publication of research presented at this symposium.
We thank the HUC-JIR’s Dean’s Office, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, and our Mayerson JCC for being such incredible partners in this initiative, furthering scholarship in Jewish Studies and driving the impact of the Klau Library and its resources.