Per­spec­tives on the Hebra­ic Book: The Myron M. Wein­stein Memo­r­i­al Lec­tures at the Library of Congress

Peg­gy K. Pearl­stein, ed.
  • Review
By – January 17, 2013

This col­lec­tion of essays, orig­i­nal­ly in lec­ture form, has been pub­lished in con­junc­tion with the exhi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing the 100th anniver­sary of the Hebraica Col­lec­tion at the Library of Con­gress. From Jacob Schiff’s ini­tial gift to the Library of Con­gress of 10,000 Hebrew books from the book deal­er Ephraim Deinard, the col­lec­tion has grown to over 200,000 items that have been researched and pre­served with the utmost care. Myron Wein­stein, in whose mem­o­ry the annu­al lec­tures were giv­en, worked in the Hebraica sec­tion for twen­ty-nine years retir­ing in 1984 as the head of the sec­tion. He is rec­og­nized for hav­ing expand­ed the col­lec­tion and brought it to the atten­tion of schol­ars around the world.

The top­ics reflect the par­tic­u­lar exper­tise of the schol­ars invit­ed to con­tribute their lec­tures to this pub­li­ca­tion. Jonathan Sar­na, who adapt­ed his pub­li­ca­tion on Amer­i­can Jew­ish pub­lish­ing in the Unit­ed States to 1950 for the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na Press as The Jew­ish Book in Amer­i­ca,” focus­es on the for­ma­tion of the Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety in Philadel­phia. Accord­ing to Sar­na, the founders looked to pub­lish books that would pre­pare Amer­i­can Jew­ry to assume the bur­den of Jew­ish cul­tur­al lead­er­ship….” He also doc­u­ments the works of Isaac Leeser and Isaac May­er Wise, reli­gious lead­ers who pub­lished specif­i­cal­ly for their Amer­i­can constituents.

Eve­lyn Cohen, schol­ar of man­u­scripts, com­pares two man­u­scripts by the scribe Joel ben Sime­on, one of which is the so-called Wash­ing­ton Hag­gadah, a 1478 work from Ashke­naz. An illus­tra­tion from the Wash­ing­ton Hag­gadah — one of the trea­sures on dis­play at the exhi­bi­tion — depict­ing Daniel in the Lion’s Den, graces the cov­er of this book.

In the essay on the con­ser­va­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Hag­gadah, Doris Ham­burg details the exten­sive con­ser­va­tion required (includ­ing the cov­er illus­tra­tion) and the schol­ar­ly inter­est that Myron Wein­stein had in restor­ing the man­u­script to its authen­tic orig­i­nal state. 

Zachary Bak­er exam­ines books on the Yid­dish the­ater and its lega­cy, includ­ing descrip­tions of well known actors and their per­son­al sto­ries and also a vignette about Ephraim Deinard whose col­lec­tion was pur­chased as the sem­i­nal gift. Mar­sha J. Roze­blit ana­lyzes the Mannheimer Prayer book of nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Vienna.

Because these essays were orig­i­nal­ly giv­en as lec­tures they include per­son­al trib­utes to Wein­stein by the authors who knew and admired him, and have a more infor­mal con­ver­sa­tion­al aspect to them than usu­al schol­ar­ly arti­cles. While some of the top­ics may not have wide gen­er­al inter­est the con­tri­bu­tion to knowl­edge about text and com­mu­ni­ty make this col­lec­tion a com­mend­able achievement.
Esther Nuss­baum, the head librar­i­an of Ramaz Upper School for 30 years, is now edu­ca­tion and spe­cial projects coor­di­na­tor of the Halachic Organ Donor Soci­ety. A past edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World, she con­tin­ues to review for this and oth­er publications.

Discussion Questions