Feb 4, 2009 — Yeshiva University’s library has given new life to a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from 1765 by posting it online as a Web exhibit. The manuscript, called a memorbuch, from the German town of Auras (now in Poland) is unusual for its elaborate Rococo-style illustrations.
The manuscript features fanciful illustrations of Mordecai and Haman, and other biblical scenes. Particularly striking are images of mythological mermen in a marine scene. Such blatant pagan symbols had vanished from Jewish liturgical texts after antiquity.
“It’s an interesting manuscript from a visual point of view and historic because it’s a record of a particular community,” said Shulamith Berger, curator of special collections.
Memorbuchs (or memor books), which paired specific prayers with a list of names of the community’s deceased, were common in Central European Jewish communities from the Middle Ages until the mid-19th century. They were used for the Yizkor [memorial] services and although only sometimes illustrated, they were often handwritten so that names could be easily added. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, memorbuchs remain an important source for the social and religious history of the Jews.
The library purchased the manuscript in 1948 as part of the Louis Lewin Manuscript Collection. Selected pages were photographed and exhibited as posters from November 2004 through June 2005 in the Rare Book Room at the Gottesman Library on the Wilf Campus.
The book was produced during a rebirth of manuscript decoration that Central Europe experienced in the 18th century after the invention of the printing press led to a slump in the craft in the 15th century.
The scribe, Binyamin Ze’ev (Wolff Jacob) ben Elyakum Getsel Kats of Kempen, completed the work in Breslau in 1765 and it later traveled to the neighboring town of Auras, where it was dedicated in 1803.
Pearl Berger, dean of libraries who also holds the Benjamin Gottesman Endowed Librarian Chair, said the library is in the process of posting “unique material on the Web for research purposes and viewing.”
Beginning in 2005 with the “Prague Bible,” followed by an online component of the “Einstein and Yeshiva University” exhibit, there is now an extensive array of digital material on the library Web site, including electronic descriptions of YU’s archival collections and over 800 sermons of Dr. Norman Lamm, YU’s Chancellor.
“Putting manuscripts on the Web in digital format enhances access to our holdings and makes them available to the general public at any time,” said Shulamith Berger, who came up with the idea of posting the Auras Memorbuch online after it was digitally photographed a few years ago.