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Evening of Awesomeness - Mo's Journal
April 3rd, 2008
09:18 am

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Evening of Awesomeness
As I've mentioned here before, I'm taking this class and enjoying it immensely. I'm in my second semester and our professor this term is David Kraemer. He's a Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He's also the JTS Librarian. JTS has arguably the best collection of rare Jewish books in the world, including priceless materials found in the Cairo Genizah.

So last night instead of meeting at our regular spot, we all trooped up to JTS and in addition to a lecture we got to go into the library and see some of these wonders up close. It made my librarian's heart just about burst with joy.

- We saw the oldest extent Hagaddah in the world - a family one, not written by a scribe but a householder, much like my sister makes her own hagaddah for her seder (except without computers or photography :-)).

- We saw a 15th Century Italian Siddur (prayerbook) beautifully illuminated, given by a groom to his bride. The morning blessings section was particularly of interest. One of the controversial parts of traditional Jewish liturgy is the practice of men thanking G-d "who has not made me a woman." It comes right after "has not made me a slave." Orthodox siddurim generally instruct women to say "who has made me according to His will" instead - Eliezer Segal refers to that line as "a verbal sigh of resignation." The Conservative movement has replaced the whole sequence of "has not made me" blessings with positively worded gender-neutral ones, praising G-d "who has made me" - free, Jewish and in G-d's image. We were all curious to see what this woman's siddur said. When David showed us that its wording was "who has made me a woman and not a man" all the women in the class spontaneously cheered.

- We saw an edition of Psalms with commentary that had been censored by the Catholic Church, since it disputed the Christian view that scripture predicts the divinity of Jesus. This shows that Catholic censors read Hebrew at the time. They also used for their censoring ink that was not as durable as that of the original book, so over time the cross outs have turned into highlighting.

- We saw an incunabulum.

- We saw a Passover seder service that was held in Munich in 1946 - American Jewish soldiers and camp survivors. Where the hagaddah would ordinarily say "We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt" it said "We were slaves to Hitler in Germany."

You can see some of these treasures for yourself at http://www.jtslibrarytreasures.org/. But I got to see them up close and in person!

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From:talktooloose
Date:April 3rd, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
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My brother-in-law was in charge of that library for a while in the early 80s. My favourite treasure story is an actual letter from Rambam in which he explains to an eager fan why he can't teach him. He goes on to lay out a typical day as a court doctor in Egypt, which he was at the time.
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From:mofic
Date:April 3rd, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC)
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Yes! That letter is on the website I referenced, I think. I asked if the Rambam's prescription forms were among the treasures :-). Cool about your BIL!
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From:talktooloose
Date:April 3rd, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
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Historical letters thrill me. At the current Darwin exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, they have a letter from Karl Marx expounding with enthusiasm on the Origin of Species after it is published. As with seeing original works of art by masters, the thrill of proximity has a powerful effect... knowing that the writer or painter was standing before the page or canvas as I am now.

In fact, one of the nicest touches of the exhibit is the mounting of Darwin's childhood magnifying glass with an insect under it so you can look through the same as young Darwin did to see the miracles of nature.
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From:mofic
Date:April 3rd, 2008 03:14 pm (UTC)
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Oh wow! I'd love to see that exhibit.

I love the National Archives in DC for that proximity. I took my kids there and pointed out my favorite parts in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution :-). It's wonderful to be right there with the original documents. We were there around Lincoln's birthday and they had the Emancipation Proclamation on display, as they do annually. It's four pages long, and it was displayed with page 1 original, page 2 facsimile, page 3 original, page 4 facisimile. Why? Because they used both sides of the paper!
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From:libgirl
Date:April 4th, 2008 04:25 am (UTC)
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This sounds gorgeous and wonderful! :D

I'm glad that course is working out so well!

(btw did you get my email about the books here?)
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From:mofic
Date:April 4th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
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No I didn't get any email from you. I wonder if it got caught in my spam folder? It's gone now if it did. Can you resend?
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From:libgirl
Date:April 4th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
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It's flying to you now! :D
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