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!