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Izmir's Jewish Community Book Collection


Introduction

In a small room on the top floor of the Jewish hospital in the Karatash quarter (Photo 1) there is an overwhelming collection of old books (Photo 2).


The total number of these books is approximately 2,730. This does not include many other books lying in various synagogues and in the old community center, where all the books were stored until a few years ago.
 
Beside the books lies a collection of Jewish religious ritual articles taken from various synagogues – embroidered covers for the Ark (Parochet), Torah books, tablecloths for the Bima, and other items donated by members of the community in order to commemorate their loved ones.
 
Approximately half of the books were recently catalogued by Dina Eliezer, who was born in Izmir and lives today in the U.S. She comes in occasionally to work on this project. In fact, Dina was the person who organized and removed the collection to its present location and made efforts to improve their settings. She developed a classification system for the books and designed a format for a card for each book, including: the number on the cover of the book; the name of the book; the author; the year of publication; place of publication; assessment; subject of the book (if possible).
 
Our main goal was to get a general photo of the content of the collection and to document the books. We started by preparing book cards for other books, as a continuation of Dina’s project.
 
Number of book
188/1
Name of book
“Sefer Shoshanim Le’David”
Author
Rabbi Haim Palaggi
Place of print
Thessaloniki
Year of print
1815
Local ruler mentioned
Sultan Mahmud
Content
 Halachic reponsa
Other persons mentioned on the front page
Isaac Hai Inrikes
Moshe Inrikes
Avraham Inrikes
 
Due to the short time we spent in Izmir and the obvious limitations (and in accordance with our objective to study the life and history of the Jewish community), we decided to examine several aspects through a wider perspective, by studying the following.           
 
 
Physical condition
The books are kept behind a locked door. Most of the books are on shelves, some on the table or in a big box. The room was treated, to protect the books from insects and rodents. Due to their age and years of handling, many books are in a deteriorating condition:
  • Lacking their binding, or part of it (Photo 3).
  • Missing large parts or single pages as well as front pages.
  • Fragile pages and covers.
  • Bookworm and moth holes (Photo 4).
  • Pages folded or stuck together.
  • Water and fire damage.
  • Bent books.
  • Evidence of attempts to restore books in the past by rebinding, or fixing torn pages (Photo 5).
 
Year of publication:

The earliest book that we found dates to 1654 (5414).
Shoshanim le’David” (The book of Roses of David; Photo 6) - commentary on the Mishna.
Author: David Fardo.
Recommendations: from Padova & Verona.
 
The latest books: from mid-20th century (mostly small-sized calendars) and ten sets of brand new Bibles and New Testaments (an indication of missionary activity).
Most of the books were printed between the years 1750-1850.
 
The oldest books that were printed in Izmirthat we found are from the 18th century.
Sefer Knesset Hagdola (the Book of the Great Assembly; Photo 11).
Year of printing: 1724.
Author: Haim Benvenisti.
 
Yad Aharon (Aharon’s Memorial; Photo 7).
Year of printing: 1756
Author: Aharon Moshe Alphandari
 
The oldest book that was printed in Jerusalem is from the year 1843: “Shem Hadash” (New Name; Photo 8).
Author: Shmuel Rachamim Pinso.
The printer: Israel Bak. Bak founded the first printing press in the land of Israel. Following an earthquake in the northern town of Safet at the end of the 1830's, bak moved to Jerusalem and founded the first print shop in the city.
 
 
Language
Most books are written in Hebrew, sometimes mixed with Aramaic, printed either in Rashi script or square Hebrew letters.
 A small part of the collection is of Ladino books, also printed in Hebrew letters or Rashi script, and newer ones in Latin letters (Photo 3).
 
 
Typical contents of the books
 
Hebrew books:
  1. Bibles, some of them translated to Ladino, and one Bible printed in Israel.
  2. “Mishna” (Oral Torah; Photo 9).
  3. Babylonian Talmud.
  4. “Arba’a Turim” (Four Columns).
  5. Halachic scripts deciphering the “Mishna”, Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, HaTurim commentary, Maimonides, etc. (Photos 5 and 10).
  6. Jewish mysticism, such as “Zohar”,ljk “Idra zuta”, etc.
  7. “Musar” literature (ethics and moral books) and few philosophy books.
  8. Responsa to Halachic questions.
  9. “Midrash” (folklore literary commentary to the Bible).
  10. “Drash” (weekly commentary on the Torah that was said orally in synagogues).
  11. “Tehilim” (Psalms). Some are booklets with only a few chapters.
  12. Guides to learning Hebrew letters and Talmud.
  13. Small formats of “Hallel Hagadol” (a festive prayer).
  14. Ten sets of Bibles with New Testament (completely new).
Ladino books:
We found few religious books in Ladino:
1. Abbreviated Talmud (Photo 12).
2. “Zohar” translation into Ladino, printed in Izmir.
 
Part of the collection includes approximately 30 Ladino books on secular subjects:
  1. Reading books translated from French and German dating to the 19th century.
  2. History books on the Ottoman Empire and on Jewish History dating to early 20th century (Photo 13).
  3. Calendar booklets dating to the 20th century (Photo 14).
  4. Hebrew grammar books.
Places of printing:
Izmir, Istanbul, Ankara, Thessaloniki, Jerusalem. Bilgordo (Belgrade), Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, Zoltzbach, Livorno (Leghorn), Venice, Piorda, Amsterdam, Pressburg, Warsaw, Krakow, Vilna, Basdiliav, Monkatch, Brin, Slavitta, Lick.
The books were brought from other cities in the Ottoman Empire and from all across Christian Europe (illustration 2).
 
 
Recommendations (“Haskamot”)
Some of the books have recommendations from other rabbis from around the Ottoman Empire and Europe (even from a rabbi from Hebron in the Land of Israel).
 

Common features of front pages in religious books (Photo 15)
  • Usually written in Hebrew.
  • Name of book and sometimes its contents.
  • Author. In some of the books the title includes the author’s name (Rabbi Haim Palaggi wrote the book “Haim Veshalom” – “Life and Peace”). 
  • Place of print.
  • Name of the printer (sometimes accompanied by his graphic trademark; Photo 16 and 17).
  • Year of printing, marked mostly by a biblical quote, where the bold letters mark the Hebrew date.
  • Sometimes there are praises of the author and/or the donors who enabled the printing of the book, or dedications by the author.
  • The name of the Sultan (in the Ottoman Empire) or the ruling king. This is accompanied by words of praise & gratitude.
  • Prologues and recommendations by other renowned rabbis (often from other cities).
  • Most books of a Christian-European origin have an apologetic opening which clarifies that their non-Jewish neighbors are not the same people as the “Goyim” or “Akum” (pagans) who are bad-mouthed throughout the Jewish scripts.
  • Some of the European books have a comment of approbation by the local authority in the local language (Photo 15).
  • Many of the books have a decorated front page. It seems that the European books have fancier decorations, with pillars, plants, and human figures (such as Moses and Aharon, angels, etc.). Some of them have a two-color front page. In some of the Ottoman books we can identify a European influence on the front page design (Photos 18-20).
 

Several insights deriving from the study
Through our examination of the collection we were able to make a few hypotheses that might support the historical knowledge of the Jewish community of Izmir.
 
The places of printing and recommendations are spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, and especially Christian Europe. This can be an indication of strong connections between the Jews of Izmir and other Jewish communities in those areas.
 
Even though books are portable objects, the above-mentioned insight is strengthened by the fact that Izmir was a very important port city and international trading center. As such, it connected the Christian and Muslim worlds, with Jewish merchants playing a major role.
 
In the collection we saw many books that were printed in Livorno. The historical research of Dr. Barnai shows that during the 17th century Jews named “Francos” (Jews of Portuguese origin) settled in the city. Barnai hypothesized that the “Francos” came from Livorno in Italy.
 
One of the families that immigrated to Izmir from Livorno was the Gabay family. In 1654 they founded the first Jewish print shop in Izmir - the Gabay print shop, which was moved from Livorno. Some of the books were printed in Izmir. The oldest ones we found were printed in Izmir during the first half of the 18th century (in the 18th century religious books were also printed by Greek print shops).
 
We gathered a list of Jewish printers in the city, such as:
Yona Ashkenazi (1724).
Yaakov Balanci (1756).
Yaakov and his brother, sons of Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi (1855).
Ben Zion Binyamin Rodino (1860).
Isaac Shmuel de Sigura (1868).
Aharon Yehoshua de Sigura (1870).
Avraham Pontrimoly and Yaakov Poly (1876).
Haim Avraham (1889).
 
This can give us some indication about one of the professions of the Jews. 
 
Most of the religious books were probably used in the Yeshivas and the Batei Midrash (study halls) of Izmir. On some of the covers of the books there appears the inscription: Yeshivat Beit Hillel. Some of the books from the Yeshiva date to the 18th century.
 
The “Beit Hillel Yeshiva” was founded by Rabbi Haim Palaggi (Photo 21) in the middle of the 19th century. Rabbi Palaggi was a very important rabbi and was appointed as “Haham Bashi” (Chief Rabbi) of Izmir. Many individuals and important rabbis approached him with Halachic questions, part of them were concentrated in books of Responsa. Yeshivat Beit Hillel was named after Hillel Manot, the Sephardic donor from Bucharest who supported the publishing of most of Rabbi Palaggi’s books.
 
 
Books printed in Ladino came into use during the 19th century and 20th century. The varied collection of secular books in Ladino is evidence of the process that the Jewish community went through during the 19th and 20th centuries, following the penetration of the Haskala (“Enlightenment movement”). Furthermore, it can teach us about the role of Ladino in the cultural life of the Jews in Izmir.
 
The literature translated from European countries and the history books show us of the openness of the Jewish community to the surrounding cultures. The calendar booklets indicate their wish to unite Jewish and Turkish history as the heritage of the community after the founding of the Turkish republic. This was done by giving a list of important Jewish and Turkish historical events (such as Hanuka, the founding of the Turkish Republic, and the founding of the State of Israel). 
 
The religious books translated into Ladino give us some indication of the changes in the importance of Ladino and Hebrew. The Ladino, which for centuries was mostly a spoken language, became a printed one in the 19th century. A majority of the Jews could not read Hebrew any more, and a need arose for Ladino translations. Subsequently, Rabbinical Hebrew was pushed aside. In some books Ladino was written in Latin-Turkish Letters.
 
 
Religious Ritual Articles
In the same room lies a small collection of religious ritual articles, probably gathered from the old synagogues. As mentioned above, among them are Parochot (curtains for the Ark; Photo 24), Me’ilim (Tora scroll covers; Photo 23), an embroidered cloth banner made for weddings, with a quote from the ritual wedding blessings, and more (Photo 22). All are velvet cloths embroidered with silver and gold threads. The cloths are in rather bad condition; parts are torn. They are crumpled up, stored in big plastic bags.
 
Many of these articles were donated by families to their synagogues as a way of commemorating their beloved ones, or, on the other hand, as a gift on religious family occasions. This unique handicraft of embroidery was a well-known, typical Jewish women’s pastime. Some of the cloths that were used in the synagogues were originally bedclothes or wedding dresses, and inscriptions were added when they were donated to the synagogue.
             
In the corner stands a marble tablet bearing an inscription from the synagogue “Beit Halevi” in Karatash. This synagogue was founded by Nessim Levi in 1898 (Photo 25). Some Jewish art pictures are present as well - for example, a handmade paperwork from the Beit Midrash Beit Israel (Photo 26).
 
 
Recommendations for future work
It would appear that this collection is of great value in understanding the history and cultural world of the Izmir Jewish community, and perhaps gives us a greater understanding of related issues. Therefore, we have listed a few ideas to help retrieve the knowledge treasured in the collection.
  1. Collect all the old books from other places such as synagogues, the old community house (“Haham Hane”), private owners (if they agree), etc., and gather them into the Jewish hospital (for the time being).
  2. Continue preparing all the book cards and combining them with Dina Eliezer’s previous work.
  3. Create a systematic catalogue.
  4. Professionally analyze and assess the collection by expert scholars in the fields of Jewish history, Jewish religious literature, etc.
  5. Store the books in a place with appropriate conditions: fitting temperature and humidity, protection from fires, protection against mishandling and damage from insects and rodents.
  6. Restore and preserve the damaged important books to prevent future deterioration.
  7. Examine possibilities for exhibiting the collection (or parts of it) in an appropriate place in order to increase the public awareness to the collection.
  8. Expose the collection to research.
  9. Restore and document the religious ritual articles, and if possible exhibit them in an appropriate place.

 

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