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Рецензия М.Кизилова на книгу С.М.Якерсона Версия для печати Отправить на E-mail
02.03.2010

Предлагаем Вашему вниманию рецензию М.Кизилова на книгу: Якерсон С.М. Еврейские сокровища Петербурга. Свитки, кодексы, документы [1]. СПб.: «Арка», 2008.

There are several important collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world. Every scholar dealing with Jewish history knows Judaica manuscripts kept in British Library in London, Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Bodleian library of Oxford, documents from Cairo geniza at the University library at Cambridge and some other less important collections. The unique collection analysed in Shimon Iakerson's book is, in fact, a sort of geniza in itself. As well as synagogal genizot, which have been for centuries hidden from inquisitive eye of a scholar, Jewish treasures of St. Petersburg also had been virtually closed to academic public until the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Jacob Mann was, perhaps, the last Western scholar who managed to use materials from St. Petersburg in his classical study in the 1930s [2]. After this the collection became virtually inaccessible not only for the Western, but also for Soviet scholars.

This is why the book under review is so important. In fact, it represents the journey — in time and space — to the multifaceted and colourful world of Hebrew manuscript treasures kept in St. Petersburg (hence the title of the book). The book focuses on manuscripts kept at two major academic institutions of the city: National Library of Russia and St. Petersburg Branch of the In-stitute of Oriental Studies. It is difficult to characterize the genre of the book in one word. It is a colourful album with number of illustrations and facsimiles, a catalogue of the unique Judaica collection, a scholarly study, an introduction to the world of medieval Jewish manuscript tradition, and a bio-bibliographic reference book at the same time. The book is organized in a very elaborate and arty style, with the main text in the middle, biographic information on a margin, and numerous facsimiles of the most important documents reproduced alongside the text as illustrations. There are as many as 132 illustrations representing a millennium of Jewish manuscript and printed art, from the tenth to the twentieth century. The book ends with the glossary of the most important specialist terms so that even somebody who does not know much about Jewish palaeography can easily read it. The bibliography provides essential references for those who would like to continue their study of Jewish manuscripts and manuscript collections.

As one may deduce from the book, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Judaica collections kept in St. Petersburg. The Judaica collection of the National Library of Russia contains as many as 17,870 manuscript items and numerous rare prints (p. 45). There one can find the oldest copies of the Jewish Bible and its books known today; the most complete manuscripts of the works by famous medieval Jewish philosophers, linguists, and exegetes, with some works known only from manuscripts kept in St. Petersburg; the oldest dated manuscripts from certain regions (e. g. from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Spain, Turkey, and Byzantium); the largest manuscript collection of Jewish sub-ethnic groups such as the Karaites, Samaritans and Krymchaks; unique documents pertaining to the history of Judaization of the Turkic Khazars; scandalous pseudo-medieval documents which turned out to be nineteenth-century fakes; numerous printed Hebrew incunabula and paleotypes, and much more.

The book starts with the history of the acquisition of the first Judaica treasures in the nineteenth century. The first manuscripts were brought to the Imperial Public Library of St. Petersburg (today's Saltykov-Shchedrin National Library of Russia) and Asiatic Museum (today's Institute of Oriental Manuscript RAS) by varied figures such as the Protestant Biblical scholar from Germany Constantin von Tischendorf, Karaite collector Abraham ben Samuel Firkovich, Russian orthodox archimandrite Antonin, Jewish merchant Leo Friedland and some other collectors. The book provides information about the biography of these important figures and the history of the acquisition of their collections. Some of these stories often smack of criminal story and melodrama at the same time. The history of acquisition, preservation, and catalogization of Hebrew manuscripts of St. Petersburg would be unthinkable without understanding the role of Russia's two most important scholars-Hebraists, Daniel Chwolson and Abraham Harkavy. Paradoxically enough, there was more of animosity and conflict, then under-standing and cooperation between these two scholars — and the book helps one to understand reasons for this strange situation on the one hand, and to appreciate the contribution of each scholar to the shaping and forming of the collection, on the other (pp. 60-62). The history of the collection finishes with analysis of the twentieth-century acquisitions which included largely Judeo-Persian, Krymchak and Karaite manuscripts, private collections of Russian Hebraists, and some Yiddish materials (altogether 1217 codices and documents and 79 scrolls; pp. 62-64).

The main part of the book is dedicated to the analysis of the main tendencies and currents in the history of Hebrew manuscript writing from Biblical times until modernity, including main geographic areas of the spread of manuscript lore, tools used by the scribes, forms and types of manuscripts and suchlike. On the colourful folios of the book one can find facsimiles of numerous hitherto unpublished manuscripts, medieval miniatures, drawings and illustrations, and excerpts from the most important documents. These excerpts are nor-mally provided in Russian translations often accompanied with original Hebrew versions. The author paid a special attention to the colophons. It is normally the colophons that provide us with information about the name of the scribe, circumstances, the place and the date of composition (copying) of a manuscript. Furthermore, colophons often provide other highly important personal details which help one to understand the history of each manuscript in particular and of Jewish manuscript tradition in general. The author publishes colophons and re-produces fragments from such important manuscripts as Codex Petropolitanus (Cairo, 1008), the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible known today; Codex Babilonicus Petropolitanus (916), with its unique Babylonian system of vocalization and the oldest dated Hebrew colophon; the oldest copy of the Pentateuch (929); He-brew original and Arabic translation of the Bible by Saadya Gaon (Cairo (?), ca. 1010); Rashi's Bible com-mentaries (North Italy, 1276/7-1284/5), the oldest Hebrew manuscript from Italy; Samaritan Pentateuch, which contains Hebrew original together with the Arabic and Samaritan translations in paleo-Hebrew script (12th-13th centuries); a copy of the larger version of the letter by the Khazar qagan Joseph to Hasday b. Shaprut (Byzantium, 13th century), and many other unique and important manuscripts.

Unbelievable is also a variety of genres of the manuscripts presented in the book: one can find here copies of the Bible, Mishna, and the Talmud, Bible commentaries and translations, philosophical and exegetical treatises, poetry, dictionaries, text- and grammar-books, prayer-books, marriage contracts, belle-lèttres, medical and astronomical treatises, halakhic works, memoirs and correspondence to mention only some of them. As has been mentioned above, the book may also serve as a text-book for studying Hebrew calligraphy, palaeography and the art of manuscript miniatures: the author published numerous samples of Jewish scripts and illustrations, largely in the section dedicated to prayer-books and religious poetry (pp. 180—203).

While most of the manuscripts mentioned above were composed or copied by the Rabbanite (i. e. Talmu-dic) Jews, a large portion of them was left by the Karaites. This fact is explained by the importance of the intellectual output of Karaite thinkers, who continued copying manuscripts well into the twentieth century, to the history of Jewish civilization. Furthermore, the most important part of the collection was formed from the manuscripts collected by Abraham Firkovich, who, being an ardent protagonist of Karaite cause, had a special focus on Karaite manuscripts. The collections boasts the works by such important Karaite thinkers and intellectuals as the masoretes from Ben Asher's family, Bible commentator Yefet b. Eli, exegetes David b. Boaz, Jacob b. Reuven, Joseph al-Basir, Aaron b. Joseph and many others. Firkovich collections are also highly important for the history of the Karaite community in early modern and modern period. Inter alia, Iakerson publishes here several most interesting nineteenth-century Karaite documents, such as the decision of the Karaite commu-nity of Damascus to donate a 13th-century manuscript of the Bible to the Karaite worthies of the Crimea (pp. 62-64). Highly interesting is also a bilingual Russo-Hebrew dedicatory inscription by a 19th-century Karaite leader, Solomon Beim, left on a folio from an Ashkenazic manuscript of the 13th— centuries (!). The inscription was somewhat paradoxically left upside down above the Hebrew text, the author of the inscription stated that the manuscript dated back to the 9th century, while the addressee of the donation was none other as the Russian general Semĕn Mikhaĭlovich Vorontsov (1823—1882), the mayor of Odessa (pp. 22—23, 156—157). This fact is highly important for anyone interested in the history of Russian literature. Semĕn Vorontsov's father, Mikhail Vorontsov, was the governor of Novorossiia and the hero of Tolstoĭ's “Hadzhi Murat”. It is known that his wife donated to Russia's most famous poet, Alexander Pushkin, the ring with Hebrew inscription, apparently of a Karaite origin. The fact that Solomon Beim gave to Vorontsov-junior a fragment of a Hebrew manuscript is importance evidence of the contacts between the Karaites and this illustrious Russian family. This discovery helps one to understand the secret of origin of Push-kin's finger-ring.

One can perhaps see here the irony of the fate, but the fact remains the same: many unique manuscripts composed by Rabbinic authorities survived only thanks to the activity of their adversary, Karaite leader and collector Abraham Firkovich. It is only due to his collector's zeal that manuscripts by Rabbinic authorities such as anti-Karaite polemist Saadya Gaon, philosopher and le-gal authority Samuel b. Hofni, Solomon b. Gabirol, Menahem b. Saruk, Dunash b. Lavrat, Abraham b. Ezra, Moses b. Tibbon, Moses b. Jacob of Kiev, Juda Halevi, and many others, have survived. It is also worthwhile mentioning that many manuscripts that were purchased by Firkovich would have otherwise been lost - as was, for example, with treasures of Theodosia geniza in the Crimea, which Firkovich was not allowed to empty - and which was destroyed by a Nazi bomb in 1944.

The book ends by a convoluted colophon composed by Shimon Iakerson himself in two main languages used by him in this book, in Hebrew and in Russian. This indispensable book, which represents a first attempt of a comprehensive analysis of Jewish manuscript treasures kept in St. Petersburg, needs to be translated into English so that not only Russian, but also Western readers will get a chance to get acquainted with the multifaceted treasure kept in the northern capital of Russia [3].

M. Kizilov

[1] In accordance with the Jewish tradition of giving a child two names (one Hebrew and one European), the author gave his book a second, Hebrew title: Otsar Nehmad (Mnogogrannoe sokrovishche in Russian; both may be translated by English Multifaceted Treasure).

[2] The scholar did not travel to the USSR by himself, but worked with photographic copies of the manuscripts (see: J. Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature (Philadelphia 1935)). When this review has already been submitted to the press, the book received Antsiferov's prize for the best academic study on St. Petersburg for the period from 2007—2009.

[3] Furthermore, the second volume of this study has just appeared in print as L. B. Uritskaia, S. M. Iakerson, Evreĭskie sokrovishcha Peterburga. Ashkenazskie kollektsii Rossiĭskogo ėtnograficheskogo muzeia (St. Petersburg, 2009).

Рецензия опубликована в журнале Manuscripta Orientalia, 15(2), December 2009, c. 64-66.
Последнее обновление ( 02.03.2010 )
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