North African Jewish Life

The photographic essays below are meant to enhance the North African Jewish Manuscript Collection at the Yale University Library.  We recently purchased a collection of postcards recording Jewish life in Morocco in the early 20th century.  This period overlaps with that of a large majority of manuscripts in Yale’s collection.  The postcards thus present a graphic image of the society from which the documents emerge.  They present cityscapes, rabbinic  figures, commercial life, women in the various modes of attire and more.  We have chosen to present two subjects that stand out in the collection:  depictions of women and depictions of the market place and commercial life.

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Photo essay of Jewish women of North Africa at the beginning of the 20th century.  Almost all of the women are from Morocco.  The images are taken from a recently acquired collection of picture postcards of Jewish life in Morocco.  Most of the photographs appear to have been posed portraits. Please find a selection of photographs from the collection here: North African Women (Powerpoint) North African Women (PDF)

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The Jews depicted in this set of postcards made their living primarily as merchants and craftsmen.  They either did business on the street or in small store fronts in the market places of the cities and villages in which they lived.  The men who appear in the photos seem to have made a meager living which allowed them to barely get by. Those women who worked outside the home, were laundresses which kept them out of the marketplace and thus out of sight of strange men. Find the collection here: North African Professions (PDF), North African Professions (PowerPoint)

 

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ALL THIS HAS COME UPON US

Title of a portfolio by the artist Mark Podwal.

42 archival pigment prints of acrylic, gouache and colored pencil works on paper exhibited at the Terezin Ghetto Museum from April to July 2014. Includes folio with the titles, Hebrew psalms and descriptions of the all the artworks.  Prints housed in an archival clamshell case imprinted with “ALL THIS HAS COME UPON US…” and the artist’s name. Edition limited to 60 numbered copies signed by the artist

According to the artist’s statement in the catalog accompanying the exhibit, “the paintings and drawings in this series are a disturbing reminder of how Europe’s extensive history of ‘Jew-hatred’ laid the groundwork for Terezin and Auschwitz.” Each image, depicting a tragedy or injustice in Jewish history from slavery in Egypt through the Holocaust is paired with a verse from Psalms. “The menorah in the first image, carried away by goose stepping Germans, appears again in the last image with the seven biblical fruits sprouting from its branches. A verse from Psalm 126, the psalm almost chosen as Israel’s national anthem, proclaims, ‘Those who plant with tears will harvest in joy.’ ”

See a selection from prints of Podwal’s work below:

Pslam 94:3-- "How long will the wicked triumph?" "Rabbinic sages say in the human heart are two impulses, good and evil. The wicked, influenced by the evil impulse, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from their land. Against the evil impulse, the Torah is the great antidote."

Psalm 94:3– “How long will the wicked triumph?”
“Rabbinic sages say in the human heart are two impulses, good and evil. The wicked, influenced by the evil impulse, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from their land. Against the evil impulse, the Torah is the great antidote.”

Pslam 60:6--"You give your loyal followers a banner around which to rally." "Every year, when the annual reading of the Torah concludes and begins anew the congregation says in Hebrews, 'Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek' meaning 'Be strong, be strong, and may we strengthen one another."

Psalm 60:6–”You give your loyal followers a banner around which to rally.”
“Every year, when the annual reading of the Torah concludes and begins anew the congregation says in Hebrew, ‘Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek’ meaning ‘Be strong, be strong, and may we strengthen one another.”

 

Psalm 122:6-- "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those you love You be at peace." "Though Jerusalem is called 'City of Peace,' no place has been fought over more."

Psalm 122:6– “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those you love You be at peace.”
“Though Jerusalem is called ‘City of Peace,’ no place has been fought over more.”

Psalm 13:3-- "How long will I have troubling thoughts, sorrow in my heart every day? How long shall my enemy dominate me?" "In both Christian and Muslim countries, it was common for laws to mandate that synagogues could not be taller than churches or mosques."

Psalm 13:3– “How long will I have troubling thoughts, sorrow in my heart every day? How long shall my enemy dominate me?”
“In both Christian and Muslim countries, it was common for laws to mandate that synagogues could not be taller than churches or mosques.”

 

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New Acquisitions

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Yiddish Yomtoyvim,  by Mikhailovich, Nikolai
History and development of the Jewish festivals.
Minsk, Mlukhe farlag, 1925.  Translated into Yiddish from a manuscript  by H. Maysel and  Uri Finkel.    The cover illustration in a modernistic style by Meyer Akselrod is quite beautiful and evokes the festival celebrations in ancient times.

 

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ORT Newsletters
ORT, an association for the promotion of skilled trades, is a non-profit global Jewish organization that promotes education and training in over 100 countries.  After the end of World War II, ORT established rehabilitation programs for the survivors. The first one in Germany was started in August 1945 in the Landsberg DP camp. Vocational training centers were set up in 78 DP (Displaced Persons) Camps in Germany, and nearly 85,000 people acquired professions and the tools they would need to rebuild their lives. Jacob Olejski, a Dachau survivor who had previously organized ORT in Lithuania, was the driving force behind ORT’s revival. BookScanCenter_3

Images from the newsletters published by ORT showing the rehabilitation work done by ORT among the survivors of World War II in Germany preparing them for their eventual immigration to Israel.  Most the newsletters we purchased are from 1948.BookScanCenter_4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foyglen (Birds) by Leib Kvitko and illustrated by Issachar Rybak.  Berlin: Shveln, 193-? 15 leaves.
Rybak’s illustrations in color and black and white are quite stunning.  Unfortunately, the book was printed of highly acidic paper and the pages are in very bad shape.  The book will need to be digitized.

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Yiddish Sheet Music from the early 20th century
We recently purchased a collection of Yiddish sheet music.  Many of the songs are from the Yiddish stage which flourished on the Lower East Side in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Below are two examples of the elaborate covers of the scores.  The Hebrew Publishing Company appears to have been the primary publisher.

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Kolnik, Arthur, 1890-1971
Portfolio of 12 woodcuts by Kolnik.  Paris, Kunstler-gemeinschaft, 1933.  Signed by the artist and numbered.  The 12 woodcuts consist of illustrations of scenes from Yiddish literary works.  Included is an original woodcut of the Yiddish actor, Herz Grosbard, 1892-1994.

First image—Character from a work by M. L. Halpern

Second image—Image of the Yiddish actor Herz Grosbard (1892-1994)

 

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New and Notable

Two new pieces in our collection:

Saul Gedaliah HarkavyVehu Sha’ul – DI Gelihene Hok. First Edition. Text in Hebrew and Yiddish. With supplement “Der Zeiger”—concerning the Rabbis of America who incessanty argue with each other. An anti-assimilationist polemic, written in the form of a running commentary to the Song of Songs by a Mir and Volozhin-educated immigrant to Nashua, NH. The author holds up absolutely no hope for a Jewish future in America—only in the Land of Israel can Judaism be certain. “Having dwelt in this land (of America) for a number of years and having seen the disgraceful behavior of my people…I can no longer restrain myself and must make public what weighs so heavily on my heart.

Saul Gedaliah HarkavyVehu Sha’ul – DI Gelihene Hok. First Edition. Text in Hebrew and Yiddish. With supplement “Der Zeiger”—concerning the Rabbis of America who incessanty argue with each other.
An anti-assimilationist polemic, written in the form of a running commentary to the Song of Songs by a Mir and Volozhin-educated immigrant to Nashua, NH. The author holds up absolutely no hope for a Jewish future in America—only in the Land of Israel can Judaism be certain. “Having dwelt in this land (of America) for a number of years and having seen the disgraceful behavior of my people…I can no longer restrain myself and must make public what weighs so heavily on my heart.

Isak Lechter. In Land Fun Rasen Diskriminatziya (On Racism in America) Yiddish. Warsawm Yiddish Buch Verlag, 1953.

Isak Lechter. In Land Fun Rasen Diskriminatziya (On Racism in America) Yiddish. Warsawm Yiddish Buch Verlag, 1953.

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The Arts of the Book Collection

One of the jewels on the Yale University Library is the Arts of the Book Collection.  It is housed in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library and is dedicated to book making in all its facets.  It contains books that are beautifully-made, cutting edge, unusually-shaped. The books are created as works of art in themselves.

Each book expresses the views of its maker(s) not only in the meaning of the words, but in what is communicated by the form of the object.  Unexpected structures and materials, imagery, typography and other creative means allow artists to express their views.  Jae Jennifer Rossman, Assistant Director of Special Collections in the Arts Library, is head of this collection.

Avner Moriah The Scroll of Esther The Book of Esther is one of the five scrolls in the Hebrew Bible which are read in the synagogue in honor of a festival. Esther is read on the holiday of Purim. The book tells of the intrigues, corruption and dangers ever-present in the court of the Persian emperors in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C.E. As recounted in the text, only the Jewish queen Esther’s determination and courage as well as the resilience of her uncle Mordecai prevents the annihilation of the Jews of the Persian Empire. God’s name is never mentioned in the scroll though his presence is indirectly implied. The Book of Esther is the only biblical book not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Moriah’s illustrations capture the color, wealth and opulence of the Persian court. In its time, it was the largest and wealthiest empire the world had ever known. The scroll is open to the beginning scenes of the story when King Ahasuerus holds a huge banquet for his male courtiers while at the same time his soon to be deposed Queen Vashti holds a similar party for the ladies.

Avner Moriah
The Scroll of Esther
The Book of Esther is one of the five scrolls in the Hebrew Bible which are read in the synagogue in honor of a festival.
Moriah’s illustrations capture the color, wealth and opulence of the Persian court. In its time, it was the largest and wealthiest empire the world had ever known. The scroll is open to the beginning scenes of the story when King Ahasuerus holds a huge banquet for his male courtiers while at the same time his soon to be deposed Queen Vashti holds a similar party for the ladies.

There are many books related of Judaic interest in the Arts of the Book Collection.  Almost all of them were published in limited editions and are signed by the author and the graphic artist.  They are printed on special paper, may have specially designed type-faces, and are often hand bound.  Some are printed as portfolios and not bound at all.  The books bridge literature and the visual arts; one becomes an expression of the other.  Here are some examples of books relating to Judaica in the Arts of the Book Collection.

Lynne Avadenka Root Words: an Alphabetic Exploration The book is the result of a collaboration between Lynne Avadenka and Mohamed Zakariya. Avadenka's research was focused on the history of the Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew calligraphy, and the quotes from Jewish sources. Zakariya was responsible for the Islamic calligraphy, source material for the history of the Arabic language, and the quotes attributed to Islamic sources. The art work is by Avadenka.

Lynne Avadenka
Root Words: an Alphabetic Exploration
The book is the result of a collaboration between Lynne Avadenka and Mohamed Zakariya. Avadenka’s research was focused on the history of the Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew calligraphy, and the quotes from Jewish sources. Zakariya was responsible for the Islamic calligraphy, source material for the history of the Arabic language, and the quotes attributed to Islamic sources. The art work is by Avadenka.

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The ketubah Collection at Yale’s Beinecke Library

The Yale University Library has a large collection of illuminated ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts).  Below are some examples from our collection.

 Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 3rd of Kislev 5649 (1888) at Yerushalem. Document has a scalloped top with two registers. The lower register contains the text of the ketubah and the upper register contains a vase and branches with flowers. The two registers are bordered by a design of blue leaves with red and yellow flowers.


Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 3rd of Kislev 5649 (1888) at Yerushalem (Jerusalem). Document has a scalloped top with two registers. The lower register contains the text of the ketubah and the upper register contains a vase and branches with flowers. The two registers are bordered by a design of blue leaves with red and yellow flowers.

 Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 9th of Nisan, 5665 (1905) at Dameśeḳ. The text is written within an arched gilded border in the bottom half of the document. Above it and on both sides are painted large vases with flowers and borders with floral designs. Beneath the text of the ketubah are the signatures of the two witnesses on either side and the groom's signature in the center.


Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 9th of Nisan, 5665 (1905) at Dameśeḳ (Damascus, Syria). The text is written within an arched gilded border in the bottom half of the document. Above it and on both sides are painted large vases with flowers and borders with floral designs. Beneath the text of the ketubah are the signatures of the two witnesses on either side and the groom’s signature in the center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Marriage contract, manuscript, ink on vellum, dated 7 Tamuz 5549 at Saloniki, Greece. Surrounding the two columns of text are birds, flowers, fruit, columns, biblical sayings, Eshet Hayil, Shir ha-shirim. The right column contains the marriage terms and the left column contains the betrothal terms. Colors used are brown, with coral & dark grayish blue-green.


Marriage contract, manuscript, ink on vellum, dated 7 Tamuz 5549 at Saloniki, Greece. Surrounding the two columns of text are birds, flowers, fruit, columns, biblical sayings, Eshet Hayil, Shir ha-shirim. The right column contains the marriage terms and the left column contains the betrothal terms. Colors used are brown, with coral & dark grayish blue-green.

 Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 12th of Nisan 5616 (1856) at Itsfahan. Brightly colored elaborate floral illumination surrounds the text. In the center above the text there is a large vase with two lions with a rising sun behind them on either side of the vase, and with two birds above. There is a floral arch on the top of the document and two smaller arches framing the text. The frame of the document contain blessings for the bride and the groom.


Marriage contract, manuscript, ink and paint on paper, dated 12th of Nisan 5616 (1856) at Itsfahan, Iran. Brightly colored elaborate floral illumination surrounds the text. In the center above the text there is a large vase with two lions with a rising sun behind them on either side of the vase, and with two birds above. There is a floral arch on the top of the document and two smaller arches framing the text. The frame of the document contain blessings for the bride and the groom.

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Bas Sheva by Moishe Broderzon

Among Yale Library’s extensive collection of sheet music is the Yiddish opera, Bas ShevaMus_miscms_530 The opera in Yale’s possession is in manuscript form. The lyrics are romanized, probably because musical notes can only be written from left to right, whereas Yiddish is read from right to left. The title page can be considered a work of art in itself, and in all probability Broderzon is the illustrator. Sometimes called Dovid and Bas-Sheva¸ this opera premiered in Warsaw’s prestigious Kaminski Theater on May 14, 1924. It is not known if it was ever performed again. Moishe Broderzon (1890-1956), the librettist, was born in Moscow but made his home in Lodz, Poland, where he did his most important artistic work. He was involved in just about every aspect of Yiddish culture and art. A poet and a playwright, he helped found a literary journal, a puppet theater, and a cabaret theater. He fled to Russia at the outbreak of World War II. Broderzon was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1950 and died shortly after being released from a Stalinist labor camp. Henekh Kon (1998-1972) was a composer of musical theater and film. He is probably best known as the composer of the musical score for the Yiddish film The Dybbuk, based on S. Ansky;s play. Kon was a major figure in the Polish-Jewish cultural scene of the interwar period. He worked with Broderzon in founding the Chad Gadya marionette theater in Lodz (1922) and the Azazel (1925), Sambatyon (1926), and Ararat (1927) theaters in Warsaw. Kon left Poland before World War II and moved to New York. He thus survived the terrible fate that befell other Yiddish artists and intellectuals who were swept up in the Nazi inferno or the Stalinist persecutions. The Yale Library’s large collection of Yiddish and Hebrew sheet music is housed in the Gilmore Music Library.

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Rabbinic Emissary Collection

A group of manuscripts that we have assembled over a period of several years is the rabbinic emissaries collection.  In Hebrew they were referred to as shadarim, an acronym for shilluhe de-rabbanan.

Rabbinic emissary document from Tiberias to communities in Tunisia and Libya, 1922.   Large manuscript on parchment, dated 5682 [1922], intended as a letter of introduction in which the great sages of Tiberias authorize  Rabbi Yaʻaḳov Ṿaḳnin to collect funds for the needy of that city. The first five paragraphs each begin and end with the same word. The top of the document is scalloped with the center taking the form of an arch. The calligraphy is beautifully executed, indicating that the document was probably written by a professional scribe. The document bears the signatures and official stamps of over forty rabbis from the Maghrebi community in Tiberias. The letter is addressed to rabbis and leaders of the large centers of Jewish settlement in Tunisia and Libya. The great Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir, also known as Rabbi Meir Baal ha-Nes, whose tomb is in Tiberias, is referred to frequently to add more gravity to the request of the emissary and the rabbis who sent him.

Rabbinic emissary document from Tiberias to communities in Tunisia and Libya, 1922.
Large manuscript on parchment, dated 5682 [1922], intended as a letter of introduction in which the great sages of Tiberias authorize Rabbi Yaʻaḳov Ṿaḳnin to collect funds for the needy of that city.

  The Jewish community living in Palestine under Ottoman rule was both poor and pious.  Its members lived off the charity of Jewish Diaspora communities that sent funds to the Holy Land to support the Jews living there.  The rabbinic academies, old age homes, orphanages, and hospitals thus sent on an almost regular basis men to various parts of the world to raise money.  In order to prove that they were legitimate representatives of the institutions that sent them, these emissaries carried letters of introduction which they presented to the rabbis and notables of the Jewish communities to which they were sent.  The letters shed light on Jewish life in Palestine before the secular immigrants from Eastern Europe began arriving in large numbers.  Up until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jewish community in the Holy Land was composed of Sephardic Jews (of Spanish origin) who had been there for several centuries, and the ultra-orthodox Jews who had come from Central and Eastern Europe (known as Ashkenazim) who had come  in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Both these communities, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, lived primarily in what were known as the four holy cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius, and Safed.  And both sent emissaries to members of their respective communities in the Diaspora for the purpose of collecting funds.  Many of the emissaries were important rabbis and Talmudic scholars and some even stayed on in the communities to which they were sent as rabbis and preachers.  The economic, social and religious inter-connectedness between Jews in Palestine and those in the Diaspora is a subject for exploration and study and Yale’s collection provides a rich resource for research in this area.   They can be found in Manuscripts and Archives at the Sterling Memorial Library.

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Song of Songs

This calligraphic masterpiece, 11-inch high piece of parchment that contains the entire biblical Song of Songs in Hebrew micrography (written in tiny letters).   It is signed by the Lithuanian artist/scribe, Baruch ben Shemaryah, 1794.  It renders the entire Song of Songs as a work of art, in letters that are at once text and illumination.  Shir (song) is the central word around which the text revolves.  The crown, labeled “crown of kingship” perhaps refers to the Song’s opening statement that its author is King Solomon.img0006

Religious authorities in both Judaism and Christianity made the Song’s prominence possible by interpreting it allegorically, as an expression of God’s love.  The document’s chronogram—Hebrew words whose numerical value indicates the date—uses ahavat olam: eternal love.  It may refer to a prayer about God’s love for Israel which begins with these words; or it may mean that the document was created in honor of a marriage.  For, in everyday usage and in its plain meaning, the Song of Songs is about spring, youth, love, and yearning.

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Yale’s Collection of European Jewish Community Registers

In addition to the collection of Judaica books in the library, we have been collecting manuscripts of various kinds that are of interest to scholars.  These different genres of materials enhance the Judaica Collection by providing library patrons with materials that are unique to Yale.  Since the library’s holdings are cataloged online, knowledge of these items is accessible to scholars all over the world.

The largest of our manuscript collections are the Jewish community registers from Europe.  These registers, known in Hebrew as pinkase kehilah, were produced by synagogue congregations, study societies, charitable societies and burial societies (the hevra kadisha).  The pinkasim (pl.) in Yale’s collection originate primarily in Eastern and Central Europe (mostly Hungary and Romania).  The contents consist of proceedings of meetings, regulations and by-laws, records of monetary contributions, and the recording of births and deaths.  The title page of many of them are elaborately written and decorated.  They are an excellent primary resource for the study of the economic, social and religious life of Jewish communities in Eastern and Central Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  They originated in the large centers of Jewish life but also in small out-of-way communities.  They thus shed light on Jewish life in geographic locations where there is precious little other information available.  There are pinkasim in the collection that contain records that go up to the early 1940s, the point at which these communities were destroyed by the Nazis.

The community register collection serves as a complement to Yale’s large collection of yizkor books, memorials to the destroyed Jewish communities of Europe during the Sho’ah.  These are works that were by-and-large compiled by survivors of those towns.  Those that remained alive at the end of the war attempted to evoke the towns of their birth in earlier times when those towns were still vibrant and active.  In addition to the many essays concerning the village, town, or city found in these books, the compilers also included photos of members of the various Zionist groups, sports clubs, school graduations, family outings, socialist or Bundist gatherings, and other events in the life of their community. The yizkor books celebrate the life of European Jewish communities that were brutally destroyed; the community register collection serve to shed further light on many of those communities.  A list of most of Yale’s holdings can be found at:  http://www.library.yale.edu/judaica/site/collection/yizkorbooks.php

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