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20 Teves 5760 - December 29, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Ancient Hebrew Manuscripts Discovered

by G. Safran

Mauro Pirani, a Professor in the University of Bologna, recently discovered a treasure containing thousands of Hebrew manuscripts hidden in the bindings of ancient notary tomes that were preserved in the archives of the Spanish city of Gerona.

This is one of several similar discoveries in recent years. Apparently in Italy, where sifrei kodesh were collected by the Inquisition and set ablaze, many manuscripts endured.

Evidently, before the manuscripts reached the bonfires, the binders would purchase them cheaply, in order to use them as binding material. In that manner, hashgacha safeguarded many manuscripts from destruction.

Research on this issue has been taking placeor a number of years. Nonetheless, it is far from complete, even though even before the discovery of the manuscripts in Gerona, over 7,000 texts were discovered after a systematic search in Italy's archives and libraries.

According to the researchers, merely recording the information about the tomes bound with Hebrew texts is a long and arduous process. There are archives that include more than thirty kilometers of shelves. In the second stage, attempts are made to separate and to salvage the texts from the bindings and send photocopies to the Sarmoneta Collection in the Institute for the Photocopies of Hebrew Manuscripts in the National Library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The texts used for binding in Italy were transcribed on parchment, generally on both sides. As a result, they must be separated delicately and professionally.

In 3,000 pages found in the Modina region, the Hebrew writing on the outer sides of the bindings was obliterated due to the attempts of the binders to simulate the original, more expensive parchment. Now attempts are being made to recover the obliterated texts with the help of ultra-violet rays.

In this manner, important manuscripts, most of which were written more than 500 years ago, were discovered in Italy. Among them are pages from the early printing of the Tanach in Bologna in 1482, and a Chumash with meforshim printed in Spain in 1490.

The many pages discovered in Emilia, include hundreds of pages from the Talmud Bavli, written on parchment more than 800 years ago, prior to the famous Munich manuscripts.

Most of these pages were found in the state archives in Bologna, where important manuscripts of the Talmud Yerushami, the Mishna and the Tosefta, which should help in the clarification of various versions, were found. Additional manuscripts are helpful in elucidating the precise version of Rashi's commentary on Shas and Tanach.

Recently, an additional treasure of the "European Geniza" was found in Gerona, the city of the Ramban.

Professor Mauro Pirani searched through the historical archives and to his surprise discovered thousands of additional Hebrew texts which had been pasted together in order to form thick bindings for notary tomes between the years 1330-1500.

The novel aspect of this finding, in addition to the importance of the discovery of additional manuscripts, is its early date. The 7,000 pages found in the bindings of European archives date back 500 years ago, and these date back 700 years ago. It is hoped that the disclosure of important manuscripts and their documentation will bring to the discovery of additional ones.

Important, rare and unknown texts from the Italian Archives, as well as photographs of the first findings of the Gerona archives are currently on display in the National Library in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The exhibition is being subsidized by the Municipality of Bologna and the Committee for the Preservation of Mediterranean Culture, recently established by the Culture Ministry of Italy.

The display includes manuscripts of Tanach, the Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, Mishna Torah of the Rambam, and manuscripts of the commentaries of the Rishonim, such as the commentary of the Har"i Kara on Tehillim, a commentary on Nozir, which is different than the printed commentary quoted in the name of Rashi in Bris Yaakov (Livorno, 5060), Tosfos Rid on Eruvin, the commentary of Rabbenu Eliakim ben Meshulam on Yoma and others.

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