Our «Patchwork»-Talmud

Four questions to Anna Rabin

In 2018, Anna Rabin, the for­mer cura­tor of the Jewish Muse­um of Switz­er­land, made a dis­co­very: Our Tal­mud, prin­ted in 1578 in Basel by Ambro­si­us Fro­ben, inclu­ded pages from the work­shop of the Vene­ti­an prin­ter Dani­el Bom­berg from 1522/8, fif­ty years ear­lier. Anna Rabin spo­ke to muse­um direc­tor Nao­mi Lub­rich about what she found in the book sin­ce then.

NL: Anna, you worked for the Jewish Muse­um of Switz­er­land for 15 years. What was it like to dis­co­ver that in one of our most important books, the pages didn’t match?

AR: At that moment, my heart began to beat. I thought, «That can’t be!» then, «What’s going on?» That’s when I began to take a clo­se look at the book. I tried to be objec­ti­ve and calm. When it beca­me clear that some of the prints did not come from Basel, but from Bomberg’s uni­que work­shop in Veni­ce, I began to turn the pages rever­ent­ly. Rea­li­zing that you have some­thing very spe­cial and uni­que in your hands is a sub­li­me moment that every muse­um employee dreams of.

NL: We will never know why the pages were bound tog­e­ther. But you deci­ded to look at the hand­writ­ten notes in the book to learn more about whe­re it was used. What was your big­gest challenge?

AR: I had three big chal­len­ges. The first was to keep an open mind and not read some­thing into the notes that might not be the­re. The second was under­stan­ding and deci­phe­ring the hand­wri­ting its­elf. No two hand­wri­tings are ali­ke. The third was time: I went through the inscrip­ti­ons again and again over a long peri­od of time to check deci­pher­ments, pos­si­b­ly to cor­rect or even revi­se them. This requi­red strong ner­ves, calm­ness, and perseverance.

NL: What did you discover?

AR: The hand­writ­ten notes sug­gest that the book was used in various Jewish com­mu­nities in sou­thern Ger­ma­ny and the Czech Repu­blic over the past four hund­red years. One trac­ta­te was used in the town of Usov (Czech Repu­blic). Some notes might be read as «Sulz­burg,» ano­t­her as «Metz.» But this is an inter­pre­ta­ti­on and not cer­tain, sin­ce the Hebrew text allows a cer­tain ran­ge of varia­ti­ons in voca­liz­a­ti­on. Nevertheless, it is likely that the volu­me was used in Sulz­burg, which is not far from Basel. And Metz had an important Jewish com­mu­ni­ty with important scholars.

NL: What might the com­mu­ni­ty have been like? What kind of lives did the scho­l­ars lead?

AR: We don’t know much about the scho­l­ars’ cur­ri­cu­lum or how they taught. But we do know that the­se com­mu­nities were very modest. The scho­l­ars devo­ted much of their dai­ly lives to stu­dy­ing reli­gious scrip­tu­re for as many hours as day­light per­mit­ted. The Tal­mud would have been an extra­or­di­na­ri­ly pre­cious cul­tu­ral and reli­gious source of know­ledge for them.

NL: Thank you very much!

Anna Rabin is now a staff mem­ber at the Albert Ein­stein Archi­ve in Jerusalem.

verfasst am 06.07.2022