On the Alessandria folios

Prof. Simcha Emanuel is a full professor in the Department of Talmud at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Simcha Emanuel
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The European Genizah usually provides us with fragmentary texts – a few pages, or just a single folio that was torn out from a complete codex. These folios were cut up and damaged by bookbinders, who sometimes completely erased one side of the parchment. Only infrequently does the European Genizah yield a large quantity of folios from a single codex.

An early copy of a commentary on the piyyutim, which I will describe herein, is truly a rarity in this regard. There are 68 surviving folios, most of which are completely intact and readable with almost no difficulty. These folios, which are certainly only a small part of the original manuscript, contain an early commentary on the piyyutim of Shavu’ot and Rosh Hashanah.

The 68 folios were discovered in two libraries in Northern Italy. More than twenty years ago, Prof. Mauro Perani found 32 folios in the bindings of books in the Biblioteca Civica di Alessandria. These folios were used to bind eight volumes of a single work: Giasone del Maino’s commentary on Corpus juris civilis, published in Turin in 1592. Of the folios found in Alessandria, 30 contain commentary on piyyutim for Shavu’ot, and only two contain commentary on piyyutim for Rosh Hashanah. A preliminary discussion of the commentary on the Shavu’ot piyyutim was published by Prof. Saverio Campanini more than a decade ago.

Quite recently, Dr. Sofia Locatelli found 36 folios that were detached from bookbindings in Crema, near Cremona, in the Biblioteca Comunale Clara Gallini. It is not yet certain what books these folios were detached from. Based on a preliminary examination I performed, I have ascertained that these folios, too, contain commentary on piyyutim for Shavu’ot and Rosh Hashanah, albeit in different proportions: 32 of the new folios contain commentary on Rosh Hashanah piyyutim and four folios contain commentary on Shavu’ot piyyutim. Prof. Judith Olszowy-Schlanger estimates that this copy was made in 13th-century France.

There is no doubt that the 36 newly discovered folios and the 32 folios discovered in Alessandria twenty years ago are from the same codex. Thus, we now have 68 folios from it: 34 folios of a commentary on piyyutim for Shavu’ot and 34 folios of a commentary on piyyutim for Rosh Hashanah. The remainder of this brief article will focus on the nature of the commentary on Rosh Hashanah piyyutim, the vast majority of which was only just discovered in the new fragments from Crema.

Photo credit: Sofia Locatelli — used with kind permission of the Biblioteca Comunale Clara Gallini

The commentary on Rosh Hashanah piyyutim is the work of several commentators, only some of whom can be identified. The scribe wrote explicitly that the commentary on several piyyutim was by Rabbi Shemaiah, the closest disciple of Rashi. On another piyyut, the scribe copied alternating sections from the commentaries of Rabbi Shemaiah and Rabbi Joseph Kara, a contemporary of Rabbi Shemaiah. The commentary on the other piyyutim is certainly from a later period. Rabbi Shemaiah and Rabbi Joseph Kara were among the first exegetes of the piyyut in Northern France, in the early 12thcentury, but only a small part of their commentaries have reached us in their original form. The newly discovered witnesses of their running commentaries on several piyyutim for Rosh Hashanah are thus of great importance. The new folios also enable us to compare the commentary of Rabbi Shemaiah to that of Rabbi Joseph Kara for one complete piyyut

I also note two surprising discoveries that emerge from a preliminary study of the fragments.

  1. The copy before us contains a commentary on an unknown piyyut for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The piyyut itself was not copied, but a significant portion of it can be reconstructed from the words of the commentator. At present, it seems that this piyyut was not included into the French maḥzorim that have reached us, and has not been preserved in even a single manuscript. However, the copy before us indicates that somewhere in Northern France it was customary to recite this piyyut, and a sage even took the trouble to write a comprehensive commentary on it.
  2. The scribe erred several times in writing צ instead of ס or שׂ . Thus, for example, he copied “אני ואפצי עוד” (instead of “ואפסי”) and “מצוא פנים” (instead of “משׂוא”). We have a handful of attestations of such switches in the French pronunciation (and perhaps the German as well), but I cannot recall seeing errors like these in other medieval manuscripts. Perhaps raising this issue now will inspire other scholars to find additional errors of this type in Hebrew manuscripts that were copied in Northern France; perhaps we will even be able to identify the region where scribes made such errors.

Simcha Emanuel


Cite this blog post
BwB magazine (2021, March 22). On the Alessandria folios. Books within Books. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/m631

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