Fragments of the Halakhot Gedoloth from a 12th c. manuscript Found in Bologna and Leipzig University Library bookbinding*

Prof. Mauro Perani
Universita di Bologna

It is not rare that sheets from a manuscript dismembered in one town and reused in bookbindings became scattered across Italian provinces and regions, and even in other countries, sometimes hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the place in which they were reused. How can one explain the reasons why different sheets of the same original Hebrew codex are found in locations so far from each other? 

One possible explanation is that an itinerant dealer of second-hand writing ware sells sheets from the same manuscript either to customers from other cities or whilst journeying himself long distances from central Italy to the Po Valley in the north and even across the Alps, into Ashkenazi areas. For example, almost thirty years ago I discovered a manuscript of a previously unknown Commentary on the Torah and the Psalms by Yosef ben Shimon Kara whose separate sheets had been dispersed across three different archives: the State Archives of Bologna, Imola and in Pieve di Cento[1]. In this case, the bookbinder was probably located in Bologna and customers from the surrounding region, came to purchase second hand parchment or ready made bound registers for their archives in the province’s capital. 

The Tosefta fragments from the 10th century are another example of the dispersion of individual sheets of a codex, this time over hundreds of kilometres. I have been discovering the separate fragments over a period of several years, first, in Faenza, in the north of the Italian peninsula, a small fragment, which acted as a reinforcing pad where the strap that closed the cover of the register was anchored, and later two folios at the Municipal Historical Archive in Norcia[2].

However, the trade in recycled parchment cannot always explain the presence of the sheets from the same manuscript in different cities, countries or even continents.[3]

I believe that the main reason must be sought in the sale and purchase in Italian cities of manuscripts and especially printed books which had already been bound with sheets from Hebrew manuscripts[4].

In this article, I shall focus on a newly identified example of a dismembered codex of an important legal compendium, the Halakhot Gedoloth, whose fragments reappeared in Bologna and in Leipzig. In this particular case, a bookbinder in Bologna reused individual folios of the same manuscript to bind different printed books. In centuries following the reuse, which generally had occurred during the second half of the 16th and in the 17th century, scholars and bibliophiles from Europe, in our case Leipzig in Germany, acquired books bound with such sheets in Bologna, for their personal libraries, whose contents finally ended in the University collections.[5] This fascinating example of reused fragments kept today in two different countries has an interesting history. No less than fifteen beautiful pages containing the Halakhot Gedoloth in Leipzig were discovered when the book got accidentally wet and had to be re-bound. The Leipzig fragments have been identified, described and catalogued by Andreas Lehnardt[6].

How did we come to understand that two individual folios, discovered in Bologna and containing part of the Halakhot Gedoloth, had family links with 15 fragments, discovered and preserved in Leipzig, actually belonging – as it appears – to the same manuscript, copied by the same scribe? Marika Tursi, a researcher of Latin fragments, reused as bindings in the collections of the University of Bologna, has informed me only recently of the presence of a number of Hebrew fragments, recovered from the bindings of the books of Ulisse Aldrovandi, (11 September 1522 – 4 May, 1605), an eminent naturalist, botanist, philosopher and legal scholar; he obtained a degree in medicine and philosophy in 1553 and, in 1554 of Bologna University, in 1559 obtained a professorship in philosophy and in 1561 became the first professorship of Natural Sciences Lectura philosophiae naturalis ordinaria de fossilibus, plantis et animalibus at the University of Bologna. He was also a keen Hebraist: In one of his manuscripts, namely ms. Aldrovandi 97, recently catalogued by Giacomo Corazzol and me[7], Aldrovandi studied the basics of Hebrew, hence his interest in collecting sheets of Hebrew manuscripts which had been reused as book binding. The two precious folios have been recently detached and restored.

Currently, the Bologna fragments are stored loose in a protective jacket, bearing the shelfmark of the Aldrovandi codex from which they have been recently detached, namely Ms. ALD 146. The two folios were reused during the second half of the 16th c. as the inner lining of the front and back boards of the MS Ald. 143.

The text written on the flesh side of the two sheets is well preserved, while the text on the hair side had been erased in order to make the parchment appear new. The two sheets with the text were glued to the inside of the front and back boards of the binding. Given the good preservation of the text glued on the inside of the cardboard, we can observe that the binder must have used light glues, because during the process of detaching the letters have not been damaged or lost. 

Roni Shweka, an expert of the Halakhot Gedoloth, familiar with the 15 fragments at the Leipzig University Library, confirmed the link between the Leipzig and Bologna fragments. Upon closer examination and a careful comparison between the bifolio of Bologna and the fragments of Leipzig, I could ascertain, confirmed by Shweka, the identity of the script, layout and characters and even the same hand of the scribe, who copied the work in the 12th century, all features reconfirmed by Judith Schlanger.

To sum it up: The recent discovery, at the University Library of Bologna, of two sheets dismembered from a manuscript belonging to Ulisse Aldrovandi, could be identified as folios of a manuscript copied in the 12th century, in Italian handwriting, containing part of the Halakhot Gedoloth, the first compendium of the Talmudic legislation of the Geonic period. Thanks to an accurate exam of the two recently detached Bologna sheets and after comparing them with the 15 fragments of the same work, also used in the binding of printed texts in Leipzig University Library, it was possible to attribute them to the same manuscript and scribe. One can ask how did the folios end up there? 

In the 17th century, these five legal texts had belonged to law professors at the University of Bologna, as identified by their notes of possession. The Halakhot Gedoloth fragments had been reused as bindings of five volumes of Latin juridical works of Odofredus de Dinariis, Lecturae in Digestum Novum, printed in Lyon, in 1552, and sent to Bologna unbound. Their purchasers in Bologna had them bound with reused folios of the same codex of the Halakhot Gedoloth. We can identify some of the owners by their inscriptions in the books. The ownership notes on read as follows: “Fran. Monarius [utriusque iuris doctorCollegt.”; “Marcus A. Carrateus” and “Marci A. Carratii”. The “Rotuli, or register, of the law and arts readers of the Bologna Studio, from 1384 to 1799”,[8] lists the names of professors of the University of Bologna, and includes Francesco Monari, jurist at the University of Bologna in 1628/29, and Marcus Carrateus, the second possessor of the tomes. Through further search, I came across a seventeenth century document, which proves that Marcus Antonius Carratius was indeed a Bolognese jurist, too.

In the 19th century, a German bibliophile Professor Gustav Friedrich Hänel (Leipzig 1792 – ivi 1878) travelled to Bologna, in search of old books of law. He acquired there five volumes of Latin legal with their Hebrew fragments. When he died in 1878, the five tomes came to the Leipzig Library[9].

Fig. 1 Leipzig University Library, a fragment of the Halakot Gedolot.
Fig. 1 – Leipzig University Library, a fragment of the Halakhot Gedolot
Fig.2 Script of the Halakot gedolot of Leipzig.
Fig. 2 – Script of the Halakhot gedolot of Leipzig.
Fig 3. Script of the Halakot Gedolot of Bologna.
Fig. 3 – Script of the Halakhot Gedoloth of Bologna.
OFig.4-Ownership note of Marci Antonij Carratij.
Fig. 4 – Ownership note of Marci Antonij Carratij.

* I do wish to express my thanks to Dr. Martin Eifler, the Leipzig University librarian, for his precious help in study the history of these fragments.

[1] Mauro Perani, Yosef ben Shim‘on Kara’s lost Commentary to the Psalms (1-17). The fragment of Imola from the “Italian Genizah”, in Mauro Perani (ed.), The Words of a Wise Mouth are Gracious – Divre Pi-Hakam Hen. Festschrift For Günter Stemberger on the Occasion of His 65thBirthday, “Studia Judaica“, Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2005, pp. 395-428; see also Avraham Grossman, The Importance of the Italian Genizah for the Commentaries of R. Yosef Kara, in Abraham David and Joseph Tabory (eds.), The Italian Genizah, Jerusalem, Orhot Press, 1998, pp. 39-51 (Hebrew); and Id., “The Italian Genizah and R. Yosef Kara’s Commentary on the Bible” in Sara Japhet (ed.), The Bible in the Light of Its Interpreters: Sarah Kamin Memorial Volume, Jerusalem, Magnes, 1994, pp. 335-348 (Hebrew).

[2] For these fragments of the Tosefta, see in this volume: Mauro Perani and Günter Stemberger, The most ancient fragment found in the “Italian Genizah” the Tosefta of Norcia (ca. 1000 e.v.), in print; and Id., The most ancient Hebrew Manuscripts reused as bookbinding in Europe: The Tosefta of Norcia and the She’iltot of Ravenna from the 10th century, in “Sefer Yuḥasin”, 8 (2020), pp. 151-174.

[3] An example of manuscripts reused in Italy as bindings of printed books and purchased by the USA is the following. During one of my travels in New York, the librarian of the Columbia University Library showed me sheets of Hebrew manuscripts in the bindings of antique Italian books acquired by his university. They contain the Commentary to the piyyutim for Shavu’ot and, including in the central part the commentary of the piyyut“The earth below make a noise” by Eleazar ha-Qalir.

[4] An important example is the discovery in the Modena Estense Library of 385 printed books bound with bifolios of Hebrew manuscripts dismembered from medieval Hebrew manuscripts, in the Thirties and Forties of the 17h century; see M. Perani with the cooperation of Emmanuela Mongardi and Ezra Chwat, 385 printed books of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, bound with medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the Estense Library, in Andreas Lehnardt (ed.), ‘Genizat Germania’ – Hebrew and Aramaic Binding Fragments from Germany, ‘European Genizah’: Texts and Studies, n. 1, Brill, Leiden-Boston, 2010, pp. 217-275

[5] This way of dispersion of Hebrew manuscript fragments, used as binding of printed books, from Italy to other countries, happened between 18th and 20th c. as also described by Simcha Emanuel. Simcha Emanuel in his two volumes: Hidden Treasures from Europe, vol. I, Mekize Nirdanim, Jerusalem 2015, p. 17, note 2, p. 27 note 46 continuing in p. 28 (Hebrew); Id., Hidden Treasures from Europe, vol. II, Mekize Nirdanim, Jerusalem 2019, pp. 289-291, and p. 362. See also: J.E. Sandys, History of Classical Cholarship, U II, Cambridge, p. 13; M. Erwin, Fragments of Medieval Manuscripts in Printed Books: Crowdsourcing and Cataloging Medieval Manuscripts Waste in the Book Collections of the Harry Ransom Center, in Manuscripta, 50 (2016) ns. 5-7 and pp. 238-239, ns. 116.

[6] Andreas Lehnardt, A. (Bearb.), Hebräische HandschriftenDie hebräischen und aramäischen Einbandfragmente in deutschen Archiven, Bibliotheken und Sammlungen, in Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, Band 6,5, Leiden 2021, pp. XXIX, 957, Leipzig Universitätsbibliothek, pp. 530-534, Sefer Halakhot Gedolot, Fragm. Hebr. Nr. 5.1.15.

[7] M. Perani e G. Corazzol, Nuovo catalogo dei manoscritti ebraici della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna, in «inBUB, Ricerche e cataloghi sui Fondi della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna», Minerva Edizioni, Argelato (BO), 3, 2013, Argelato 2013, pp. 13-192, in particolare ms. [33], a p. 119.

[8] See: https://archive.org/details/irotulideilettor02unse/page/376/mode/2up

[9] For further information see: Mauro Perani, Juridical books bound in 16th c. Bologna with folios from a 12th c. manuscript of Halakhot Gedoloth, found in Bologna and in Leipzig University Library, in Mauro Perani (ed.) with the Cooperation of Emma, Abate, Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts reused as Book-bindings in Italy, ‘European Genizah’: Texts and Studies, Brill, Leiden-Boston, in print.


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