Thursday, June 15, 2006

Copying texts by hand

David G. of Yediah and Hakirah has a most interesting post ostensibly about R. Azarya de Rossi--but it is really about copying books by hand. I quote:
I am not about to present a biography but just was intrigued about a minor point. Although printed books of Jewish subjects were available at the time, it was still the practice for individuals to copy Seforim by hand. It was an exercise in calligraphy especially for the young, but even more important, it helped people memorize and familiarize themselves thoroughly with a Sefer. I wonder if such a practice would be reintroduced in our Yeshivos, whether we would get more knowledgeable grown ups.
I've got to say that I don't quite get the potential advantage. I am not sure that copying texts is beneficial except for aiding in penmanship. Many copyists were hardly aware of what they were copying. Some of the best Christian scribes are said to have been unable to even read!

Without rules as in writing a sepher Torah, in which mechanisms are in place so that the scribe maintains awareness for what he is writing (and even then, only the particular word and individual letters being copied), it seems unlikely that copying Gemaras or whatever would accomplish anything. I'm afraid I think it would be a terrible bittul zeman.

But I am glad that R' David brought it up, because on a very limited scale it might be a wonderful exercise for kids to copy some passage of some length and then the teacher could compare them all and with the original and teach them a lesson about girsot. I think that would be something positive to expose kids to at some point, so that they will come to really understand what something like הכי גרסינן means, a concept they'll encounter frequently without really grasping the reality of what books meant prior to the invention of moveable type printing. It is my experience that this awareness really only comes once its signifigance is explained clearly. (In fact, the Tiferet Yisrael named Gutenberg as a חסיד אומות העולם. I think this was because such an awareness was fresh in his mind.)

In any event, its an interesting idea to think about simply because I can't really remember the last time a discussion about hand copying texts other than kisvei kodesh occurred. Maybe in the 16th century? :p

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