Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moses Mendelssohn's library.

This is kind of interesting. A book I've been looking for for a long time is finally online. I mean the Verzeichniss der auserlesenen Büchersammlung des seeligen Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Berlin, 1786). As you know, after you die people go through your stuff. This book is a catalog of Ramad's library. Unfortunately it didn't catalog his seforim, which is a real pity. What's also interesting is that the book was reprinted photomechanically in 1926 by the Soncino-Gesellschaft der Freunde des Jüdischen Buches - and the copy which Google scanned is the reprint. Since it is post-1923 I imagine it wasn't supposed to be available at all, yet Google let it slip through. Here is the title page:

As was the fashion in those days, the catalog listed the books by size, rather than subject. So the list is 108 in Folio, 307 in Quarto, 662 in Octavo and) 37 in Duodecimo, or a total of 1114 volumes (the list includes multiple volumes; for example, the very first entry is numbered 1 to 28 and consists of 28 volumes of the Encyclopédie), The books are in Latin, German, French, English, Dutch and Spanish, and include many dictionaries and grammars for all sorts of different languages.

Since I'll probably go through a list of over 1000 books carefully only when I am old and gray, I'll just list all the English books and some others of interest which catch my eye. I'm not going to do philosophy, since I am not interested in philosophy.

1) Mischnam sive totius Hebraeorum Juris, etc. Cum Commentariis Maimonidis & Bartenorae 1698.

This is Surenhuys's Latin Mishnah, with translation of the Mishnah commentaries of the Rambam and Bertinoro. See my post about this beautiful edition.

2) Buxtorfii Lexicon chaldaicum, talmudicum & rabbinicum 1639.


3) Lexicon Hebraicum & chaldaicum. Basil, 1698.

Buxtorf's famous lexica of Aramaic and rabbinic words were used by Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Mussaphia in his Mussaph Ha-aruch, the glosses on R. Nathan of Rome's Aruch which are incorporated in all subsequent editions. R. Nathan accurately passed on the traditional meaning of Talmudic words, but he didn't know Greek. Mussaphia did, or rather, he used Buxtorf.

4) Flavii Josephis juedische historien 1687.

Evidently a German book about Josephus. He had quite a few books on Josephus.

5) Johannis Seldeni de jure naturali etc. 1640.

John Selden was one of England's greatest experts on rabbinic law. He did indeed know his stuff, but that didn't stop R. Isaac Herzog from writing an article in a law journal basically seeking to demonstrate that Selden was not a talmid chochom, although he conceded that Selden's "wide readings in Rabbinics" are a fact and that the Dictionary of National Biography's description of his "extraordinary Talmudic-Rabbinic erudition" is "not far from the truth." Interestingly, R. Herzog laments that Selden did not produce a (Latin) translation of the Mishneh Torah which would have been a "great service to learning."

6) Joseph Priestley's Geschichte der Elektricitat.

A German translation of this English (and eventually American) theologian's History and Present State of Electricity. Joseph Priestley was involved in polemics over Judaism with David Levy, my favorite hatmaking Jewish lexicographer of the 18th century.

7) Buxtorf's Tiberias sive commentarius masorethicus (1665).

This is Buxtorf Sr.'s great work on the Massorah (2nd edition, with additions by his son). This book is basically a refutation of R. Elya Bochur's view on the age of the masorah, nekkudos and te'amim, taking the so-called conservative and supposedly traditional approach that they are much older than the Talmud. This view is explicated in Mendelssohn's introduction to the Torah.

8) Der Koren mit Noten, etc. by Theodor Arnold 1746.

What it sounds like.

9) Kabbala denudata, Sulzbach 1677.

"Kabbalah Laid Bare." See my post about this book, which includes many excerpts from the Zohar translated to Latin.

10) Part 2 and 3 of Wolff's Bibliotheca Hebraea.

No seforim fan's library is complete without one.

11) Lettres de quelques Juifs portugais & allemands. de Voltaire. Paris 1772.

A book attacking Voltaire's attacks on the Bible. This book included Isaac de Pinto's famous, or infamous, argument that actually the Ashkenazim are terrible, but the Sephardim are wonderful!

12) Simon Ockley's Geschichte der Saracanen, etc. 1745.

I include this history of the Muslims (translated from English) because of its author, who besides for being an expert on Arabic and Islam, also translated R. Yehuda Aryeh Modena's book about Judaism, the Riti, from Italian (see here).

13) Der Spinozismus in Judenthums, etc. Amstedam 1699.

Da ma she-tashiv.

14) Romeo e Giulia Dramma per Musica, etc. 1773.

Romeo and Juliet in Italian? Cool/ random.

15) Elucidarius Cabalisticus, etc. by Wachter. Rome 1706.

The Kabbalah Center should sell print on demand copies of this for $360.

17) Ein arabisches Manuscript vom Koran, auf geglaettetem Papiere.

What it sounds like: an Arabic Koran manuscript, on paper.

English books:

1) A Treatise of Algebra both historical and Practical. London 1685.

2) Isaiah, a new translation by Lowth. London 1779.Mendelssohn was a big fan of Bishop Lowth, even referring to him as כבוד רבי in an inscribed edition of his Chumash, which he sent to him in London.

3) Hermes, or a Philosophical Inquiry concerning universal Grammar by James Harris 1775.

4) Three Treatises by James Harris, 1772.

5) The Fable of the Bees, 1728 London.

Bernard Mandeville's classic parable on economics.

6) Interesting historical Events relative to the Provinces of Bengal and the Indostan, by Holwell, 1766.

In Jerusalem Mendelssohn makes a couple of references to Indians. Presumably this book and/ or other reference works were his source.

7) Several volumes of the Monthly Review.

8) An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (or "Understandiry" - Mendelssohn new English well, but the compiler of this library catalog obviously didn't. There are numerous such misspellings of English words in the list.)

9) The Works of Alexandre Pope Esq. in Ten Volumes complete, etc. 1762.

10) The State of the Printed hebrew Text of the old Testament considered. A dissertation in two Parts by Benjamin Kennicott. 1753.

Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, big time. See here about Mendelssohn's opinion of Kennicott and textual criticism (not good).

11) The Elements of physical and geometrical Astronomy. Vol. 1. London 1706.

12) A Discourse concerning the certainty of a future and immortal State. London 1706.

13) Letters to Serena, by Mr. Toland. London, 1704.

The same John Toland who wrote so passionately about extending rights to Jews in England.

14) A Catalogue of the Rarities to be seen at Don Salteros Coffee House in Chelsea.

You could think for a month and not come up with as great a title as that. Apparently it was a museum founded by a guy named John Salter (Don Saltero). My guess this is the closest thing to a comic book in his library.

15) The Life of Socrates collected from the memorabilia of Xenophon and the Dialogues of Plato. London 1750.

16) Christianity Not Mysterious, etc. by John Toland. London 1702.

Christian apikorsus. (Read that sentence carefully.)

17) Experiments and considerations touching Colours, by Robert Boyle. London, 1670.

18) The Works of the Right honourable Addison Esq. 1722.


If I checked carefully, that's 18 English entries in the catalog (including, of course, the periodical Monthly Review). In addition, I listed 17 additional books. What a pity that his Hebrew and rabbinic library were not cataloged. Doubtlessly a very skeletal list can be drawn up from his writings, but that's not the same.


  1. "David Levy, my favourite hatmaking Jewish lexicographer of the 18th century."

    In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson sometimes throws away references to other cases, in a delightfully infuriating way.

    This line is a classic.

  2. >This line is a classic.

    Oh, gee. Wow, thanks!

    You took it in exactly the sense I intended it. I suppose David Levi is familiar to many readers. (Wiki.)

    He was a pretty interesting characters. As I said, he was a hatmaker by trade, and a halfway decent lay scholar. His output included fairly good English translations of the Machzor - Sefaradi and Ashkenazi nussach, the Torah, daily siddur, a book about the rites and customs of Judaism in general, a massive and great work on Hebrew called Lingua Sacra, which is part grammar of Hebrew, part dictionary, and part encyclopedia. He also involved himself in extensive polemics with attackers of Judaism, especially when motivated by Deist concerns, like the aforementioned Priestly (which says a whole lot about free speech and the comfort level of Jews in England in those days). He was not an original scholar - more a consumer of scholarly literature, Jewish and non-Jewish - but he was quite interesting, and a one-man apologist for Judaism and therefore a pioneer in Jewish writing in the English language. No one pushed him to do it.

  3. "I'm not going to do philosophy, since I am not interested in philosophy."

    No kidding. No imagination ;)

  4. LOL Great comment. Not this one - you know what I'm referring to. ;-)

  5. Forget explaining the posts better. Now we need a peirush on the comments. :-)

  6. Me speak Englisch good3:02 PM, April 14, 2011

    Mendelssohn new English well


  7. You can get the Elucidarius online at gallica.bnf.fr

  8. Thanks. You can also get it, and most of these, on Google Books. All hail the Google Monster.



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