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Jews have referred to themselves as “People of the Book” for a long time. (Note: Jews and Christians are also referred to this way in the Qur’an.) Here are a few books about Jewish books that may interest you as much as they did me.
People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. 2008. Brooks fictionalizes the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah , an illuminated work made in medieval Spain, which has repeatedly been saved from destruction. In one case, for instance, it was saved from the Nazis by a Muslim librarian! Brooks imagines the history of the little book as it’s unraveled by a young Australian conservator, Hannah Heath.
Geraldine Brooks’ article in The New Yorker, “The Book of Exodus,” tells part of the real story on which the novel is based. In some ways, I found it even more exciting! It’s available through Gale’s General OneFile , one of the Library’s databases.
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole. 2011. A geniza is a stored collection of Hebrew texts that have worn out or are no longer considered useful, but should not be thrown away. Anything with the name of God on it – a prayerbook or old Bible, but also a letter, a marriage contract or other legal document – would be included, as well as anything written in the Hebrew alphabet -- including works in Judeo-Arabic, Ladino or Yiddish. In Cairo, these were kept in a sort of attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, and also in a cemetery.
Tremendous Source of New Information
The texts found in the Cairo Geniza have been a huge source of new information about a shadowy nine hundred years of Jewish history, and the development of Jewish belief. Hoffman and Cole write about the finds, as well as the scholars -- and library people! – who have worked with them, including Solomon Schechter and S.D. Goitein. This is a really readable book, in places even a poetic one (Cole is a poet and an expert on medieval Hebrew poetry, and Hoffman has written a biography of a Palestinian poet).
Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky. 2004.
I have mentioned this book before, but now that I’ve taken my own advice and actually read it, I’ll just say: nu, don’t miss it!
Vaughn Harrison works at Half Moon Bay Library and on the Bookmobile.