Monday, August 8, 2011

A Hebrew Bible in the Shadow of Nazi Germany

One of the hardships of being a Jewish medieval scholar is that it seems that the Christians get to produce all the cool art and illustrated bibles. So I hope to show some examples from our collection here of Jewish art. Admittedly much of this art is modern. As with the case of the writing of Jewish History, (See Yosef Yerushalmi's Zakhor) one suspects that one of the ironic results of the breakdown of traditional Jewish life in the nineteenth century, was a turn to Jewish art. Jews needed to prove to their gentile neighbors that they also possessed a culture, with a history and works of art, equal to theirs. So who is to say assimilating Jews cannot make positive contributions to Jewish culture.   

To start things off, here is the Berlin Soncino Bible from 1931.  

It is one of 850 copies printed. Does not actually have pictures, but has some really interesting typeface by artist Marcus Michael Douglas Behmer (1879-1958), who designed a completely new font for this project. 

For those interested in the history of Hebrew printing, the typeface used here would later influence the Koren Bible. 

As with just about anything involving Jews and 1930s Germany, the Berlin Bible's story does not have a happy ending. It was published by the Society of Jewish Bibliophiles, the Soncino Gesellschaft, in 1931. This was supposed to be the first complete limited "bibliophilic" edition of the Hebrew Scriptures. With the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933, this did not happen. The Soncino Gesellschaft was closed down in 1937. In the end the Berlin Bible takes its place in history as the last Hebrew Bible printed in Germany prior to the war. Supposedly the interspersed use of red type was meant as a prayer for a salvation that did not come.  (See Abraham Karp's From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures in the Library of Congress.)  

Now it would be really neat if this Bible came in its original binding. Unfortunately what we have is only a post-war cloth rebinding. Still it is one of the standouts of our collection here.

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