Copyists, Collectors, and Curators: Stocking the Rabbinic Bookshelf

For the Public
Thursday, March 10, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM EST

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Standing between writers and readers is an often-overlooked ecosystem of printers, editors, and publishers: brokers who make decisions about the form and even content of the texts that spring from the pen of the scholar before they reach the eyes of a reading public. In the case of Jewish legal texts that achieved canonical status over centuries, a special role belongs not only to the printers, but to the preservers of texts before they are published: manuscript copyists, collectors, and curators. In this session we will look at some texts that were written in the Middle Ages but not widely distributed until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and see how their stories are embedded in the objects and people that carried them forward. Attention to the processes by which classical medieval writings entered into the early modern and modern curriculum will invite us into thinking about historical contingencies and the importance of the material text in the making of canons. 

About the “Canon in Context” Series

Stepping back and squinting at the major works of the Jewish legal canon dotted across history, many of them appear…puzzling. Centuries of tradition treat the Mishnah, Talmud, and other texts as settled law and as contributions to rabbinic thought. But in their own times, they were outliers. Each one diverged remarkably in form and content from the Jewish writings of their time and place. So how did they get that way, and how did they become canon?

This series explores the historical context of halakhic compilations and codes: who composed them, what were they trying to achieve, and why did they choose the format and the topics they chose? Set aside what you think you know, and encounter these texts in the worlds of their creation.  


About the image above: "The Book of Ruth and the Book of Ecclesiastes with Joseph Kara's commentary," ca. 1322, held in the British Library.


Joshua Teplitsky

Stony Brook University

Joshua Teplitsky is assistant professor of history at Stony Brook University. He specializes in the history of the Jews in Europe in the early modern period, Jewish-Christian interaction, material culture, and the study of books and media. While at the Katz Center, he will research the material dimensions of domestic life in early modern Prague as well as other aspects of the spatial and material dimensions of the cityscape.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Klatt Family and the Harry Stern Family Foundation.