University acquires historic collection of Hebraica
Stanford soon will be the new home of a unique collection of Hebraica that will make it a focus of scholars researching the religious life and history of European Jewry. Stanford University Libraries announced today it has acquired the collection with the help of Bay Area philanthropic organizations and individuals, including a lead grant from the Koret Foundation.
The collection itself has a dramatic history, having been assembled over centuries by the Jewish community in Copenhagen, Denmark, and concealed by Danes during the Nazi occupation to save it from destruction -- only to be returned to the Jewish community after Denmark's liberation. Decades later, the collection was acquired by Herman R. Samson. The collection is now known as the Samson/Copenhagen Judaica Collection.
"The books in the Samson/Copenhagen Collection are a part of the precious legacy of an Old World that now will be read and studied in what is, arguably, among the most creative, fertile places in the New World," said Steven J. Zipperstein, the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History and co-director of Stanford's Taube Center for Jewish Studies. "Stanford has now, after having collected seriously in Jewish studies for little more than a decade and a half, among the very finest university research libraries in the field outside Israel."
Samson, a resident of Tel Aviv, noted that four generations of his family have been deeply involved in the Copenhagen community. "It has been my privilege for the past 20 years to look after and nurture this collection and thereby make a modest contribution to its survival as a unit. I feel reassured and gratified that the collection has found a new home in the distinguished library of Stanford University, where for all time it will be available to students, scholars and all who cherish the printed Hebrew book."
University Librarian Michael A. Keller said the acquisition "will greatly enhance the ability of the Stanford University Libraries to serve its primary research clientele on campus and elsewhere in the Bay Area."
The Libraries will retain the Samson Collection in its entirety within the Department of Special Collections. "This collection dramatically expands and complements the Stanford University Libraries' collection of rare Hebraica and will make Stanford a destination library for scholars elsewhere in this country and abroad who are studying the religious life and history of European Jewry," said Zachary Baker, the Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections.
The collection includes close to 2,000 works printed in over 115 locations from 1517 to 1939. These books cover a wide range of topics, including Bible and Talmud texts and commentaries, Jewish law and ritual, Jewish liturgy, rabbinical responsa, treatises on Jewish law (halakhah), scientific works in Hebrew, kabbalah, apologetics, bibliography, the sciences, ephemeral publications relating to the Jewish communities of Denmark and other Northern European countries, and even poetry. About half of the books were printed before 1800 in places as far flung as Amsterdam and Calcutta. Enhancing their value for research, many of the volumes contain handwritten, marginal notations by rabbis and other scholars. The collection also contains a small number of manuscripts documenting religious life in Denmark's small but influential Jewish community.
The impetus for a campaign for financial support to acquire the collection came at a March 2002 meeting between Samson and Tad Taube, chairman of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies. Taube assured Samson that Stanford, with the help of the Jewish community, would raise the amount needed to purchase the collection. Support for the acquisition of the collection grew from a campaign led by Taube and energized by a major lead grant from the Koret Foundation of San Francisco.
Tad Taube, together with Taube family members, and with funding assistance from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, gifted to Stanford the Taube/Baron Collection in 1985. This gift has since served as the foundation for Stanford Libraries' Judaica Collections. "It was inconceivable that we could allow these magnificent crown jewels of Jewish books to end up anywhere other than Stanford University Libraries," said Taube, who also serves as president of the Koret Foundation. "Once we were able to deliver that message to our prospective donors, their response was enthusiastic and heartwarming."
The Jewish Community Endowment Fund of San Francisco coordinated significant support for acquisition of the collection from Gerson and Barbara Bakar, the Eugene Friend Family, John Goldman, the Francis S. Goldsmith Fund, the Kanbar Charitable Trust, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg, the Mervin Morris Family, the Jim and Cathy Koshland Fund and Donald Seiler. Anita and Ron Wornick, among other individuals, also contributed to this effort.
The collection will be cataloged and processed by Stanford
staff. Once that work and any critical conservation measures are
completed, individual works from the collection will be available
for study in the Special Collections Reading Room in Green Library.
In addition to scholarly examination, it is expected that the
collection will be the subject of exhibits, published catalogs,
public lectures or other events in future years.
The collection includes “Part One of the Book of the Worlds, or The Story of Tobias” by physician Tobias Cohen (1652?-1729), in which the human anatomy is compared to the structure of a house. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Stanford University
Stanford Report, February 12, 2003