Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Theology & Religion > 129. Babylonian Talmud

129.  Babylonian Talmud. Manuscript on paper, 152 leaves, Yemenite Rabbinic, 1546. RBML, Hebrew Manuscripts

Although the two versions of the Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud completed about 400 CE and the Babylonian Talmud completed one hundred years later, constitute the primary body of Jewish law and thought, its text exists in only one complete manuscript copy of each version, and even incomplete copies are scarce. This one, copied in the 16th century in Yemen, is known as the "Columbia Talmud." It, and a companion volume containing the Megillah, was copied by David ben Me’oded of San‘a, who appears to come from a family of scribes. The text has been found to differ from all of the other known manuscript copies, and from the first printed edition of 1516, in a large number of cases, establishing beyond doubt that it came from an independent source.

These two volumes came to Columbia along with a collection of Jewish manuscripts, in Hebrew and Arabic, acquired by Professor Richard J. H. Gottheil for the library in 1890. With the financial support of Temple Emanu-El in New York, Gottheil had been appointed professor of Rabbinic Literature and Semitic Languages in 1887. It was the first endowed chair for Jewish studies in the United States. The foundation of the library's Judaica resources also came from Temple Emanu-El, through their gift of 2,500 printed books and 50 manuscripts from their library in 1892. Today, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds more than 1,000 manuscripts in Hebrew and a variety of European languages, as well as 28 fifteenth-century and 300 sixteenth-century printed Hebrew books.

Purchased from Ephraim Deinard, 1890

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