The Cairo Geniza is the younger sibling of the Dead Sea Scrolls archive. This modest catalog, published in 1984 for the Geniza’s exhibition in the Shrine of the Book at the israel museum (currator: Magen Broshi), holds a dozen representing pages from the Geniza- excerpts from the Hebrew bible, external literature (the book of Ben Sirach), Talmudic literature, liturgical hymn and even from manuscripts of Yehuda Halevi and Harambam. This diversity allows a rare peek into the history of the Hebrew script in the middle ages.
Izzy Pludwinksky is a calligrapher, artist, calligraphy teacher and a Sofer STaM located in Jerusalem. Recently, his book Mastering Hebrew Calligraphy was published (Toby Press). Complete with over 200 full-color illustrations and contributions from some of the world’s top Hebrew calligraphers, this is a beautiful and informative book.
A few spectacular samples were sent recently by Olga Sixtová, curator of the ancient manuscripts collection in the Jewish museum in Prague.
Throughout the past year, Sixtová has labored on the preparations for a major exhibition commemorating 500 years of Hebrew print in the Czech Republic, scheduled to open during 2012.
For almost twenty years I’ve been reading during Shabbats and holidays, and I never came across the “looped letters”, until I had the chance to look at a Torah book that was brought to Israel from Romania or Hungary, where I found examples to this graphic tradition.
The “looped letters” are Ketav Stam letters that were passed on by one writer to the other in a strange and unusual tradition. As years went by the tradition was forgotten, and so it is very rare to find a Torah book written using “looped letters”.
This magnificent tradition is mentioned in Sefer HaTemunah, and even HaRambam mentioned it in his Hilchot Tefillin and Mezuzahand book of Torah:
“He shall shine in the large letters and in the small letters, and in the punctuated letters and in the letters that are strange in form as the looped Peyen (the “Pe” letters) and the crooked letters as the writers copied from one another…”
Interesting enough, traces of this tradition could be found in some Yemeni communities on the one hand, and in European and Ukrainian communities on the other. Ephraim Sofer of Brody, for example, who was the writer of Haba’al Shem Tov, followed this tradition as could be seen in the Torah books written by him.
This tradition was also documented in Tagi book (published in Paris during the 18th century), as well as in the book of Rabbi Menachem Kasher, “Torah Sheleimah”, that documented around one hundred and fifty strange (“looped”) letter drawings and their location in the Torah.
Shenkar design archive & research center website opened for public viewing about three weeks ago, as reported by Samlil blog. The blog indicates that “There are 14,000 displayed items out of a total of 40,000 that were scanned, photographed and retouched by the staff of the center and are waiting for publication.”
The blog adds “Due to copyright constraints, the items could not be viewed in a magnified mode. The center holds the files in high quality, in hope that in the future these constraints will be removed (at least in part), so it will be able to achieve its goal and to allow designers and students to examine and analyze the items. More about the activities of the center and the possibility to donate items will be published soon.”
The British Library announced in it’s blog that all of the illuminated manuscripts, including those with significant decoration from it’s important collections of Hebrew manuscripts, are now finely included in their Catalogue.
“These Hebrew illuminated manuscripts range in date from the 10th to the 18th century, and their geographical division is just as wide, encompassing Europe, Northern Africa and the East. Most of them contain religious works, such as biblical and liturgical texts, but there are also a number of legal, philosophical and scientific books. You can read more here about the decoration and script of our Hebrew manuscripts.”
A rare writing example from east Bohemia, painted by Judah Goldschmied at the end of the 18th century, taken from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Olga Sixtová, curator of manuscripts and printing in the museum, adds: “This is a typical notice for that time, announcing the election results for the Jewish community’s Gabbay position. According to this notice, Yoseph Beran was elected for this position for a term of one year. The exact date was torn from the notice over the years, but it is common to relate it to around 1795”.
This example contains both heavy headline letters in an improvised Ashkenazi-style, as well as a curly cursive writing,in which the letters often attach in surprising ligatures, inspired by the Latin cursive writing.
A spectacular page dedicated to the Hebrew alphabet (including the numerological value of each letter), from Liber Artificiosus Alphabeti Maioris – The first (and only) edition of the detailed Calligraphy textbook designed by Johann Merken and engraved by the artist Heinrich Coentgen- both non- Jews in Mülheim, Germany. Apart from varied alphabets, the book also includes recipes for making different inks, magnificent ornaments and examples of geometrical shapes, emblems, silhouettes and more.