The Lowy-Winkler Family Rare Book Center, a gift of Peter and Janine Lowy, is home to the Maslan Bible Collection. This unusual assemblage of exceptional volumes includes approximately 4,000 Bibles, some dating back almost to the inception of the printing press. This collection also features bible translations representing most of the written languages of the world, as well as the Kalman-Friedman Collection of Italian Judaica.
Tour the Collection:
Maslan Bible Collection
Most of the volumes you see within the Rare Book Center are the nearly 3500 rare and unique bibles and other sacred works of the Maslan Bible Collection, which were collected by an attorney, Ben Maslan. When he was asked at the last moment to address the local bar association on biblical versus secular law, he went out to buy a bible in a used bookstore and he was bit by the collecting bug. He would make hunting for bibles a family activity, with his youngest child asking store owners “You wouldn’t happen to have a slightly used Gutenberg?” The Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed on a printing press in 1454!
Pirke Avot - Ethics of the Fathers Collected by Rabbi Solomon M. Neches
We received from the old Jewish Community Library a large collection of various versions of Pirke Avot--Ethics of the Fathers. This was collected by Rabbi Solomon M. Neches of Los Angeles’ Breed Street Shul. This collection has titles from 5 continents spanning 500 years. It also includes 13 binders of his notes on the work. Oddly enough, the tapestries in the old AJU sanctuary which stood in the very spot of the current rare book center are based on themes from Pirke Avot and were made by the artist Phil Ratner. The tapestries are now at the back of the main library.
Collection from Rabbi Kalman Friedmann
Another major section of the collection is that of Rabbi Kalman Friedmann, former Chief Rabbi of Florence, Italy. Most of the Italian Jewish community and its 2000 year history vanished after the Holocaust. Rabbi Friedmann brought his collection of rare books and unique ephemera to AJU where he taught in later years.
Above the Kalman Friedmann Collection, there are several other unique little collections within the rare book center. On the top shelf, there is a little green set of Biblioteca Ivrit. This series was put together in Russia in the late 1890s to early 1900s before Hebrew was a modern spoken language. These were penny novels, often translations and condensations of popular literature of the time. Jewish writers began to write modern novels in Hebrew as well. A patron would choose which titles he or she desired and then they were bound on demand, so each set has a unique composition.
Collection of Rabbi Emil Klein
Rabbi Emil Klein saved several works of Judaica from small deserted synagogues in France after the first World War. When he was interred in a camp near his home, he brazenly went to the Nazi commander to “ask for some blankets” for the inmates. While at the headquarters, which was in what had been Rabbi Klein’s home, he asked to have some Hebrew books to read. The Commandant said that they were filthy Jewish books and threw them out the window. Rabbi Klein left quietly, rescued the books a second time and then buried them in a neighbor’s back yard, a true righteous Gentile.
Another Holocaust related story is that of the Survivor’s Talmud printed by the U.S. Army. Two rabbis who had survived the Holocaust thought that by resuming their habit of daily study, Jews in the DP camps would get back to some semblance of normality. They made their request to a U.S. Army chaplain. The frontispiece engraved by one of the survivors captures the transition from Holocaust to the rebirth of Eretz Yisrael. This moving title page can be seen just left of the door to the Rare Book Center.
Werner Frank Collection
The Werner Frank Collection has some lovely volumes from the 19th century, including a very rare edition of the Haggadah from Leipzig. Mr. Frank’s vast collection of genealogy resources are in the Phoebe and Werner Frank Family Room at the back of the library.
The highlight of the Lauterbach-Marr Collection is a 1499 edition of the complete works of Josephus, allowing the Lowy-Winkler to own this finely rebound incunabula. Incunabula are books printed at the cradle of printing from 1455 - 1500.
Agam Rainbow Torah
In the center of the table you may have noticed the brightly colored volume. It is the Agam Rainbow Torah published in 1992 by Gefen Publishing in Jerusalem. Yaakov Agam is an Israeli artist well known for his optical and kinetic art. AJU is proud to display other pieces of his art around our campus.
We have some contemporary works in the Rare Book Center that include the deluxe reprint of the Szyk Haggadah from 2009 and the leading Jewish creator of art books, David Moss. The first Hebrew edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is included because it was taken from a very small British run of the English first edition with Joanne Rowling instead of J. K. Rowling.