by Adam Shear
“Christian scholars battled in the early 1500s over whether all Jewish texts should be burned. Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish-born theologian in Cologne who had converted to Roman Catholicism, petitioned Emperor Maximilian I to have Hebrew books declared dangerously blasphemous. The emperor sought a second opinion from Johannes Reuchlin, a linguist in Stuttgart, who decided that Hebrew was a biblical tongue worth preserving.
“Besides, Reuchlin wrote, if Hebrew texts were all erased, “the Jews might well write much stranger stuff from scratch, far more objectionable.”
“From the 1950s to the 1990s, Frank L. Herz, a German-born leather-goods merchant in New York, collected books related to the 16th-century controversy by prominent authors like Erasmus and Martin Luther. Mr. Herz’s heirs have donated the collection to the Leo Baeck Institute, a library focused on German-speaking Jewry at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street in Manhattan. The staff is now repairing and digitizing the books and planning for exhibitions later this year.
“Mr. Herz, whose family had escaped the Nazis, was fascinated by Reuchlin’s lucid arguments against anti-Semitism and his and Pfefferkorn’s efforts to attract publicity by circulating pamphlets and attending book fairs. The idea of using printing presses to mold public opinion “was very new, very modern at the time,” said Renate Evers, the institute’s head librarian.
“The institute will put commemorative Herz bookplates on protective cardboard cases for the 63 books; the plates will each have an image of eyeglasses copied from one of Reuchlin’s title pages. The linguist used spectacles, Ms. Evers said, to symbolize scholarship and insights into the heated debate.”
The posted article may be found here.
(Originally posted in The New York Times)