The mysterious Pfersee Handschrift


Dear Marianne Salinger,

I guess you are right, the circumstances are somewhat confused if not abstruse .

Apparantly it is one of those affairs, from which wise people say, you may know quite more about it, if you do not ask any questions. Since once you start with it, you will come to no end and unfortunately to no satisfying result. This is so because there are so many different factors involved you normally would not consider. Maybe Dan Brown should care for it…

First we rely on the information that is provided is true in general. If so, we have a handwritten Talmudic text from Paris, which commonly is dated to the year 1342 … and suddenly two and a half centuries later appears from Italy as property of the Ulmo-Ginzburg family. Another two centuries later there are Rabbis and sages (such as Chaim Azulai and Nathanael Weil…) who turn up in Pfersee … and their reports are the first known eyewitness reports depicting the book, the quantity of text, the structure, order, material, quality, ink and so on. Both reports are from the narrow period 1750-1753 only . Accordingly there even was suggested that the Munich or Pfersee Talmud Handschrift only very briefly was in the possession of the Ulmo family, if at all (see: Fuerchtegott Lebrecht – Handschriften und erste Ausgaben des Babylonischen Talmuds, Berlin 1862, p. 55 ff. and p. 99 ff.). 

 And so the questions begin working: For what reason the two reports from the 1750s differ from the manuscript in Munich regarding the order, content and most important regarding the colophons which give some data as the name of the writer, printer, the date and so on.  For some time there was the assumption that there maybe were two different old Talmudic handwritings, one in Pfersee, one in Munich. This is somewhat confusing of course since the “Pfersee Handschrift” also is known as “Munich Handschrift” (Muenchen). 

Similar to the questions regarding the former owners and the like it is unclear under what circumstances and about what time the Pfersee Handschrift came to Polling. The most precise estimation possible seems to be between 1754 and 1802 …

Apparently there are no catalogs with listings of the purchases the Polling monastery made. But it is known, that the Polling provost Franz Toepsl exceedingly expanded the library and bought numerous books, many in “oriental” languages. In the course of the secularization after 1803 all the books from Polling library were moved to Munich. What also is sure is that in the early 1860s Raphael Rabinovicz from Novo-Zagorny near Kovno (Kaunas) settled in Munich and “discovered” the Handschrift in rooms of the Royal Bavarian Library in Munich. Rabinovicz determined to make a critical examination of it. His financer was an antiques dealer from Munich – a constellation that also is known from other contexts. Before Rabinovicz however there was no academic reflection and debate on the Pfersee or Munich Handschrift. In other words: the Handschrift was unknown before him. On the other hand so far there is nobody who doubts the authenticity of the book , now known as Cod. Hebr. 95.

The actual Handschrift is preceded by several printed pages, one obviously is from the monastery of Polling, others provide table of contents in Hebrew, which already have the actual signature of the Munich library in the printed text (the signature in Polling was – of course – different). So the book in the current state we know was bound in Munich, obviously not before Nathan Rabbinovicz had worked with it.

So there are many more questions if you do not rely on former presumptions and their perpetuation.

Your specific question was whether a wealthy Jewish community who had enough money for loans also had to have money to keep a priceless book. Yes, that’s the way it should be. But … as I have summarized the Jewish witnesses of the book mentioned it about 1750 (and it is not sure if they really described the very same one) and the next undoubted statement on it is that of Raphael Nathan Rabinovicz who obviously arranged the volume and furnished it with tables of content. Older handwritten parts were glued together and placed in front of the handwriting. They are obviously of some age, but they can originate from everywhere – since the binding was made not before the 1870s. In addition there are numerous small handwritten notes at the front and back cover of the book, most of them seem to be writing exercises, for instance the following example:

אני אורי יהודא שליטא


The last abbreviates שיזכה לחיים טובים ארוכים

It is questionable if those notes (often regarded as signatures of the former owners) may be older than the cover sheets ..?

However between 1750 and 1870 there are another  120 years without any further explanation. So we also do not know whether the Jewish bankers and lenders from Kriegshaber and Augsburg who financed credits to the broke Free Imperial City of Augsburg in the very beginnings of the 19th knew of the existence of the book at all.

See also:

רפאל נתן נטע ראבינאוויץ 

  ספר דקדוקי סופרים : עם הגהות נקראות דברי סופרים

3 Responses to The mysterious Pfersee Handschrift

  1. jklefkovev says:

    Very insightful and revealing article. The best I read on this matter so far. Many thanks for it.

  2. Genesis Kil says:

    I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Great post, You make right points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, many thanks to the author

  3. Joshua says:

    The known records of the Kriegshaber and Pfersee Mayer family do not mention the famous Talmud Handschrift at all, an indication that it was taken for granted or totally fabricated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: