“Words Like Sapphires: 100 Years of Hebraica (Hebrew books and objects) at the Library of Congress, 1912-2012”, a gem of an exhibit, shines so brightly that the Library extended it one month, through Apr. 13.
The brilliant exhibit is perfect for the Passover season.
The free exhibit features more than 60 rare treasures, dating from the 7th century to modern times. Several of these books were created even before, and immediately after the printing press was invented in 1501, including one of the earliest printed editions of any portion of the Bible.
This is the first time that more than half of the gorgeous objects, from 15 countries, have ever been displayed. Here is a sampling:
- The 1478 Washington Haggadah, an exquisite illuminated manuscript used for the Passover Seder meal. Called the Washington Haggadah because it resides here, it’s the Library’s most important illuminated Hebrew manuscript.
- A Hebrew Bible censored by the Vatican centuries ago. The crossed-out lines were hand-written along the margin.
- The U.S. Constitution translated into Hebrew and Yiddish in 1891 for Jewish immigrants. They were eager to become citizens and learn about democracy, a very foreign concept in their native lands.
- A Ketubbah, a marriage contract spelling out the groom’s obligations to his wife. This elegantly, colorfully illustrated document was created in the Iranian Kurdish city of Bijar in 1936.
- A modern version of the biblical book “Song of Songs”, with 20 vivid prints stunningly illustrating the flora, fauna, and landscapes of ancient Israel. Israeli artist Tamar Messer used 20 to 30 color plates for each of her silkscreens.
- One of the most striking and poignant items is a Talmud created for Holocaust survivors in Germany, after the Nazis had destroyed so much of Jewish learning. The Talmud contains an enormous amount of Jewish law and lore, codified around the 5th century. This unique Talmud’s gripping gold and red title page illustration shows a concentration camp, and pastoral symbols of the Land of Israel beckoning beyond the camp and its barbed wire.
- The only synagogue left standing in the entire German Reich is imprinted in gold on a Jewish High Holiday prayer book. The synagogue and the 1859 prayer book survived World War Two in Vienna.
The exhibit’s title stems from medieval rabbis and poets using the image of sapphires to convey clarity of carefully selected words and beauty of the written page.
In one of many Biblical references to the jewel, Exodus 24:10 refers to “sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.”
The exhibit was mounted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Hebraic Collection — one of the world’s greatest collections of Hebrew and Yiddish materials, with some 200,000 materials.
It began with two gifts from New York philanthropist and financier Jacob H. Schiff, in 1912 and in 1914.
“Mr. Schiff spends almost as much time giving away money as in making it,” “Forbes” Magazine wrote. Head of the Kuhn, Loeb and Co. investment bank, Schiff was worth an estimated $50 million when he died in 1920.
“Words Like Sapphires” is also part of the Library’s multi-year “Celebration of the Book,” which explores the ways books influence lives.
For more info: “Words Like Sapphires: 100 Years of Hebraica at the Library of Congress, 1912-2012”, Library of Congress, www.loc.gov, South Gallery, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC. The free exhibit has been extended through April 13.