The Fordham’s Copy of “Sefer Abudarham”: Disclosures and Conjectures (Part 1)

by Fabrizio Quaglia

An introductory note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired an expurgated copy of Sefer Abudarham published in Venice in 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the legendary Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. This is the first installment of five essays about our copy of Sefer Abudarham. Before the book found its way to Fordham, it was digitized by the National Library of Israel.

One of the most awesome features of an old books is that it has gone through so many hands for so many different reasons. This is true for Hebrew books as well. Many readers, censors, and collectors left traces on their leaves and binding—most of the time precisely in that order.

The marks left by these users of the book are a testimony of the religious and cultural concerns of its more or less temporary owners. These markings then are nor just marginal footnotes (pun intended!) to the History of Book and the history of the Jews. Through these sometimes overlapping of personal notes a book can tell the story of a family, unveiling us joys and scandals, activities, and displacements that sometimes lay hidden behind a simple signature.

Fordham’s copy of Sefer Abudarham published in Venice in 1546 tells such stories, whose protagonists include members of a Jewish family of French origin (from Puget in Provence) who in sixteenth-century Italy assumed the name Poggetto (and several variations of it), their friends Luzzatto and Sacerdote, and their opponents in cassock—that is  the local representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. All of them lived in the town of Asti in Piedmont and in its surroundings.

In this series of essay, I will describe the kind of provenance the past whereabouts of the book in question, the third edition of  Sefer Abudarham (Venice, 1546), now at the Walsh Library, Special Collections (Judaica 1547 1), apologizing in advance for some perhaps excessive speculation of mine.

Sefer Abudarham, Venice: Marco Antonio Giustiniani, 306 [1546], JUDAICA 1547.1. The book was also digitized by the National Library of Israel.

On the upper left side of the title page was inscribed a cursive Hebrew signature in a quite clear Italian script הגיע לחלקי אברהם פוייטו יצ”ו (“It came to Avraham Poyeṭi, may his Rock keep him and grant him life”). Name אברהם פוייטו (Abraham Poyeti) is slightly crossed out with a single stroke of the pen, presumably by a subsequent owner. The same man is cited and slightly crossed out among the letters composing the subtitle, again in a Hebrew cursive Italian style note, partially trimmed to the right margin, מאת ה’ היתה זאת לגורלי אברה'[ם] פוייטו יצו בכמוה”ר יפ”י נתנני אלקים הספר הזה במקח מעם הנע’ כ”מ … לוצאטו יצו אלול שצ”ח פה אסטי (“From G.d. was this for my fate, Avraham Poyeṭo, may His rock protect me, son of the honored teacher and rabbi the rabbi Y. P. God gave this book in a bargain from the eminent honored teacher … Luṣaṭo, may His rock keep him and grant him life, Elul 398 [= August/September 1638] here in Asṭi”). ‘נע [ne’] is shortened for הנעלה [ne’elah]. This note is followed by a few unidentified acronyms (on f. 86v, too), preceded by word נאם (“Signed”), and by the line ויסכר פי דוברי שקר, that is a quotation from Ps. 63:12 (“the mouths of those who speak lies will be shut”). The ownership ends with a sentence written in a smudged ink, always referable to Avraham Poyeṭi/Poyeṭo: אחר כך נתתיו אל כ”מ אכסלראד כצ”י (“Then I gave it to the honored teacher Akselrad K.ṣ.i”). An inscription by the same hand is also visible on bottom of f. 86v: לאכסלראד כצ”י לביתי השמשים (“To Akselrad K.ṣ.i. for the houses of the caretakers”); K.Ṣ. (modern Katz) stands for “Kohen Ṣedeq” (“Authentic Priest”) and i.for יחיה (“Long live”). There were at least Akselrads in the area at this time. In 1611 was born an Akselrad son of Shimshon כצ”י   (in Italian documents called “Sanson Sacerdote”), a banker active in Moncalvo but from Cortemilia (province of Cuneo); and in 1614 an Acselrad son of Ya‘aqov כצ”י (“Jacob Sacerdote”), another banker in Moncalvo. I cannot determine which Akselrad Sacerdote received this volume, but since the שמש shamash is usually a sort of sexton I am quite sure that it was offered to a synagogue (of Asti, Moncalvo or Cuneo). The abovementioned acronym יפ”י “Y. P.” is readable in mss. copied for Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo [see below] such as British Library ms. Add. 27041, f. 241r: therefore I deduced Avraham Poyeṭo was the son of Ya‘aqov. The Italian signature “Abramo puggetto hebreo” appears on title page of two tractates gather together of Talmud Bavli printed in Venice in 1520-1522, now in Turin (Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, shelf number Hebr.II.21).

Abramo Poggetto lived in Moncalvo and had at least one son, Mordecai, circumcised in 1608, who appears to have owned a kabbalistic work now preserved in the The Russian State Library Moscow Russia Ms. Guenzburg 218.

The first name of the seller of the book of Abudarham was erased—it was possibly Me’ir Luṣaṭo. Why? Did it belong to a Jew then converted? A case of “damnatio memoriae”? Or for some other reason? I don’t know, by the short space between the words כ”ם and לוצאטו and some tiny remnant of its ink I dare to suggest that missing name was מאיר Me’ir. A banker Me’ir Luṣaṭo (Luzzatto) lived in Asti, although not consistently, during the years 1584-1631; there he was one of the guardians of a Jewish youth society called Confraternity of the Zealous. Maybe belonged to him an auctioned Soncino Commentary to Former Prophets by Isaac Abrabanel printed in Pesaro in 1511: “I, Meir Luzzatti, gave this book as a complete gift to the dear and exalted … Luzzatti, may his Rock protect him”; the 1511 volume was censored by Asinari and Carato (and Dominico Ierosolimitano, 1598). A XVIc purchase’s note inscribed on the poetical miscellany (British Library, Add. 27001) links the abovementioned Me’ir Luṣaṭo (which would be son of a late Shelomoh) to Shelomoh Poyeṭo [see below] residing in Casale Monferrato. I add that on a copy of Shemu’el Ṣarṣah’s Meqor ḥayyim (“The Fountain of Life”, Mantua 1559) in Turin BNU (shelf number Hebr.III.37) there is the concise XVIc signature by a מאיר לוצאטי. We know the names of three Me’ir’s sons: Yiṣḥaq (b. 1617) – who had as godfather rabbi Eliaqim Poyeṭo – teacher in the Jewish community of Moncalvo –, Mordekay Meshullam (b. 1622) and Uri (1623).

In the next installment we will explore another partially damaged note found on the letters that make up the ornate title of the book. Stay tuned to see what they reveal.

Fabrizio Quaglia is Hebraica and Judaica Consultant. His last publication is Il recinto del rinoceronte. I giorni e le opere degli ebrei ad Alessandria prima dell’emancipazione del 1848, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2016. Editor of MEI: Material Evidence in Incunabula Editor:

The acquisition of books for the Judaica Collection at Fordham has been possible thanks to the generosity of Mr. Eugene Shvidler and the enthusiastic support for the collection from Linda Loschiavo, the Director of the Walsh Family Library.