Fordham’s Abudarham: Who Crossed out the Censors’ Signatures? (Part 4)

A note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired the Sefer Aburdarham published in Venice 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the important Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. The book had been digitized by NLI before being sold. 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. Part I  explored a note in the upper left corner of the title page. Part II dealt with another note, on the printed ornate letters of the book’s titlePart III deals with the marks left by Christian censors. This is the final installment.


On the right side of colophon appears the peculiar note “dia que senorio yaque [or “ya que”] espinoza en: 13 de adar [“March”] de 1613 [?]”, referred to a mr. Jacob [?] Espinoza, but whose overall meaning escapes me. Known historical records note a merchant Jacob de Spinoza (also called Jacob Espinosa and d’Espinosa), descendant of a converso Portuguese family, who lived in Cairo and Amsterdam in 1630s; he was cousin of Baruch Spinoza. Perhaps Yaque Espinoza was one of the owners of the book, in addition to the heirs of Jacob Pogetto, discussed in the earlier parts.

But after the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century provenance marks, there is a huge chronological gap until the book came to the hands of its last private owner – the diamond merchant and famed book collector Jack V. Lunzer (1924-2016) – before Fordham University bought this book at an auction in 2018. We do not know when and from where Lunzer had purchased the book. The books Luzner collected were often tattered and incomplete so he sometimes would buy duplicates to create “good” and “undamaged” copies. In this copy of Abudarham, the first and the last leaves were neatly cut to new margins. It is possible that these sheets came from different copies, which in turn could explain the puzzling presence on the title page of two effaced expurgation notes whereas on the colophon they remained intact. All the more that the first censor’s note on the title page was written in 1590 and the one on the last page near the colophon in 1582. Yet, it is the later signature that was effaced. And so, while at first sight it would be appear that one censor may have eliminated the previous censor’s written testimony of an intervention on the book, the fact that it was the later note that was effaced makes this theory untenable. Moreover, no censor would have ever dared to eliminate the signature of a previous censor. Accordingly, I would suggest that  Lunzer might have bound together two different copies of Abudarham and that in the first a later Jewish owner crossed out the censors’ signature while in the second copy another owner, contemporary to the time of the Church expurgations, had to keep the expurgator’s signatures untouched under threat of a fine. But we cannot tell for sure what happened.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I also found in Parma Cod. 3220, f. 272r, a crossed out notes of censorship from 1590 Asti by Vincenzo de Matelica and G.B. Porcelli with almost the same wording as it appears in Fordham’s Abudarham. That manuscript was owned by the sons of Ya‘aqov b. Mordekay Poieṭo and afterwards by Shelomoh Poieṭo alone. It contains on the last (fifth) volume of the series (Parma, Cod. 3224, f. 128r) the same “clean” censors’ inscriptions by Asinari and Carato, date included, I reported above. Therefore, it is also possible that on Fordham copy, necessarily unbroken since its publication, Shelomoh himself or another Poggetto could have mysteriously left intact one pair of signatures but crossed out the others.

In my closing remarks I want to note that in  1948 Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, founded in London what he called the Valmadonna Trust Library. The Valmadonna Trust Library was once considered the largest private Jewish library in the world. Its name derives from Valmadonna, a suburb of Alessandria in Piedmont, with which the family of Lunzer’s wife Ruth Zippel (d. 1978) once had ties. After the II World War Lunzer tried to buy land in Valmadonna and maybe locate his ever increasing collection there, but he was unable because of various bureaucratic quibbles related to property transfers. Fordham’s copy of Abudarham is in its way a heritage of the Piedmontese Jewry. It traveled from Asti to  London to New York, ultimately failing to reach the surroundings of Alessandria, which is located only 24 miles from the place where the book’s oldest certified owner lived.