An Offer of Books
THis letter, composed by an unknown writer and sent to an equally unknown addressee in an Italian community at the end of the fifteenth century, gives a pleasing picture of the mutual help offered by Jewish scholars for the benefit of their learned work in those days. It informs us, too, how even eminent scholars like Johanan Alemanno, the teacher of Pico della Mirandola, pledged their books with more fortunate if less proficient scholars to provide themselves with cash. It further shows the high significance ascribed to letters from Palestine: instead of being regarded as the private possession of their recipients, they were copied and made accessible to a wider circle of friends, who impatiently looked forward to news from the Holy Land.
AN UNKNOWN WRITER TO AN UNKNOWN SCHOLAR
'Why do you implore me so humbly to forward you the books? Is this not the most urgent duty of all of us?'
[An Italian town, about 1490]
I received your letter like a wonderful and precious token when the mail-coach arrived here on Monday morning. We were just in the house of God at that time. My heart was cheered when I saw what your hands had folded, and your strong right hand had written.
I am sending you by this mail the 'Sefer ha-Kavanoth',1 which you have asked for, as well as the 'Sefer ha-Mishpatim',2 which you wished to possess. Both of them will come to your residence and will belong to you. But why do you speak to me in such a way? Why do you implore me so humbly to forward you the books? Is this not the most urgent duty of all of us? Am I not ready to hasten from the end of the world upon your call? And if you find that I am too feeble to perform the smallest task for you, you may accept even the will kindly for the sake of the holiness of your name. Then I shall be satisfied and happy