LONDON (Sep. 12)
Campaigners fighting to force the Vatican to return sacred manuscripts plundered from European Jewry over six centuries scored their first victory this week when the West German publishers of the Official History of the Vatican Library agreed to postpone its release in Britain.
The publishing house Belser Verlag had originally planned to launch the book in Britain next month.
So far, 75 copies of the Official History have been printed, priced at about $90 each.
Businessman Manfred Lehmann, who heads the Committee for the Recovery of Jewish Manuscripts, was jubilant when he learned the publishers had backed down on their plans.
Lehmann objected to the book because it failed to acknowledge that the Hebrew manuscripts in the library’s collection were stolen during a wave of “spiritual genocide” unleashed against Jewish communities in medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Lehmann, a businessman and collector of Judaica with interests in London and New York, called on British Jewry to join the wider campaign to restore Jewish books to their rightful owners.
One of the committee’s broader goals is to recover Jewish books and manuscripts “for the Jewish people” and deposit them in the National Library in Jerusalem.
Its goal is supported by Israeli President Chaim Herzog, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Orthodox groups in the United States.
The plundering and destruction of Jewish books and manuscripts began in 1243, when 12,000 volumes of the Talmud were publicly burned in Paris. It peaked with the bull of Pope Clement VIII in 1593 branding all Hebrew writings blasphemous, obscene, impudent and to be consigned to the flames, Lehmann noted.
The Vatican at that time was determined to wipe out Jewish learning and study, he said. Now it studiously ignores the committee’s protests, Lehmann has claimed.
The German publishers themselves have decided to discuss the status of the Jewish material with Vatican representatives.
The remnant of Jewish work not destroyed amounts to about 800 items reposing in the Vatican Library, much of it uncatalogued and with limited access to researchers.
Lehmann believes this residue contains many “unique examples of Jewish art.”