Library publishes catalog on Jewish fables

Fables in Jewish Culture, the Jon A. Lindseth Collection
Fables in Jewish Culture, the Jon A. Lindseth Collection

In September 2023, Cornell University Library published the catalog Fables in Jewish Culture: The Jon A. Lindseth Collection, a comprehensive guide to the nearly 400 Jewish fables from around the world that Lindseth entrusted to the library in 2018.

The new volume features essays by prominent scholars in the field of Jewish Studies, along with  illustrative photographs of items from the collection. The catalog also contains a foreword by Lindseth, an avid book collector and a Cornell alumnus from the Class of 1956 who is an Emeritus Trustee, Presidential Councillor, and loyal supporter of the library and several other areas of Cornell University.

Divided into four sections—biblical works, rabbinic works, medieval works, and postmedieval works—the catalog provides historical context for each item and serves as an essential companion to Lindseth’s collection of rare manuscripts and books spanning six centuries and multiple languages, according to Katherine Reagan, the Ernest L. Stern ’56 Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Cornell University Library.

“Jon and his team of scholars created a landmark work of bibliographic scholarship,” Reagan said, referring to the catalog’s contributing essayists and to compilers Emile Schrijver, general director of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam and professor of the History of Jewish Cultural Heritage at the University of Amsterdam, and Lies Meiboom, a professional editor with expertise in Jewish Studies.

“The narratives that connect with every item in the collection are a wonderful read on their own,” said Patrick J. Stevens, bibliographer for Jewish Studies as well as curator of the Fiske Icelandic Collection, and acting director for Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library. “To have so much history and detail in the catalog is truly absorbing.”

Stevens said that the catalog is an indispensable source of information for both specialists and readers interested in Jewish fables and fables in general. The catalog also helps contextualize individual items while conveying the depth and breadth of the Jewish fable collection as a whole.

“You encounter a sense of the history and diversity of the literature around that central theme of the fabular,” Stevens said. “And the result is, if you will, fabulous.”

Lindseth’s collection of Jewish fables complements the library’s holdings related to Jewish Studies, and has been used for instruction and in the recent exhibit celebrating the 50th year of the Jewish Studies program at Cornell. As provided for in Lindseth’s will, the fable collection will become a permanent part of the library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections.

“You can gain a lot of knowledge—material knowledge, tactile knowledge—about early modern Jewish culture from looking at these books, from smelling them and touching them and seeing the amount of work that goes into the typesetting and some of the illustrations,” said Jonathan Boyarin, Mann Professor of Modern Jewish Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, when the collection first came to the library.

For the past four decades, Jon Lindseth and his wife, Virginia, who is also from the Class of 1956, have supported Cornell University Library through financial gifts that include endowing the position of Ernest L. Stern ’56 Curator of Rare and Manuscript Collections. They have also donated rare books and manuscripts, including a collection of materials documenting the American women’s suffrage movement.

The Lindseths have also made numerous important gifts to other parts of Cornell, including endowing the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Deanship of the Johnson Graduate School of Management and the Jon Lindseth Climbing Wall in Bartels Hall (which Jon Lindseth climbed last July during the Reunion celebration of Cornell Outdoor Education’s 50th anniversary).

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