3.1. The Kaufmann Collection
David Kaufmann was a passionate collector of manuscripts and books, for which the necessary material background was provided by his wife and her family. Schmelzer draws our attention to an interesting letter by Kaufmann to Berliner from which it appears clearly that the necessary sums of money were put at his disposal by his wife in every single case, and not always to the extent he may have wished. 56 It can also be mentioned that the famous luxurious illuminated manuscripts for which his collection is so famous were never part of it actually: they were in the possession of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Róza Gomperz, who donated them to the Academy herself together with the collection of her son-in-law. 57 In all probability, the price of these items may have been so high that not even the funds at the disposal of the wife were sufficient and so the passionate collector had to ask the help of his this mother-in-law, who complied with his request but retained the ownership of these precious items, probably as a sort of assurance. Upon his sudden death the collection passed to his widow, who commissioned Max (Miksa) Weisz (1872-1931), one of Kaufmann's favourite students and an intimate friend of the family, 58 to prepare a catalogue raisonné meeting scholarly demands. The splendid catalogue was prepared and has rendered great service to the scholarly community ever since, but the widow did not live to see its publication: Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften und Bücher in der Bibliothek des Professors Dr. David Kaufmann s[eligen] A[ndenkens] beschrieben von Dr. Max Weisz. Frankfurt am Main 1906. 199+80 pp. The catalogue was written in German. However, it also appeared with a Hungarian title-page and foreword with the body of the catalogue in German. This edition bears an imprint indicating Budapest as the place of publication. Incidentally, both editions were printed in Hungary by Adolf Alkalay and Son, Pozsony: 59 Néhai Dr. Kaufmann Dávid tanár könyvtárának héber kéziratai és könyvei. Összeállítja és ismerteti Dr. Weisz Miksa. Budapest 1906. 60
Following the untimely death of Kaufmann's widow on 19 June 1905, the collection passed to her mother, Mrs. Róza Gomperz. “In accordance with the intentions of the deceased” she donated the priceless collection to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences “in perpetuity” in a donation deed dated 24 December 1905. 61 In its session of 29 January 1906 the Academy “commissioned the Presidency to inform Madame Róza Gomperz of the deep gratitude of the Academy”. She was also awarded the golden cross of distinction (arany érdemkereszt) by Emperor Franz Joseph I for her generous deed. 62 Family tradition has it that the choice fell upon the Academy because they wanted to see the priceless collection in the most prestigious scholarly institution – “in our foremost scholarly institute” as the words of the deed express it.
After all, it would have seemed plausible to donate the collection to the Rabbinical Seminary since Kaufmann had been working there and since the Seminary itself was one of the foremost institutions of its kind in the world in those times. According to information supplied by Dr. Béla Bakonyi it was his grandfather, Mr. Ludwig (Lajos) König, who played a key role in the donation process convincing Mrs. Róza Gomperz that the Academy was more prestigious than the Seminary. (König was married to Kaufmann's sister, Mrs. Róza Kaufmann.) Another tradition, related by Alexander Scheiber, has it that the choice was made upon Ignaz Goldziher's advice. 63 In any case, maybe it was this choice which saved the collection for future generations: soon after the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 Adolf Eichmann paid a visit to the Seminary and removed a few thousand books. 64 It is beyond doubt that he would have included this famous collection in his selection if it had been there.
It was the König family who preserved Kaufmann's vast correspondence in several chests in the attic of their house at 93 Szondi street. Until his death in 1938 Ludwig (Lajos) König used to classify the letters. When the family moved to a smaller flat in a modern apartment house the mother, Margit König, had built at 18 Vitéz street in the Víziváros (Watertown) quarter of Buda in 1938, they left the correspondence behind because there was no place for it in the new house. Around 1941 it was destroyed when civilian defence regulations were passed prohibiting the preservation of combustible material in the attics of houses for the duration of the war – this the concierge told Margit König after the end of the war in 1945, when she inquired about Kaufmann's correspondence. In any case, the invaluable letters and notes disappeared without a trace. There can be no doubt that they were destroyed.
According to contemporary press reports, a “very large number” of printed books in Kaufmann’s possession was acquired by the “very smart” local antiquarian bookseller Schlesinger, 65 who sold them partly to the Seminary and partly to various private individuals so that a considerable number of them even reached the Vienna bookmarket. Allegedly by a misunderstanding, Schlesinger started selling off these items to individuals before the Seminary could acquire everything it wanted. Copies of Kaufmann’s own works including numerous off-prints bearing marginal notes in his familiar handwriting were offered for sale in large numbers, partly in Budapest and partly in Berlin. 66
It is often asserted that Kaufmann himself or his wife donated the collection to the Academy or that it was in accordance with his or their intentions that his mother-in-law offered it to this prestigious institution. The former statement is of course a mistake and, to my knowledge, no proof has ever been found to substantiate the latter – the passage in Mrs. Gomperz’s donation deed is perhaps simply a pious rhetorical device. Maybe after the sudden death of her husband Kaufmann’s wife was already considering the eventual future of the collection, but it has to be assumed that during his lifetime Kaufmann himself was simply not occupied with this question: after all, he belonged to the peculiar species of passionate collectors and although he did have health problems, he was only forty-seven when he died quite unexpectedly – we know that he was full of plans when he arrived at Karlsbad two days before the fatal accident.
62 On this distinction see the entry
Arany érdemkereszt. In: Révai nagy lexikona. Budapest
1911-1935. II. 5b.
63 Alexander Scheiber: The Kaufmann Haggadah. Budapest 1957. 4.
64 Frojimovics – Komoróczy – Pusztai – Strbik 1999. 207.
65 The Schlesinger publishing house and book-store was located at 1 Király street. The company moved to Tel-Aviv in the late 1930s, where it has been active ever since. See Frojimovics – Komoróczy – Pusztai – Strbik 1999. 178-179. The firm seems to have specialized in Hebrew and Jewish publications only because it does not appear in a general account of the Budapest antiquarian book-market in those days. See Ödön Stemmer: Egy antikvárius visszaemlékezései [=The recollections of an antiquarian bookseller]. Budapest 1985. 16-18.
66 See the note [Anon.:] Gomperz Róza. In: Magyar-Zsidó Szemle 23 (1906) 208.
67 There is a number of printed books and journals of minor importance which Max (Miksa) Weisz did not regard worthy of cataloguing. Weisz 1906. 186-187 [Weitere Bestandteile der Bibliothek].
68 Cf. Benjamin Richler’s contribution to the present volume.
69 See, e.g., Joseph Gutmann: Forming the great collections. In: A sign and a witness. 2,000 years of Hebrew books and illuminated manuscripts. Ed. Leonard Singer Gold. New York – Oxford 1988. 75. Binyamin Richler: Hebrew manuscripts: a treasured legacy. Cleveland – Jerusalem 1990. 67, 78. Id.: Guide to Hebrew manuscript collections. Jerusalem 1994. 27-28, 89.
70 Rafael N. Rabinowitz, München, Königinstrasse Nr. 43.
Rosenthal 1903. 307 and
Hermann I. Schmelzer’s
contribution to the present volume. The relevant passage in
Kaufmann’s letter of 30
March 1885 runs as follows: Meine Frau ist eitel Pesach: nur hätte
ich gewünscht, dass sie zu dem ägyptischen Geschäfte sich kräftiger
gefühlt hätte. The word eitel is used here in an old
meaning ‘pure; nothing but; sheer,’ with eitel Pesach perhaps
recalling the expression eitel Freud und Wonne.
57 See below.
58 Dr. Béla Bakonyi informed us that his Bar Mitzvah had been celebrated in the former synagogue in Aréna street because Max Weisz was Rabbi there. His mother – Kaufmann’s niece –used to consult the friend of the family, Max Weisz, on all matters concerning David Kaufmann and religion in general.
59 Pressburg in German; since 1920 Bratislava in Czechoslovakia and then in the Slovak Republic.
60 On the catalogue see now Benjamin Richler’s contribution to the present volume.
61 The donation deed is preserved in the Collection of Manuscripts and Old Books of our Library. RAL No. 533. 1905. (Arrived 28 December 1905). See the note [Anon.:] Kaufmann-könyvtár. [=The Kaufmann library]. In: Magyar-Zsidó Szemle 23 (1906) 208.
The Kaufmann Collection consists of 594 manuscript items and 1,092 printed books. 67 In view of its volume the Kaufmann Collection is one of the fifteen largest collections in the world although it cannot compete with collections like those in Oxford (over three thousand Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts) or Saint Petersburg (over three thousand manuscripts and several thousand choice Genizah fragments). 68 It is very rich in unique and rare items and so, considering its quality, it is reckoned among the foremost collections of its kind in the world. 69 The manuscript collection contains Biblical texts with commentaries, linguistic and massoretic texts, halakhic and aggadistic pieces, works on Talmudic methodology, kabbalistic writings, works in the fields of theology, philosophy and religious polemics, history, homiletics and poetry, in addition to prayerbooks, works on the local history of Italian towns and communities, samples of letters, and works on mathematics and medicine. The collection is particularly rich in responsa of Italian Rabbis. These are important not only from the point of view of religious law but are also first class historical sources on everyday life, customs and habits, and are described in detail in the otherwise succinct Weisz catalogue (p. 31-79). A considerable part of the manuscripts comes from Italy – in this context it may be mentioned that in 1895 Kaufmann succeeded in acquiring the complete collection of manuscripts and books of the eminent Mantuan Rabbi Marco Mortara (1815-1894). The precious manuscripts with Yemenite piyyuts were acquired for him in Jerusalem by a certain M. Adelmann, from Jews immigrating from Yemen – Adelmann acquired manuscripts and rare books for Kaufmann in other parts of the Middle East too. Kaufmann also bought a number of items from Rafael N. Rabinowitz in Munich. 70