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Sample Essay from Brooker Prize Winner




Jewish Studies

Moshe Krakowski

General Information


Previous Prize Recipients


Although I never thought of myself as being a book collector in any real sense (you know, the type of person who spends all of their time in dusty basements finding 17th century manuscripts), I have somehow managed to amass a large quantity of books. They cover a wide range of subject matter and there are a number of different focuses reflecting different periods of my book accumulation. There is one theme, however, that is clearly identifiable as large and more comprehensive than the rest, having greater numbers, wider range, and more rare, old, and interesting books than any other theme. It is natural that the books relate to a subject matter which I am involved in and actively interested in. The subject matter is that of Jewish studies.

As a young child in Jewish day school I showed a certain degree of aptitude for my studies, leading one of my Rabbis to write on my report card "Gemara Kup" --(the Gemara is a term for the Talmud, and Kup is yiddish for Head). Hoping to encourage me in my further studies, my parents and relatives would buy for me as gifts various books of commentary on the Talmud, the Bible. (While other kids got Nintendo for Chanukah, I received a five volume set of Chidushie HaRitva'h--a medieval commentary on the Talmud--a book that I couldn't hope to understand until some years later.)

As I grew older and more proficient in my studies I started looking into buying the various books that were useful to me. I would try to find the best bargain in one of the Jewish bookstores and if the price wasn't beyond my means I would purchase it. At this stage I wasn't buying any fancy, eclectic, or rare books; just the books that I felt were essential for a Jewish studies library. I made sure to have books covering the Tana'kh (Hebrew Bible) and its commentaries, the Talmud and its commentaries, Halachic (Jewish legal) material, Mussar (ethical instruction), Chasidic writings, historical material, and reference material.

I really expanded my collection greatly in the years that I spent studying Talmud in Israel. Many Jewish books are published in Israel and are consequently cheaper there. I would wander from store to store in the market of Meah Shearim bargaining with booksellers who I knew had raised their prices in expectation of gullible tourists. I made good finds in this way as well; the Jerusalem Bible, which sells for about $30 in the States, was on sale in the back of a little used book store for 35 Shekalim (and after the obligatory bargaining the price went down to 28 shekalim, about 7 dollars at the time). A Mussar book Moshe Krakowski (Alei Shor) which was getting a lot of attention in Israeli yeshivas was on my wanted list, but it wasn't being sold anywhere. In the end I had to go to the house of the author to purchase it, as he was only selling it from his home in order to personally interview every person who bought a copy.

It was near the end of my time in Israel that I started to have an interest in books that were not strictly useful in my studies, but were "cook" books to have around because of their rare and unique qualities. When I turned thirteen I had been given (by a very rich uncle) a 1858 copy of the Zohar (Kabalah--or Jewish mysticism), and although for a long while I did not pay much attention to it, over the course of my time in Israel I began to realize a bit more of its significance. I began to make greater note of rare and old books and would inquire about them in the various bookstores that I frequented.

In the bibliography you will find a fairly good, although not comprehensive, list of the books that I have, covering the major areas of my Jewish studies collection. Of particular value is the 1842 German-Aramaic Talmud--tractate Berachot, and the 3 volumes (our of 4) of the 1802 edition of Moses Mendelssohn's commentary to the Bible.

Having established a solid collection of "basics" of Biblical and Talmudic studies, I hope to expand on the more esoteric selections of my collection, finding more out-of-way, less-studied commentaries. I also hope to expand my collection in the areas of Midrash (ancient tales appended to the Biblical test) and Jewish philosophy.

Mr. Krakowski won the 2nd-year prize in 2000
for the collection described in the preceding essay.