This week I was lucky to have pass through my hands, an important early printed sefer with noted provenance and intriguing marginalia and censorship. Printed in Venice in 1553, the book was Toldot Adam Vechava by Rabbenu Yerucham (1290–1350), and this copy was owned and bears the ownership stamp of the great Netziv, Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva and noted author of many sefarim.
This work of Rabbenu Yerucham, one of the most influential rishonim, is often quoted in later rabbinic sources and was a trusted source for R. Yosef Karo in his compositions. The first part of the book is entitled Adam, and covers the laws that apply before marriage, such as laws of circumcision, instruction, prayer, and Shabbat. The second part, entitled Havah, deals with the laws that become obligatory at and after marriage, such as those connected with betrothal, marriage, etc.
Despite its importance, the book was not reprinted from the 16th century until the latter half of the 20th century. The reason for this may be an interesting comment made by the Chid”a in Shem Hagedolim about this work: “I have heard from old Rabbi in the holy city of Jerusalem that they have a tradition that the books, Sefer haIttur and Sefer Rabbeinu Yeruchum, they are a high secret and anyone who writes a commentary on these books either the work will be lost or they will die in the prime of their life.” He then lists several authors who attempted to write commentaries on Rabbenu Yerucham only to die unnatural deaths or have their compositions lost.
Throughout the section relating to halachot relating to gentiles in this copy, there is heavy censorship, with entire lines crossed out and three full pages,157-159, that dealt with the laws relating to idol worship neatly cut out by the censor. In this copy, a prior owner in the period of its printing wrote much marginalia replacing the censored text and clarifying wherever possible that the gentiles discussed refer to gentiles of ancient times and not current era gentiles. It appears the owner of the book attempted to self-censor to avoid the wrath of the censor and “corrected” any references to gentiles. Despite his efforts, at the end of the volume appear the signatures of 3 separate censors that censored this volume, two are dated, being 1626 and 1628.