Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

Free-ends of antiquarian books often hold, within the writings penned on them, a snapshot of the life and times of the former owners of the books. With paper being at a premium centuries ago, it is common to find that book owners would use the free-ends of the books they owned to write and document various different things, such as family birth and death dates, their family genealogy and much else. One such occasion was with a set of Chumashim, printed in Vienna in 1794, that I had sold recently.

The volumes were owned by a Joseph Dov Schlesinger, who used the free-ends of the volumes to inscribe a variety of prayers, halachot and some of his life occurrences. On the final leaf of one of the volumes, Schlesinger details an event which appears to have had a powerful effect on his life, being the sudden and unusual death of his grandson, Avraham. From his Inscription (translated from his Hebrew):


“With a broken heart… and in tears, the child Abraham, the son of my daughter was taken from us by G-d in an instant by a lightning strike… On Monday, the 14th of Tamuz 5614 as I sat down to study with him and four additional children, him being the youngest of them, aged 4 years old and 4 months. An attractive and intelligent boy, he knew the Hebrew Alphabet and their vowels and was able to translate over 150 words from Hebrew to Yiddish… May his soul rest in peace.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“All men and women, old and young from our people as well as from the gentiles who knew the child cried out in response to the fire which (G-d) struck us.”

In addition, there are several other pages inserted in to the free-ends in his handwriting detailing unusual weather events that occurred in his lifetime, including a report of the weather conditions during the winter of 1852, a description of the fire in the tower of Reschwitz (Radošov) caused by lightning; and an inscription recording the passing of R. Yaakov Ze’ev son of R. Meir of Prague.

At the end of Vayikra, several blank leaves were bound, containing eight handwritten pages, with a detailed report of the extreme weather conditions during the autumn and winter of the following years: 1839, 1842, 1844, 1847, 1850, 1852, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1860 and 1861. The writer mentions various facts, including the increase in food prices, the state of the roads, and more. In the inscription about 1849-1850, the writer describes the outbreak of a cholera morbus epidemic and other illnesses in various cities: “In autumn 1849, it was also very cold, and snow… and nevertheless, several illnesses were spreading among the people, especially among the Jews. In Weitentrebitsch (Saaz district; today: Široké Třebčice), the cholera morbus illness struck, and several Jews perished….”


Previous articleDemocracy Over Rule Of Mob
Next articleTrue Character
Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].