Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In centuries past, when books were a precious commodity, people often feared that someone would walk off with their books. (Michel Yitzchak Rabinowitz [1879-1948], owner of the publishing house Darom, recounted that R. Yitzchak Yaakov Reines would never allow anyone into his library, unless he was standing with him, lest a book go missing.)

To prevent their books from being lost or stolen, owners would routinely write their name or an inscription in them. Many, however, felt uncomfortable writing in holy books, seeing it as disrespectful (see Sefer Chassidim, siman 281 and 698), so they would inscribe their name, but also subtly apologize for doing so.

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In a book I recently catalogued, I found the following inscription on the free-end:

Al al pi she’asru chachamim
Lichtov al ha’sefer, aval mishum siman muttar
Mipnei she’yesh anshei mezimah
K’she ro’im sefer b’lo kesuvah va’chasima
Notlim osam tachas haglima
V’omrim sheli hu miyamim yamima

 

Loosely translated, it means:

Though forbidden by the sages
To write upon a book’s pages,
it is permitted at times,
lest scheming people and their crimes,
a book without a name inside,
beneath their garment they will hide,
and write their name upon the pages,
and claim it has been theirs throughout the ages.

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