“The Book was Sacred”—A Glimpse into the Schulweis Library Collection
In his essay, “The Book and I,” included in the tribute book commemorating his 80th birthday in 2005, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (z”l) wrote: “I was raised in a highly intellectualized universe. In that world, the text was all. The written text was to be studied, mastered and transmitted. The book was sacred…The library was the sacred center of the home.” So how fortunate it is that the Schulweis Institute has chosen to preserve the books that informed, shaped, inspired, intrigued Rabbi Schulweis over his long, fascinating and productive life.
The collection that makes up the Library brings together over 4000 tomes, including rabbinic texts, his university textbooks, non-fiction / fiction books he chose to collect and particular periodicals he made a point to save, spanning a period from Rabbi Schulweis’ yeshiva days onward. Predominant languages are English, Hebrew and Yiddish. All sorts of books peopled the shelves in his office, or could be found stacked on his desk, or surrounded him in his Encino, California home. They were among his best friends, his intellectual oasis, in his private study in the Fountainview apartment.
“Books, authors, teachers have informed me,” he said, and the breadth of this collection, full of Kaplan, poetry, psychology, art, history of genocide and the Holocaust, Israeli writers, Heschel, philosophy, boxing, of course (!), just to highlight, is most informative. It speaks to the ideas, events, great minds that influenced his thoughts, words and actions as a rabbi, leader, innovator, teacher, poet, and persuasive orator.
What of Schulweis the reader? Well, beyond being voracious and always au courant, he followed through on what he had learned early on: to study and master texts, and to transmit the message. On many book endpapers page numbers are listed, sometimes in pencil, sometimes in ink, with keywords for easy and quick future reference, perhaps to be included in a future sermon or new article. Pages have under linings (usually pencil) and check marks, either one check or two (!) and many books were crammed with relevant notes on paper scraps, book review clippings or related writings. Hundreds of acid-free envelopes stand on the library shelves next to the books from which they were taken, preserving these impressions and reactions for posterity.
The collection is being readied for permanent installation with locations under consideration by HMSI and VBS. Due to the generosity of the Schulweis family, the collection has recently expanded by hundreds of books, and are being catalogued by Susan Rosner, former VBS Judaica librarian, who honors her promise to him to look after ‘his books.’ The physical book collection and it’s on-line catalogue will soon join the sister collection, hmsi.info, the largest on-line repository of Rabbi Schulweis’ sermons, articles, lectures, monographs, etc., written, spoken or videoed, as valuable resources for researchers, rabbis, teachers and disciples.
“Books are the mirrors of the soul” wrote Virginia Woolf. The Harold M Schulweis Institute looks forward to sharing this unique reflection of the mind and life of Rabbi Schulweis, preserving and honoring his important legacy.