After almost 200 hours of meticulous restoration work by the Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection’s 16th century copy of “Akedat Yitzhak,” a Jewish philosophical text written by Isaac Ben Moses Arama, can finally be accessed by the public and read nearly in full, uncovering the words that were kept secret for so long.
Arama (1420-1494), a Spanish rabbi and philosopher, lived at a time when Jews in Spain were forced to hear sermons that would try to convert them to Christianity. In order to counteract this, Arama gave sermons of his own that espoused the values of Judaism. These sermons would go on to form the basis of “Akedat Yitzhak,” his best known work.
According to Library and Archives Canada’s Lowy Collection curator Leah Cohen, 38 pages of the text were redacted by Catholic Church censors charged with covering up any aspects deemed heretical to Christianity.
Unfortunately, the censors used iron gall ink to censor the passages, which, due to the corrosive nature of the ink, had begun to oxidize over the years, resulting in the erosion of some of the book’s passages. This made professional treatment of the book’s pages absolutely necessary to save the text.
Using state of the art methods, conservator Manise Marston, treated the text with Berlin tissue and a gelatin-based adhesive, stabilizing the corroded areas and greatly slowing down the degradation process.
The Lowy Collection’s copy of the text contains the signatures of three different censors, and Cohen is particularly excited to compare this book to the other copies in other collections across the country to see which censors were in charge of the other copies, how their redactions differed and why.
Cohen says these revelations have opened up an opportunity to enrich our understanding of the past.
“We’re uncovering a piece of the puzzle to better understand the nature of censorship,” Cohen said.
While Cohen estimates there are about 40 other censored books in the Lowy Collection, she’s not in a rush to have them treated because their pages aren’t being corroded by the ink. There are other more pressing pieces in the collection she has to attend to with regards to conservation.
In the meantime, interested individuals are welcome to visit the collection and view the newly restored “Akedat Yitzhak” text, along with the other Jewish texts dating from the 15th to 20th centuries that are preserved in the Lowy Collection. The oldest piece in the collection is a Latin translation of Josephus’ “The Jewish Wars” and “Antiquities” that were bound together and published in 1470 and, ironically, preserved by the church.