Past Event

Columbia University Seminar in Material Texts:Joshua Teplitsky, (Stony Brook University, SUNY)

November 14, 2019
6:10 PM - 8:30 PM
Columbia University Faculty House


Kosher meat was both an ingredient of Jewish physical sustenance and an important marker of cultural identity. The expertise to produce kosher meat rested in ancient traditions that had, in the age of print, been codified in manuals of instruction that appeared in no fewer than sixty-three editions (in Hebrew and Yiddish) between 1549-1727. Study from these books, however, was not sufficient for the task upon which Jews depended for their meat. In the blank pages of guides to butchering kosher animals evidence survives of the close personal relations between teachers and students in the form of certifications inscribed by hand by scholars who had tested and approved the student’s skills. These handwritten certifications transformed the impersonal printed book into a source of personal credential for its holder, as the bearer of the book could now present the object as material evidence of knowledge acquired. This paper will explore the phenomenon of certification of kosher butchers as they appear in handwritten inscriptions to printed books and consider the way the print and manuscript addenda interacted in the transmission of mimetic learning alongside “book learning.” It will also consider the obverse phenomena: cases of forgery and deception, and the upheavals caused by discoveries of fraud. By reflecting on specific material traces and using the tools of critical bibliography, the paper with will consider the relationship between knowing and doing in books, study, and the production of kosher meat in early modern Europe.


This seminar brings together from various disciplines scholars who work on the history of the book and the study of material texts in order to place the technical and bibliographical study of text objects in dialogue with cultural studies and both the textually- and the materially-oriented humanist disciplines more broadly.  Over recent decades, book history has emerged as a necessarily and productively interdisciplinary field; with this in mind, this seminar focuses on the interpretation of material textual objects from an array of disciplinary perspectives.  Our aim is to provide a clearinghouse for emerging methods and work, and a nexus for scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss and pursue shared interests in the study of the book and the material text.

The seminar meets at 6:10 pm in Faculty House or, if noted, Butler Library Room 523 or the Morgan Library (please consult the calendar to verify the location).


This meeting will be held at: Faculty House, Columbia University