Burning Words: The Battle of the Books

February 8, 2016 – May 6, 2016

David Berg Rare Book Room, Center for Jewish History

Michael Wolgemut, The Burning of the Jews during the Time of the Plague (Schedels Weltchronik), woodcut, 1493

Michael Wolgemut, The Burning of the Jews during the Time of the Plague (Schedels Weltchronik), woodcut, 1493

Interest in ancient Hebrew texts as a source for understanding Christianity started in the 1480s, and, thanks to the invention of the printing press, spread throughout Europe. It culminated in the publication of one of the first Hebrew grammar books and dictionaries for Christians, De rudimentis Hebraicis in 1506, written by the most eminent Christian Hebraist of the time, Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). The book was met with strong objections from the Catholic Church, and Johannes Pfefferkorn—a recent convert from Judaism—published several treatises championing the confiscation and burning of all Jewish books.

While the majority of Christian experts enthusiastically endorsed book confiscations, Johannes Reuchlin, an attorney by training, argued forcefully against this policy on both legal and moral grounds. The significance of the Reuchlin Controversy on the development of humanism can hardly be overestimated. Reuchlin’s Der Augenspiegel documents an important historical milestone on the road to the toleration and acceptance of Judaism, and is the centerpiece of the Frank L. Herz Rare Book Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute. Many of these books can be seen in Burning Words, alongside other materials from the collections of the Leo Baeck Institute.

This exhibition is generously supported by The David Berg Foundation.


Tuesday, February 23, 6:00 PM
Burning Words: The Battle of Books
Presented by the Center for Jewish History and the Leo Baeck Institute

Exhibition Viewing and Lecture
“Burning Words” explores the 16th-century debate carried out through the relatively new medium of printed books over whether Jewish books should be confiscated and destroyed. This talk will focus on Johannes Reuchlin, a German scholar of the period, who strongly advocated in favor of Jewish books, stressing the importance of Jewish ideas in the Christian world. Columbia University’s Elisheva Carlebach, a scholar of early modern Jewish history who wrote the introduction to an influential translation of Reuchlin as well as “Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Germany, 1500 – 1750,” will lead this evening lecture.

  • 6:00 p.m. – Curators on hand during public viewing of exhibition
  • 6:30 p.m. –Talk by Professor Elisheva Carlebach
  • 7:00 p.m. – Wine and cheese reception

Tickets: Free; reservations required

Sunday, April 3, 2:30 PM
Burning Words – A History Play
Presented by the Center for Jewish History and the Leo Baeck Institute

Dramatic reading of scenes from the play with scholarly commentary
“Burning Words” takes its name from the stage play by Peter Wortsman, which dramatizes the clash between the humanist jurist Johannes Reuchlin and Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish butcher converted to Christianity and a willing tool of the Dominican Order in their quest to burn Jewish books. This dramatic reading of scenes from the play will feature scholarly commentary from Magda Teter (Fordham) and the playwright as well as a multimedia presentation of books, contemporary artwork and cantorial music transcribed and arranged by Reuchlin himself.

Tickets: $15 general; $10 LBI, CJH members, seniors, student

Crisis and Opportunity: The Cultural Impact of German-Jewish Refugees


In this exhibit, LBI profiles the experiences, struggles, and intellectual achievements of Nazi-era émigrés who came to the US.

Leo Baeck Fellowship Program

Leo Baeck

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, and Leo Baeck Institute London announce fellowships that provide a monthly stipend for one year to doctoral students pursuing research in the field of history and Culture of German-speaking Jewry.

Final Sale in Berlin—Database of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Berlin Now Part of LBI Collections

An entry in the database for the wholesale egg business owned by Jakob Intrator, whose 
granddaughter Joanne joined Kreutzmüller at LBI on September 30, 2015.

Christoph Kreutzmüller On September 30, 2015, historian Christoph Kreutzmueller presented the new English translation of his study on the destruction of Jewish commercial life in Berlin and formally donated a remarkable database of Jewish businesses to Leo Baeck Institute. Since 2005, I have been studying how the National Socialist regime systematically destroyed and looted businesses…

Meine Liebe Käthe—A trove of century-old letters adds fuel to WWI debate

Letters from Kurt Riezler to Käthe Liebermann written in the early months of WWI. AR 25484

Engagement letters from a young Bavarian Catholic aid to the German Chancellor and the daughter of one of early 20th century Germany’s most famous painters speak volumes about the German-Jewish milieu in Wilhelmine Berlin and may also shed light on the origins of World War I.

Leo Baeck Institute Featured at Deutscher Verein Dinner

LBI President Emeritus Ismar Schorsch (l) with Jürgen Ostertag, a Stuttgart native and New York-based attorney who is the president of one of the city’s oldest social clubs, Deutscher Verein.

LBI President Emeritus Ismar Schorsch attended the Deutscher Verein’s annual dinner at the Union Club on September 9, 2015 to give a lecture that reflected on both the 60th anniversary of the Leo Baeck Institute and the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel.

Bures Praises Young Volunteers behind LBI’s Austrian Heritage Collection

Simeon Gozivoda (l.) and Jan Dreer with Doris Bures at Leo Baeck Institute,
New York, where the young volunteers shared examples of their work with the
Social Democratic politician.

Doris Bures, the President of the National Council of Austria (the upper house of Austria’s parliament) visited LBI in New York on August 27, 2015 to learn about the Institute and meet two young volunteers who are working to document stories of Austrian refugees in lieu of their mandatory military service in Austria.

Family Matters—Fourth Generation of Bambergers Introduced to LBI

The Bambergers—Back row: Gabrielle, Sarah, Kenneth, Michael; 3rd row: Max, Isaiah, Kristin, 
Madeleine, Phylis; 2nd row: Quinn, Niva, Ella; 1st row: Ezra

When LBI Vice President Michael Bamberger brought the youngest generation of his extended family to the Leo Baeck Institute on a mid-summer morning in 2015, he was continuing a long tradition of family involvement with the Institute.

Walter Nathan—Leaving a Legacy at Leo Baeck Institute

Walter Nathan

A commitment to the importance of history and family led Chicago businessman Walter Nathan to press for a memorial to Jews in his father’s native town in Germany and to include Leo Baeck Institute in his estate planning.

Just Passing Through, but Taking a Stand—Jewish Student Politics in Vienna, 1967–1975

Hermann Teifer was born 1949 in Vienna and studied Theater, Philosophy, Political Science, and Jewish Studies at the University of Vienna, where he earned his doctorate in 1975. He worked as a freelance author in Jerusalem and New York and raised two sons. After his sons left home he studied library science at Queens College and joined LBI as an archivist in 2008.

Hermann Teifer The University of Vienna celebrates its 650th anniversary this year, and the city’s Jewish Museum is marking the occasion with an exhibition that explores the long and tumultuous relationship between Jews and the University. After the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1421, the rubble of the old synagogue was used to…