In Hebrew literature, books, with few exceptions, are recognized by their titles independently of their authors' names. Citations from and references to the "Pene Yehoshua'," or "Sha'agat Aryeh," are often made by students who neither know nor care to know the name of the author. Hence the bibliographer's first aim is the listing of Hebrew books by their titles rather than by the names of their authors.

Title-Page from Bible, Wilna, 1865.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)Title-Page from Later Prophets, with Abravanel's Commentary, Amsterdam, 1641.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)

The titles of the Biblical books are said to have been decided by the Great Assembly, headed by Ezra. "Torah," "Nebi'im," and "Ketubim" (Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hagiographa) were the titles given to the principal divisions. The Torah was subdivided into five "fifths," entitled "Ḥamishshah Ḥumshe Torah" (Ḥag. 14a). The Book of Exodus was called "Ḥomesh Sheni" (Second Fifth), and Numbers, "Ḥomesh ha-Peḳudim" (Fifth of the Numbered; Soṭah 36b). The Minor Prophets were known as the "Shenem 'Asar" (The Twelve), and Chronicles as "Dibre ha-Yamim" (The Events of the Days; B. B. 14a).

Biblical Titles.

In a later period the five "books of Moses" received respectively the titles "Bereshit," "Shemot," "Wayiḳra, Bemidbar," and "Debarim," these being merely the first important words in the five books; while the separate sections of the Talmud and the different midrashic works became known by titles indicating either their contents or the general nature of their relation to the Law. The Mishnah and Gemara together form the Talmud, i.e., the "Study," "Teaching."

In the geonic period, besides the collections of responsa and codes called "Halakot Pesuḳot," or "Halakot Gedolot" (halakic decisions credited to Judah Gaon), there were Saadia Gaon's "Sefer ha-Emunot we ha-De'ot" (Book of Creeds and Opinions), Hai Gaon's "Miḳḳaḥ u-Mimkar" (Buying and Selling), and Amram Gaon's "Seder," or "Siddur." The title "Reumah" is curious for a work on "sheḥiṭah" by Nahshon Gaon; but this is explained by Reifmann to be a misprint, the proper title being "Re'u Mah" (See What), the two words beginning the text.

Cabalistic Books.

Immediately after the geonic period the works of legal authorities were known by their authors' names—Alfasi, RaMBaM (Maimonides), Mordecai, Asheri. The commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, RaSHBaM, Abravanel, and others gave no other title than "Perush" (exposition, commentary) to their works. Later, the titles of the books again took the place of the authors' names, and references were made to the "Ba'al ha-Ṭurim," the "Ba'al ha-Lebushim," the "Bet Yosef," and the "Shulḥan 'Aruk"; among the few exceptions in later times were the works of Wilna Gaon and R. Akiba Eger. Cabalistic books bear fanciful and highly poetical titles: "Zohar" (Brightness), formerly known as the "Midrash of R. Simeon b. Yoḥai"; "Bahir" (Shining); "Ra'ya Mehemna" (True Shepherd); "Sifra di-Ẓeni'uta" (Book of Secrets); "Libnat ha-Sappir" (Sapphire Paving); "Ginnat Bitan" (Garden of the Palace); "Bat Melek" (Daughter of the King); "'Eẓ Ḥayyim" (Tree of Life). General titles were given to certain classes of literature, such as "Tosafot" (additions or glosses to the Talmud, chiefly by French rabbis), "Posḳim" (decisions), "Ḥiddushim" (novellæ on halakic subjects), and "Derushim" (notes on haggadic expositions). The "She'elot u-Teshubot" (responsa) bear sometimes the name of the author, sometimes a special title. In modern times "Bi'ur" (explanation) has replaced the title "Perush."

Special Expedients.

Most Hebrew titles are catch words or familiar Biblical phrases; some have reference to the name of the author; for example, "Zera' Abraham" or Zera' Yiẓḥaḳ" (Seed of Abraham, or Isaac). "Helel ben Shaḥar" ("Lucifer, son of the morning"; Isa. xiv. 12) is appropriated by an author whose first name is Hillel. "Derek Oniyyah" ("the way of a ship"; Prov. xxx. 19) is due to the surname of the author being "Schiff" (ship). One author by the name of Cohen made the titles of all his works refer to that name, all beginning with a "waw": "We-Shab ha-Kohen" ("And the priest shall come again"; Lev. xiv. 39); "We-He'erik Oto ha-Kohen" ("and the priest shall value him"; Lev. xxvii. 8); "We-Hishshab-Lo ha-Kohen" ("And the priest shall reckon unto him"; Lev. xxvii. 18, Hebr.). Samuel Jaffe chose as titles for his works Biblical phrases beginning with his name; thus, "Yefeh 'Enayim" (Beautiful Eyes), "Yefeh Ḳol" (Beautiful Voice), etc. "Elef ha-Magen" ("a thousand bucklers"; Cant. iv. 4) is the title of a work by Moses Galante containing a thousand responsa. The title of one of Azulai's books is "Debash le-Fi" (Honey to My Mouth), "De-BaSh" being the abbreviation of "David ben Sarah." Lipschütz's "Tif'eret Yisrael" contains references to his own name and to the numerical values of the names of his father, children, and grandchildren (see his introduction to Ṭohorot). Most of the Biblical phrases used as titles have no relation to the names of the authors of the works, as in the case of "Ba-Urim Kabbedu Yhwh" ("Glorify ye the Lord in the fires"; Isa. xxiv. 15), the title of a commentary on Rashi on the Pentateuch.

Some authors found titles in the nomenclature of the Tabernacle—its accessories, the vestments of the priests, the various ingredients of the incense—and the names of flowers, fruits, wines, and oils. Mordecai Jaffe is the author of the "Lebushim" (Garments), divided into "Lebush Tekelet" (Blue Apparel), "Ḥur" (White), "Buẓ we-Argaman" (Linen and Purple), "'Aṭeret Zahab" (Crown of Gold), "'Ir Shushan" ("the city of Shushan"; based on Esth. viii. 15). It made little difference whether the title had or had not any bearing on the contents of the book so long as it appealed to the fancy of the author. Abraham Jacob Paperna, in criticizing this method, said that if the custom of choosing Biblical phrases at random were continued, it would soon be possible to read the whole Bible by collecting and arranging Hebrew book-titles. According to a popular belief, the Messiah will appear when that has been done ("Ḳanḳan Ḥadash Male Yashan," p. 24, Wilna, 1867). Authors borrowed also Talmudical phrases, such as the one just quoted, which means "A New Vessel Full of Old [Wine]" (Ab. iv. 20), and "Emat Mafgia' 'al Ari" (The Lion's Fear of the Gnat; see Shab. 77b), the title of a counter-criticism by Benamozegh of Leon of Modena's" Ari Nohem" (The Howling Lion), an attack upon the Zohar.

Self-Flattery in Titles. Title-Page Imitating Vignettes in Hebrew Manuscripts.(From Günzburg's "Ornamentation des Anciens Manuscripts," St. Petersburg, 1904.)

The relation of a commentary to a text is sometimes indicated by a similarity in titles; Maimonides' "Mishneh Torah" was followed by Caro's commentary "Kesef Mishneh" (Double Money), De Boton's "Leḥem Mishneh" (Double Bread), and Judah Rosanes' "Mishneh le-Melek" (Vice-King). Caro's Shulḥan 'Aruk (Table Prepared) is covered by Isserles' "Mappah" (Table-cloth), annotations. Caro himself annotated his "Bet Yosef" (House of Joseph) in his "Bedeḳ ha-Bayit" (Breach in the House). In his eagerness to embellish his work with a beautiful Biblical phrase an author rarely hesitated, on the score of modesty, to select such a title as "Zeh Yenaḥamenu" (He [This] Shall Comfort Us) or "Matoḳ mi-Debash" (Sweeter than Honey).

Eulogistic Titles

Highly extravagant titles, especially when referring to nobles or kings, sometimes aroused the suspicion of a government. This was so in the case of Yom-Ṭob Lipmann Heller's commentaries on Asheri which he entitled "Ma'adanne Melek" (Royal Dainties) and "Leḥem Ḥamudot" (Pleasant Bread [from the King's Table]; see Dan. x. 3; the Prague, 1628, edition), the author being accused of treasonable pretensions. Consequently the publishers of the edition of Fürth, 1745, were compelled to change the titles to "Ma'adanne Yom-Ṭob" (Dainties of Yom-Ṭob) and "Dibre Ḥamudot" (Pleasant Words).

On the other hand, some authors took pains to select titles that would indicate the nature of the contents of their books, as in the works "Agur" (Gatherer); "Kol Bo" (All in It), collections of liturgical minhagim; "Keneset ha-Gedolah" (Great Assembly), a digest of all the responsa in the order of the Ṭurim; "Torat ha-Kena'ot" (Law of Jealousies), rules for polemics; and "Shebeṭ le-Gew Kesilim" (Rod for the Fool's Back), the last-named being a severely censorious work. Perhaps the most appropriate titles are those used in memorial and eulogistic works. The Talmudical treatise "Ebel Rabbati" (Great Mourning) later received the euphemistic title "Semaḥot" (Joys). The modern manual for mourners is similarly called "Sefer ha-Ḥayyim" (Book of the Living). The book of recitations and prayers in commemoration of Simeon b. Yoḥai is called "Hillula Rabbah" (Grand Celebration). Others have such titles as "Allon Bakut" (Gen. xxxv. 8), "Ebel Kabed" (Grievous Mourning), "Ebel Mosheh" (Mourning for Moses), "Misped Mar" (Bitter Wailing), "Ḳol Nehi" (Voice of Lamentation), "Ḳol Bokim" (Voice of Crying), "'Emeḳ ha-Baka" (Valley of Baca; see Ps. lxxxiv. 6). Some books have two Hebrew titles, and others have one in Hebrew and one in another language, references being made to either.

The repetition of the same title by various authors is a source of annoyance and confusion to the bibliographer. Benjacob, in his "Oẓar ha-Sefarim" (up to 1863), records no less than 27 books entitled "'Eẓ Ḥayyim"; 20 entitled "Shir Yedidut"; 16 entitled "Ẓofnat Pa'aneaḥ"; 15 entitled "Leshon Limmudim"; 14 each entitled "Keter Torah," "Leḳaḥ Ṭob," "Ma'amar Mordekai," "Meḳor Ḥayyim," "Sefat Emet"; 13 each called "Ḥesheḳ Shelomoh," "Safah Berurah"; 12 each entitled "Eben Boḥan," "Dereḳ Ḥayyim," "Miḳweh Yisrael"; and there are twenty other titles each of which is used for from 8 to 12 books.

  • Delmedigo, Beḥinat ha-Dat, ed. Reggio, p. 132, Vienna, 1833;
  • I. D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature, p. 104;
  • Reifmann, in Ha-Shaḥar, ii. 342;
  • S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, xi.;
  • A. Berliner, Hebräische Büchertitel, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1905.
J. J. D. E.