Aaron Nodnarb’s Book in Hiding

Submitted by Dr. Rebecca Jefferson, Head of the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica

“Orden de las oraciones cotidianas por stilo seguido”, London, 1772. This extremely rare Spanish translation of the standard Hebrew prayer book (one of six known copies in world libraries) was printed in London in 1772 by Aaron Nodnarb. Nodnarb is an assumed name (a palindrome to disguise his real name, Brandon), which he used when printing works for his fellow crypto-Jews living under cover, hiding from the Inquisition.

The Price Library of Judaica copy of this prayer book is missing its front and back pages, but it does contain the daily prayers and sections of the prayers for the Jewish festivals. The book also includes a calendar of the Jewish holidays covering the years 1770-1790, which has its own title page revealing the name of the printer.

Title page of the book. In addition to basic information, it features the author's name, Aaron Nodnarb.
The title page contains Arron Nodnarb’s psuedonum

This Jewish content is disguised by the book’s exterior cover. Its half-leather binding was constructed around 1800 in southern France by the crypto-Jewish community that owned it (and from where Brandon originally hailed). On the spine of the book the French title “Prières journalières” (Daily Prayers) is written in gilt letters together with a gilt design which looks like a Christian cross from a distance, but whose upper part is in fact overdrawn by flowers. The spine also lacks Aaron Nodnarb’s pseudonym.

When this book once sat on the crypto-Jewish owner’s book-shelf over two centuries ago, it would have appeared to anyone reading its cover to be a Christian prayer book, thus protecting its owner from discovery. The Inquisition which forced many Jews into hiding did not formerly end until the early 20th century, the last execution took place in Spain in 1826. Our special “book in hiding” now resides in the Rare Book Room of the Judaica Suite.

The spine of a book reading Prières journalières. It is gilded and fragile looking.
While the spine reads “Prières journalières” (Daily Prayers)” the true title of this work is “Orden de las oraciones cotidianas por stilo seguido.”

Like this post? Be sure to check out our other posts about treasures from the Judaica Collection.

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