||Unusual pocket edition of the Shulhan Arukh with a Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) title page but text in Hebrew. The title page, in Hebrew letters states that it is for the Talmud Torah. In the upper left hand corner is the signature of M. Gaster. This signature appears again at the beginning of Hilkhot Rosh HaShanah and at the end of hilkhot Hanukkah. It is dated with the verse “who brings good news of good, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7) The volume begins with hilkot Megillah, followed by Pesah and continues in the orderof the year, concluding with Hanukkah. The text is R. Karo only, without the annotations of the Rema. It is set in a single column in rabbinic type. 13 ff. may be from the 1801 edition as they are not known to have appeared in the 1799 edition.
R. Moses Gaster (1856–1939), his signature appears four times, was a rabbi, scholar, and Zionist leader. He was born in Bucharest and studied at the University of Breslau and the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, where he was ordained in 1881. He taught Rumanian language and literature in the University of Bucharest, 1881–85, published a popular history of Rumanian literature, Literatura Populart RomDnt (1883), and began his great chrestomathy of Rumanian literature Chrestomatie RomDnt (2 vols., 1891). In 1885, because of his protests against the treatment of the Jews, he was expelled from Rumania. He settled in England where he was appointed to teach Slavonic literature at Oxford University in 1886. In 1887 he was appointed haham of the English Sephardi community.
R. Gaster's abilities as a scholar and an orator gave him an outstanding position both in the Anglo-Jewish community and in those areas of intellectual life in which he became a recognized authority, e.g., folklore and Samaritan literature. However, Gaster had a stubborn and combative personality, and this led to an unwillingness to retreat from a position once taken, which did not enhance his reputation. When he was principal of Judith Montefiore College, Ramsgate (1891–96), he endeavored to make it an institution for training rabbis, but the attempt failed. In 1918, after disagreements with his congregation, Gaster retired from the office of haham.
R. Gaster was active in Hibbat Zion and later in the Zionist movement. He accompanied L. Oliphant on his visits to Rumania, Constantinople, and Erez Israel, and also played a considerable part in the establishment of Zikhron Ya'akov and Rosh Pinnah in Palestine, the first colonies settled by Rumanian Jews. He became one of Herzl's early supporters but opposed him on the Uganda Plan, and this also brought him into conflict with the leaders of the English Zionist Federation, of which he was president in 1907. Throughout these years Gaster was a prominent figure at Zionist Congresses, being elected a vice-president at the first four. It was to Gaster that Herbert Samuel, then in the British Cabinet, turned when he wished to establish contact with the Zionists. The conference held at Gaster's home in February 1917 between the Zionist leaders and Sir Mark Sykes of the British Foreign Office was an important stage in the events leading to the Balfour Declaration. After World War I he returned to his dissociation from official Zionist policy; this was partly the result of his failure to satisfy his ambition of becoming the official leader of the organization.
Gaster's writings covered many branches of learning, including Rumanian literature, comparative and Jewish folklore, Samaritan history and literature, rabbinic scholarship, liturgy, Anglo-Jewish history, and biblical studies. A selection of Gaster's scattered essays appeared under the title Studies and Texts in Folklore, Magic, Medieval Romance, Hebrew Apocrypha... (3 vols., 1925–28). Other publications are listed in the bibliographies below. R. Gaster assembled a magnificent library, including many manuscripts, most of which he sold to the British Museum in 1925, but he continued his literary work, despite almost total blindness.