Thursday, June 20, 2019

As the name suggests, the Facebook group “Buy, Sell, or Swap Sefarim,” launched 2 1/2 years ago by Passaic resident Rabbi Pesach Sommer, offers an opportunity to do just that. Sommer’s hope was that people like himself with a passion for Jewish texts would join the group and find each other. To date, there are over 3,000 individuals subscribed, hailing from the U.S. to Europe, from Australia to South America. The group has attracted not only rabbis, academics and serious students of Torah, but young college students and newcomers to Jewish learning.

Professionally, Rabbi Sommer serves as a middle school rebbe at Ramaz, teaching Mishna, Gemara and Machshava to students in grades six through eight. From his early youth, even before pursuing a career in chinuch, Rabbi Sommer had been an aficionado of Jewish texts, new and rare. Over the years, he has become aware that as people collect volumes of Jewish writings, they often place them neatly on bookshelves never to be “cracked open.” These volumes may be of interest to others who may not be able to locate them or perhaps to afford to purchase them at the current market price. That is why Sommer came up with the idea of an insider’s group that would connect those who “had” with those who “wanted.” Over the course of the last two years, volumes that have been out of print for decades have reached the hands of those who have been desperate to secure them, and at reasonable price tags. Rabbis around the world have been able to get ahold of volumes that are available exclusively in Israel. Newcomers to the world of Jewish texts have been able to build basic libraries at non-prohibitive costs.

Sommers elaborated on the group offerings: “Once you have located a volume that you wish to purchase, you suggest a price to the seller, including the cost of shipping, and ‘Buy, Sell, or Swap’ will provide the forum. In conjunction with our lawyers, this group does not provide any guarantees that your deal will work. But we invite you to try us. If you are in search of a particular sefer and/or if you want to part with a sefer that you haven’t used forever, please visit us. Also, feel free to use our group to connect to other bibliophiles who may have similar interests and may want to engage you in further discussion. We have had scholars make contacts with each other which led to personal meetings and even invitations to present at professional conferences.”

Since its launch, the site has sparked interest in many professional booksellers who have found it to be a treasure chest of new discoveries. Israel Mizrahi, a well-known dealer in Judaic texts out of Brooklyn, is very impressed with Sommers’ undertaking. He commented, “Facebook as a selling platform is very different than a standard website, in the sense that comments and replies are enabled, encouraging discussion and debate. A recent post I had put up in the group, offering for sale a sefer that discusses the Kharsom Geniza, led to a discussion regarding the authenticity of the book, which eventually developed into a still ongoing email conversation. Furthermore, the group has allowed me to finally put faces on numerous customers that I have dealt with and spoken to over the years, but have yet to meet.”

Synagogues and Jewish institutions in the process of downsizing will find the group a perfect venue for selling their collections. Mizrahi shared, “A question posted in the group regarding the value of a specific title developed into a conversation and eventually an invitation to purchase the book collection of a synagogue in the process of downsizing. The experience was further shared with the group with photos of the books purchased being posted on the group chat even before I managed to get home. The group members are like ‘birds of a flock,’ each looking out for the other, and we often see one member notify another of a title that he is not interested in but may interest his friend.”

Sommer is proud of the incremental increase in visitors to his site, and looks forward to even greater growth in the coming years. “My ultimate goal with ‘Buy, Sell, or Swap Sefarim’ is to facilitate harbatzat Torah, the spread of Torah, and b”H we are well on our way to achieving this mission.”

Explore “Buy, Sell, or Swap Sefarim” at www.facebook.com/groups/1756610537926472.

By Pearl Markovitz