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Manuscripts

Manuscripts

Manuscripts at the National Library of Israel

Hebrew Manuscripts Around the World

For thousands of years Jewish people have used the written word to express their religious beliefs and scientific knowledge. Jewish prayers, customs, histories of communities and information from a range of disciplines, both religious and secular, were transcribed assiduously. Given that Hebrew was a written rather than spoken language, the extent of its use was surprisingly far-reaching. Jews gave abundant written expression to their rich intellectual world. Like the nomadic nature of the life of Jewish individuals and communities, Hebrew manuscripts and documents traveled across countries and continents. These significant texts, reflecting the knowledge and culture of a people, eventually found haven in the halls of great libraries, and in the vaults of private collectors. Today these precious Hebrew manuscripts shed light on the diverse and wide-ranging cultures of the Jewish people, their intellectual life and history.

 

Non-Hebrew Manuscripts

Almost all of the world's many literate cultures have left behind handwritten texts. Before the invention of printing, writing and copying texts was the prevalent way of passing on opinions, beliefs and knowledge from generation to generation. Even after the spread of printing technology across the world, the creation of elaborate and elegant manuscripts did not go completely out of fashion. In addition to its impressive collection of Hebrew manuscripts, the National Library also preserves a diverse collection of manuscripts in other languages, from as early as the 9th century, with the majority of these originating in Europe. Most of these manuscripts reached the Library's collections through donations. For example, the donation of Abraham Shalom Yehuda's private collection added rare and spectacular items to the Library's holdings, including Christian texts such as a number of 16th century books of hours, as well as rare Vulgate manuscripts and a large collection of Isaac Newton's theological manuscripts. A significant portion of the collection has been digitized and is now viewable by all on the National Library website and catalog.

"Ktiv"

Photo: Denis Schorr

Photo: Denis Schorr

With the rapid advances in the technological environment that significantly expand options for preservation, presentation and access to digital content, the National Library of Israel initiated the renewal of its collection of copies of Hebrew manuscripts. This enterprise, undertaken in partnership with the Friedberg Jewish Ma​nuscript Society (FJMS), is designed​ to make Jewish manuscripts widely available. The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts will enable global centralized digital access to the complete corpus of existing Hebrew manuscripts. The images will be preserved long-term using state of the art technology, and the collection will be accessible to international communities of researchers and users from the comfort of their own institutions and homes.

The International Digital Library of Hebrew Manuscripts is made possible through the generous support of the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society (FJMS) and the Landmarks Heritage Program in the Prime Minister's Office, created to preserve national heritage.

Explore the collection

2500 Years of Ketubot

Ketubah from Paris, France, 1970.

Ketubah from Paris, France, 1970.

The purpose of the Jewish ketubah is to outline the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. The ketubah contains three parts: on the part of the groom, which is the primary objective of the ketubah the amount of money he is obligated to pay, as well as the addition to the ketubah, should he choose to add to the base amount. On the wife's part, the dowry is detailed. In addition, the dowry also includes the terms of the ketubah, which were meant to ensure the rights of the woman during the marriage and in the case that the marriage is nullified.

Ketubot have not changed much over the centuries. The marriage documents found in Aramaic papyruses from the days of Artaxerxes the King of Persia from the 5th century B.C.E., are very similar to ketubah documents from other eras and even to modern day ketubot.

The National Library of Israel has a vast and rich collection of ketubot that site allows for a wide, comprehensive and in depth look at the ketubah as a Jewish document, a Jewish creation and a vital historical source.

Read more about the Ketubot Collection

The Pinkasim Collection

Halberstadt Community Record

Halberstadt Community Record

​From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, most European Jewish communities and regional councils wrote their records in specially designated registers, referred to using the Hebrew term pinkas (plural, pinkasim). These handwritten volumes include detailed descriptions of the administrative functioning of the Jewish bodies that created them, documenting the ways in which Jewish society organized its social, economic, religious, cultural, and family life, as well as aspects of its relations with non-Jewish governments and bodies. Pinkasim, therefore, form an extraordinary repository of information about the Jewish past.​

Today these pinkasim are found in various collections across the globe. The National Library of Israel, together with its Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, hold​ the world’s largest collection of pinkasim. The Pinkasim Project aims to locate, catalogue, and digitize these surviving record books. Making pinkasim available to scholars and readers around the world will permit a deeper understanding of the European Jewish past.

In its first phase, the Pinkasim Project is focusing on European Jewish communities between 1500-1800, considered the “golden age” of Jewish self-government. The digitized pinkasim document executive bodies and community self-government. Other pinkasim will be added as the project develops.

The Pinkasim Project continues to sponsor workshops, summer schools, academic panels, and courses, all helping to train the next generation of scholars in the use of these unique but challenging documents. Toward that end, we have provided an annotated bibliography of pinkasim, an introduction to the use of pinkasim as historical sources, and digital copies of published pinkasim (where copyright allows). Pinkasim deserve pride of place as sources of early modern Jewish culture and history, and we hope and expect this site to further that goal.

Explore the Pinkasim Collection

Hebrew Codicology

Rothschild Miscellany 131-51, page 467a

Rothschild Miscellany 131-51, page 467a

​​​​​See here for a pre-publication of Malachi Beit-Arié’s book, Hebrew Codicology: Historical and Comparative Typology of Hebrew Medieval Codices based on the Documentation of the Extant Dated Manuscripts in Quantitative Approach (in Hebrew). It is also accessible through the website of SfarD​a​​ta​, the Hebrew-English database of the Hebrew Palaeography Project of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which is intergrated within the website of the National Library of Israel (sfardata.nli.org.il). An English version is in preparation. Meanwhile a table of contents of the chapters and the main sub-chapters and an extensive summary of major codicological practices in English are accessible.

Hebrew Codicology – English Version