The Library recently digitized some 230 historic manuscripts, some of them more than a thousand years old, in Hebrew and similar languages such as Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian and Yiddish.
The collection, available online for researchers and the public for the first time, includes a 14th-century collection of responsa, or rabbinic decisions and commentary, by Solomon ibn Adret of Barcelona. He is considered one of the most prominent authorities on Jewish law of all time.
The digital project, funded by the David Berg Foundation, offers a highly diverse collection of materials from the 10th through the 20th centuries, including responsa, poetry, Jewish magic and folk medicine.
“The generosity of the Berg Foundation has enabled the Library of Congress to achieve a long-standing goal of making its rich collection of Hebrew manuscripts even more accessible to researchers,” said Lanisa Kitchiner, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division. “The collection reflects an extraordinary manuscript tradition of immeasurable research value.”
Its existence and online presence, she added, are “both an inspiration and an invitation to admire, engage, draw upon and advance Jewish contributions to humanity from the 10th century onward.”
Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries is particularly well represented in the collection through numerous manuscripts on subjects including wedding poetry in Judeo-Italian and a considerable corpus on Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Together, the newly digitized manuscripts offer a rich and often intimate glimpse into Jewish life over the centuries.
Other highlights of the collection include:
- The Passover Haggadah, also known as the“Washington Haggadah,” created in 1478 by Joel ben Simeon, a Hebrew scribe who is today considered one of the finest Jewish artists of the period.
- The 18th-century“Order of Prayers Before Retiring at Night,” a Hebrew miniature created in Mainz, Germany, in or around 1745.
- A fragment of unpublished poems by Solomon Da Piera (1342–c.1418), one of the last of the great Hebrew poets of Spain.
- A large fragment of an autograph manuscript by Moses b. Abraham Provençal from 1552.
- An unpublished novel in Hebrew written just after the first Zionist Congress in 1896.
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