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The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS)

The mission of the JTS Library is to collect, preserve, and make available the literary and cultural heritage of the Jewish people. The Library is the crown jewel of JTS and a unique resource serving its students and researchers across the world. The Library’s superb collection, outreach programs, and digital projects, along with the expanding international interest in Judaica, have dramatically increased demand for access to its rare materials in recent years.

Founded in 1893, the nucleus of the Library was formed by contributions from outstanding private collectors and philanthropists. Today the Library is home to 425,000 volumes, making it one of the world's most extensive collections of Hebraic and Judaic material. The collections contain 11,000 Hebrew manuscripts, 43,000 fragments from the Cairo geniza and 25,000 rare books, including the world’s largest collection of Hebrew incunabula. There are over 500 ketubot (marriage contracts), many magnificently illuminated, more than 250 Esther scrolls, approximately 6,000 prints, and more than 400 archival collections from the United States and Europe. It is the most significant collection of rare Judaica in the Western Hemisphere.

Prato Haggadah Ms9478
Prato Haggadah, Spain, circa 1300 and circa 1450, Ms. 8185
Partially illuminated Passover Haggadah on parchment according to the Sephardic rite, complete except for blessings at the beginning and over the meal (whose omission may simply have been a matter of convention); three additional quires containing the final text according to the Italian rite, copied in the mid-15th century, follow; a partially realized cycle of Biblical scenes at the end belong with the Sephardic part.

The Library is well known for its illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, the earliest of which are from 13th century France, Germany, Spain and Italy. There are outstanding later examples representing the creativity of Jewish communities outside Europe, primarily in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere.

Haggadah Ms2879
Haggadah. Second New York Hagaddah, Joel ben Simeon, Germany, 1454, Ms. 2879
Richly illuminated Haggadah according to the Italian rite with the laws for festivals and prayers for Passover eve.

Among JTS’s highest priorities is to digitize this collection and make it available online to the public. In recent years, with funding from Dr. Leonard Polonsky and Dr. Georgette Bennett, The Morris and Beverly Baker Family Foundation and others, the Library has been able to digitize close to 600 manuscripts. They include some of JTS’s greatest treasures as well as manuscripts that have no surrogate in any other format. As part of the Friedberg Genizah Project, the Library has so far digitized 35,000 genizah fragments. The entire collection of ketubot, half of them from Italy, have been digitized as well as 250 wedding poems. Thousands of prints, including 2,000 portraits, and a collection of sheet music from the St. Petersburg Jewish Folk Music Society have also been digitized.

Non-European collections include a selection of unique American pamphlets, historical clippings relating to Jewish life in America before the 20th century, bookplates, archival collections relating to historic New York synagogues and more. The Library is currently processing the archival collection of ethnomusicologist Johanna Spector related to the music of non-Western Jewish communities and will be digitizing the recordings over the next few months. The JTS digital collection metadata will be integrated into Europeana via the AthenaPlus project.

Prato Haggadah Ms9478
Rothschild Mahzor, Florence, 1490, Ms. 8892
Copied on parchment in Florence, Italy, in the year 1490, this massive and magnificent prayer book comprises four hundred and seventy-seven leaves containing the liturgy of the Italian Jews. It includes several piyyutim (liturgical poems) that have never been published, over two-thirds of which are decorated. Three different artists' studios participated in the production of the lavishly colored decorations of this book.

Highlights from the digital collection

Seder Birkat Ms4789
Seder birkat ha-mazon ʻim birkot ha-nehenim: ʻim ḳeriʼat shemaʻ ʻal ha-miṭah ṿe-im Pereḳ shirah ʻim tsiyurim, Vienna, [1780], Ms. 4789
Decorated miniatures and decorated words to accompany Grace after Meals and selected prayers for specific occasions. The artist and scribe, Wolff Herlingen, is considered to be one of the finest Jewish calligraphers of the 18th century.
 
EsslingenMahzorMs9344
Esslingen Mahzor, Scribe and artist: Kalonymus ben Judah, Germany, 1290, Ms. 9344
This elaborate mahzor (holiday prayer book; lit. "cycle") contains the Ashkenazic rite for the Jewish festivals of Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. The Esslingen Mahzor was copied and decorated by Kalonymus ben Judah in Esslingen, Germany and completed on January 12, 1290. This massive work is only the first volume of the mahzor; the second volume is housed in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana in Amsterdam. In medieval Germany, very large, illustrated prayer books, such as the volume shown here, were often used by the cantor of a synagogue. Enclosed within a monumental arch are the opening words of a liturgical hymn recited on the first day of Rosh ha-Shanah.
 
Ketubah Ancona
Ketubah, Ancona, 5539 Kislev 6 [1778 November 25], Ket 198
A large rectangular ketubah, scalloped at the top. The Ḳidushin text is written in large square letters in the upper section. The Tenaʾim is written in a cursive script below. The wide blue square frame borders the text is inscribed with biblical verses.
 
Ketubah Herat
Ketubah, Herat, 5628 Ḥeshvan 16 [1867 November 14], Ket 270
Herat was home to the largest Jewish community in Afghanistan and was a leading center of ketubbah decorations. They are written in calligraphic script and richly decorated. The texts are inscribed in the arches similar to Persian ketubbot.
 
Masoretic Bible pages
Masoretic Bible containing Deuteronomy 33:27-Hagiographa. Toledo and Constantinople, 1492 – 1497 Ms. L6
The Toledo Bible is one of the earliest published texts to contain full accents and vocalization. It was smuggled out of Spain unfinished in the summer of 1492 by Jews fleeing the country following the expulsion and completed in Constantinople in 1497.
Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from the National Library of Israel, the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary,
the Steinheim Institute, the AthenaPlus and DM2E projects. | Contact us | Subscribe to Judaica Europeana Newsletter
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