January 27, 2022

The British Library and National Library of Israel Announce Partnership to Digitize Hebrew Manuscripts

From a  Joint Announcement:

As part of the National Library of Israel’s International Digital Library of Hebrew Manuscripts initiative, the National Library of Israel (Jerusalem) and the British Library (London) are pleased to announce the signing of a partnership agreement providing for the digitization of at least 860 Hebrew manuscripts from the British Library’s collection, in addition to 1,250 already being digitized and made available through an earlier project funded by The Polonsky Foundation. Through these two projects, all 3,200 manuscripts in the British Library’s collection will be fully catalogued and digitized images of at least 2,110 made available online via NLI’s International Digital Library of Hebrew Manuscripts and the British Library’s website.

The selected manuscripts include some of the most important previously unpublished Hebrew documents in existence. The National Library of Israel together with the British Library will make these significant works readily accessible online to both academics and the general public. The undertaking is part of the larger global initiative shepherded by the National Library of Israel to make tens of thousands of Hebrew manuscripts from hundreds of collections around the world available to researchers and lay readers alike.
The British Library holds one of the most important collections of Hebrew manuscripts anywhere. Its volumes encompass many areas of Hebrew literature, with Bible, Talmud, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), philosophy and poetry being particularly well represented.  While most manuscripts date back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, some were written as recently as the 19th century.
12.5 x 9.5 inches

First Gaster Bible (Source: BL)

The agreement between the National Library of Israel and the British Library will enable the digitization of the manuscripts not yet accessible online that are held in the British Library’s collection, enriching the global Hebrew manuscript platform created by the National Library that will showcase the world’s leading Hebrew manuscripts on a user-oriented website. Most notable among these are: the First Gaster Bible (Or. 9879), c. 10th century  which contains fragments from Psalms and the Second Gaster Bible (Or. 9880), c. 11th -12th century comprising sections from the Pentateuch, both of which are ornamented with Islamic style motifs, a Siddur (daily prayer book) according to the Italian rite copied and decorated in Italy in the 15th century (Or. 10752),  a Mahzor (festival prayer book) according to the rite of Avignon with illuminated borders,  Provence, 1541 AD, (Or. 10733) as well as significant Judeo-Persian handwritten books, such as for example the Moses Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law)  copied in Persia in 1549/50 (Or. 10043) and various others.

Or. 9880

Second Gaster Bible (Source: BL)

Several hundred of the British Library’s manuscripts are richly illustrated, and serve as widely-used sources by scholars of Jewish art. One of the most  famous is the much-admired  Sephardi Golden Haggadah (Add. 27210), circa 1320 AD, recounting the story of the exodus from Egypt. The holy text is written on vellum pages with stunning miniatures depicting stories from the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus and scenes of Jewish ritual. This exquisite Passover haggadah and many other decorated and sumptuously illuminated Hebrew codices held in the British Library’s collection have already been digitized and made available to users worldwide via the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, as part of the previous project generously funded by The Polonsky Foundation.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.