Amsterdam: 400-Year-Old Jewish Library Survived Hitler and the Inquisition, Some Holdings Now Digitized and Online
From the JTA:
Livraria Ets Haim is the world’s oldest functioning Jewish library. As such, it is no stranger to the prospect of imminent destruction.
The 30,000-volume collection mostly contains manuscripts written by people who fled the Inquisition on the Iberian Peninsula or their descendants. The oldest document is a copy of the Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish religious law authored by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides, that dates to 1282. Ets Haim’s volume is pristine but for the scars left behind by an Inquisition censor, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and singed away entire passages of the book.
Ets Haim as a whole faced a similar fate — or worse — in 1940, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and had 75 percent of its Jews murdered. Yet the Nazis left the Portuguese Synagogue intact, and instead of burning the library’s collection, they shipped the books to Germany. The collection was discovered there, with light damage, after the war.
In 2014, using advanced imaging equipment, the National Library of Israel has partnered with Ets Haim to digitize its entire catalog. And now the partners will make everything available online — and for free.
This website now holds images and descriptions of 172 Jewish manuscripts (16,000 folios) from Ets Haim’s holdings. In the course of the next two years all remaining manuscripts will be published here. The descriptions of the manuscripts are based on earlier printed catalogues but contain a considerable amount of corrections and additions based on consultation of the original manuscripts.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.