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Moses Gaster Collection

In 1954, with the aid of the Pilgrim Trust, the Friends of National Libraries and private donations, the John Rylands Library purchased the collection of manuscripts in Hebrew, Samaritan and other scripts assembled by Dr Moses Gaster (1856–1939), together with an assortment of his own papers.

Moses Gaster was born into a well-established Jewish family in Bucharest. He was educated at the universities of Breslau and Leipzig, and in 1881 he was appointed lecturer in the history of Romanian literature and in comparative mythology at the University of Bucharest; in the same year he was ordained as a rabbi.

Four years later several Jewish intellectuals, including Gaster, were expelled from Romania, and after a short stay in Vienna he took refuge in England, where he became naturalized in 1893.

He became Chief Rabbi (Haham) of the Sephardic Communities of British Jews in 1887, and held the office until his retirement in 1919. A distinguished scholar with a long list of publications to his name, his interests ranged from the Hebrew prayer-book, the minutiae of Hebrew text study and apocryphal Hebrew literature to Jewish amulets and Romanian folklore.

He made a special study of the Samaritans and became a recognized authority on their language and literature. He visited Nablus, the headquarters of the Samaritan community, and induced them to part with manuscripts covering the whole range of their literature. Where he could not secure the originals he had copies made for him by Samaritan priests.

The collection comprised over 11,000 fragments in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic and Arabic from the Genizah of the Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Old Cairo (q.v.); some 350 Hebrew codices and scrolls including prayer-books of many Jewish communities, apocryphal writings,  commentaries, treatises, letters, marriage contracts, piyyûtîm, and thirteen scrolls of the Law;  some 350 Samaritan manuscripts, among them manuscripts of the Pentateuch, commentaries and treatises, and liturgical, historical,  chronological and astronomical codices, detailed census lists of the Samaritans and lists of manuscripts in their possession; and almost 1,500 uncatalogued Arabic fragments on paper from the Synagogue of Ben Ezra.

A further 123 codices were donated to the Library by the family of Dr Gaster, including manuscripts in Arabic, Greek, English, Latin, German, Flemish, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Persian, Turkish and Ethiopic. Many of the items relate to Jewish history.The Library also holds the substantial, but uncatalogued, correspondence of Dr Gaster with the Samaritan community in Nablus, in Hebrew but written in the Samaritan script; there are English translations of most of these letters.

In addition there are 115 printed items, of which twenty-five are monographs, the remainder comprising a mixture of periodicals (Quest, Jewish Review etc.), offprints of single articles,  and bound volumes containing a miscellany of small monographs, articles, reviews and newspaper cuttings.  The items date mainly from the 1870s to the 1930s, and the vast majority were written by Gaster, contain an article by him, or refer to his writings. Much of the material is heavily annotated by Gaster and some ephemera is enclosed. 

The collection is exclusively about Jewish history, folklore and religion, with special reference to eastern Europe and specifically to Romania.

Most of the collection is written in Romanian, with smaller quantities in English, Hebrew, German and French.

See also

Finding aids

  • Catalogue and detailed digital images of the Genizah fragments available via LUNA.
  • Unpublished handlists of manuscripts in Hebrew and miscellaneous languages; see under individual languages.
  • Printed material recorded in general printed-book catalogue.
  • Note in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 37 (1954-5), pp. 2-6.
  • M. Gaster, 'The Story of My Library', The British Library Journal, vol. 21, no. 1 (1995), pp. 16-22.
  • Maria Haralambakis, 'A Survey of the Gaster Collection at the John Rylands University Library, Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 89, no. 2 (2012/13), pp. 107-30.

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

Further information

For further information about the Gaster Genizah Collection see the Rylands Genizah Collection website.

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