Over two thousand years of Jewish history and culture are represented in the Library’s Hebrew collections. Key items include:
- the famous 14th century Rylands Haggadah, which tells the story of the flight of the Children of Israel from Egypt
- 36 of the 40 Hebrew editions of the Bible printed before 1600. The collection includes a copy of the Psalter, the first portion of the Hebrew bible to be printed (1477), and a stunning copy of the second Hebrew Bible printed in 1491 or 1492
- the earliest known Italian illuminated Megillah, 1618, among the Scrolls of Esther
- the manuscripts and papers of Moses Gaster (1856–1939), Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Communities of British Jews from 1887 to 1919
The Library houses the Guardian Archive which includes correspondence with the Zionist pioneer Chaim Weizmann. Through despatches and published articles the archive gives unparalleled insights into the history of the war, the founding of Israel and the later Middle Eastern conflicts. Correspondence with Weizmann is also found among the papers of Samuel Alexander (1859-1938), a supporter of the campaign for a Jewish homeland, while the W.P. Crozier Papers incorporate interviews with Weizmann and other statesmen over the creation of the Jewish national home.
Another important collection is the twelve thousand fragments from the genizah of the Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Old Cairo. They give an unusual glimpse into everyday life and religious practices. Thanks to a project to digitise all of the fragments, we are able to provide high resolution images by way of a searchable online catalogue. As a result, the fragments are accessible to all and we have been able to contribute to wider research projects globally.
Donor support has already had a significant impact on our Hebrew collections and has catalysed important projects.
We are grateful for the support of Mr Joe Dwek CBE and an anonymous Jewish foundation which has enabled us to begin to catalogue and digitise our Hebrew collections.
As we make progress with cataloguing our extensive Jewish collections, we anticipate that new items in need of preservation will be discovered. Donor support is vital to be able to respond to these needs as they arise and fund the expert conservators needed to protect the items so that researchers can work on them.
We also aim to digitise more and more of our collections so they are accessible to as many people as possible, especially given the international significance and reach of our Jewish collections.