Heading from a manuscript of Jewish legal works, Hebrew MS 31, folio 77b.

Jewish Studies Collections

The Library preserves one of the world’s most valuable and diverse collections of Hebrew and Jewish manuscripts, archives and printed books.

Rylands Hebrew MS 7, 15th-c Ashkenazi Haggadah
Ashkenazi Haggadah, 15th century, Rylands Hebrew MS 7.

The holdings span Septuagint fragments to the papers of Moses Gaster and the Anglo-Israel Guardian Archives from the twentieth century. They include deluxe decorated and illustrated religious and literary manuscripts such as the famous Rylands Haggadah, rare and unique items expressing marginal forms of Judaism, a collection of Ketubbot (marriage contracts), and amulets and other magical texts assembled by Moses Gaster. This diverse collection also has a wide geographical coverage, coming from the British Isles, Spain, France, Germany, Romania, Italy, Morocco, China and Yemen. Predominantly written in the Hebrew language in Hebrew script, other languages represented include Aramaic, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish, German, Latin, English, Crimean Tatar and even Judeo-Persian.

The Rylands Genizah and rich collections of medieval manuscript codices and early printed books are among the strengths of the collection that covers various aspects of Jewish life.

Everyday life and customs

The Genizah Collection contains over eleven thousand fragments on parchment and paper from the Genizah (storehouse) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo (Fustat), Egypt. These constitute a major source for the history of Jewish faith, culture and history from the 10th century to the 19th.

The Rylands also holds important collections of Samaritan and Hebrew manuscripts and amulets dating from the 11th century CE to the early 20th century. The Hebrew manuscripts, including some in the Marmorstein Collection, are products of a wide variety of Jewish cultures in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and China.

Many of the Samaritan and Hebrew manuscripts and amulets were collected by the scholar and Rabbi Dr Moses Gaster (1856-1939). The Moses Gaster Papers include over 500 letters exchanged between Gaster and the Samaritan community in Nablus between 1904 and 1933.

The Teltscher Collection deals with Judaism, Jewish history and the practice of Judaism across a variety of European languages from the 1550s to the late 20th century. The collection is particularly strong on the history and culture of Jewish communities in Europe, particularly eastern Europe in the early part of the 20th century.

Sacred texts and religious literature

The Rylands holds some of the earliest evidence for the text of the Jewish scriptures. The famousDeuteronomy fragments’  come from a from a 2nd century BCE papyrus roll written in Greek. The Reed Collection documents the material analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s and 60s, including fragments from the scrolls themselves. These tiny samples were thought to be blank, but advanced imaging has shown that some contain text

Important collections of Samaritan and Hebrew manuscripts, Hebrew incunabula and early Bibles printed in Hebrew provide extensive evidence of Jewish and Samaritan scriptures, theological texts and religious practices.

The Marmorstein Collection of Judaic literature is especially rich in classical rabbinic texts and in East European responsa printed in Hebrew, English, Hungarian and other languages. Gathered by a noted rabbinic scholar as a working library, the collection includes Hebraica and Talmudic literature in European languages from the 16th century onwards (some 250 volumes), with the majority from the 19th century.

Jewish intellectual life

The Haskalah Collection relates to the Jewish Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries, and contains works by some of the best-known figures of the time. Most of the works are 19th century European maskilic texts, works of Hebrew literature and general literary texts in Hebrew translation. The Library also holds eight volumes of the papers of August Heinrich Simon (1805–1860), a German-Jewish lawyer and leading member of the revolutionary Frankfurt Parliament of 1848.

The Moses Gaster Papers encompass Gaster’s broad-ranging scholarship, including manuscripts, folklore and religious traditions. The Marmorstein Collection also includes a small quantity of research papers of and manuscripts collected by Dr Arthur (Avraham) Marmorstein (1882-1946), a noted rabbinic scholar. Correspondence of Tobias Theodores (1808-1886), linguist and Jewish scholar, with Gustav Gottheil (1827-1903), a fellow adherent of Reform Judaism, is an invaluable source for theological and political issues in Britain and Germany, the Jewish communities in Britain and Germany, and relations between Christians and Jews.

Modern Jewish history

Modern Jewish history and the foundation of Israel are represented in several collections. The massive Guardian Archive includes correspondence with the Zionist pioneer Chaim Weizmann and documents the founding of Israel and the later Middle East conflicts. The papers of Samuel Alexander (1859-1938) also contain correspondence with Weizmann, while the W. P. Crozier Papers incorporate interviews with Weizmann and others over the issue of the Jewish National Home. More recently, the Arab-Israeli conflict is documented in the Military Papers of Major-General Eric Edward Dorman OGowan and in the Dame Mabel Tylecote Printed Collection, which contains material relating to the Anglo-Israel Association, the foundation of Israel and the Middle East conflict.