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Donation for digitisation of Leiden Hebrew manuscripts

Leiden University Libraries (UBL) has received considerable funding from the National Library of Israel (NLI) and the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society (FJMS) for the digitisation of a collection of 166 Hebrew manuscripts. The digitised manuscripts will be made available to the public in the course of 2021, both in the Leiden Digital Collections and the central repository of the NLI. The donation was provided by the Ktiv digitisation project.

The Ktiv Digitisation Project

The NLI in Jerusalem is ‘dedicated to collecting the cultural treasures of Israel and of Jewish heritage’. In partnership with the FJMS they launched Ktiv - (what is) written - the International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts, in 2014.

Dutch orientalists and Hebrew manuscripts

Jewish religion and culture run deep in the texture of mankind. As the oldest monotheistic religion it has influenced both Christianity and Islam. Through the ages, Jewish scholars have not only endeavoured to fathom the secrets of their own Holy Scriptures, but they have also excelled in secular disciplines such as philosophy, medicine, mathematics and chemistry. Leiden University scholars have been studying these achievements for centuries.

From the late sixteenth century onwards, orientalists at Leiden University have made it their business to learn Hebrew and Aramaic, at least partly with the purpose of obtaining the information they needed to convert Jews to Christianity. This was of course a futile exercise, but as a side effect they assembled a select collection of manuscripts on widely variegated subjects and dating from as early as the tenth century onwards. An early example of such a scholar is Joseph Justus Scaliger, who came to Leiden in 1593 and died there in 1609. In his collection, we find the unique manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud, and also Hebrew manuscripts that were once in the possession of the Italian cardinal and bibliophile Domenico Grimani (d. 1523). In the mid-seventeenth century Levinus Warner, Dutch ambassador in Istanbul, collected manuscripts from the heterodox Jewish community of the Karaites. Despite the collections’s relatively modest size of circa 180 manuscripts, it is nevertheless the largest of its kind in the Netherlands.

Precentor of the Groningen Synagoge Levie Rozenblatt and religious teacher Meyer B. Stern
Talmud Study, by the Dutch photographer Abraham Weinberg, 1923. [UBL PK-F-6.22]
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