Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Benjamin Richler -- "Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library: NEJ Redux"

Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library:
NEJ Redux

By Benjamin Richler

In a previous post at the Seforim blog, Shnayer Z. Leiman reviewed New Encyclopaedia Judaica (NEJ) and I should like to add a few observations from my admittedly narrow perspective as a student of Hebrew manuscripts and former director of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM), situated in the Manuscripts and Archives Wing on the ground floor of the Jewish National and University Library, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The main entry on “Hebrew Manuscripts” consists of a verbatim reprinting of the entry by D.S. Loewinger z”l and E. Kupfer z”l in the first edition of EJ followed by a reprint of A. Katsch’s article on "Hebrew Manuscripts in Russia" from the EJ Yearbook of 1977/78. The article by Katsch is disproportionately longer than the main entry on Hebrew Manuscripts, and a competent editor should have noticed that. No attempt was made to revise or update the entries and no errors were corrected. Any reviewer can easily criticize the choice of material included in the entry and the material omitted, the number of words devoted to a particular aspect of the subject and the lack of attention to other aspects, and it is not my attention to do so (though I just did so). However, some obsolete passages should never have escaped the eye of an editor even if he had just perused the entry casually. It is ludicrous to read, for instance, the following statement in the Loewinger-Kupfer entry, accurate as it may have been in the first edition:
The Institute for the Photography of Hebrew Manuscripts was founded in 1950 by the Israel Government (Ministry of Education and Culture) in order to enable a comparative processing and registration of all possible material. In 1962 the institute was placed under the authority of the Hebrew University and became affiliated with the National and University Library. During its 20 years of activity the Institute has photographed – mainly in the form of microfilms – approximately half of the collections of manuscripts and fragments scattered throughout the libraries of the world.
'During its 20 years of activity'!! Does the entry have to stress that it is valid only until 1970? In fact, the Institute, known for almost 40 years as the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM), and not as it appears in the entry, now has photographed over 90% of the extant Hebrew manuscripts in the world. The editors of the entry on the “Jewish National and University Library” updated the statistics concerning the number of printed volumes preserved in the Library in 2005, but recorded that in 1971 the Institute of Microfilms of Hebrew Manuscripts had photocopies of 25,000 manuscripts neglecting to note that by 2005 the figure had surpassed 75,000.

The entry on Hebrew Manuscripts includes a list of the major collections and their catalogues. No catalogue published after 1970 is included. No attempt was made to update the list. No recent literature at all was included, no books by Malachi Beit-Arié, by Colette Sirat, by yours truly or anyone else. No mention of the publications of the Hebrew Palaeography Project (which is not mentioned at all in the NEJ, if the search engine can be trusted; see below). However, the bibliography does include the following gem: “D.S. Loewinger and E. Kupfer, List… Parma Library (in preparation)”. Not only was that “List” never published but the 2001 catalogue of the “Hebrew Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma” prepared by the staff of the IMHM was not mentioned, neither in the main entry nor in the entry on Parma copied verbatim from EJ where only the 1803 catalogue by De Rossi is mentioned. On the other hand, we can be relieved that the entry on the “Bodleian Library” does include a reference to the Supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda to vol. I of Neubauer’s catalogue (Oxford, 1994) also compiled mainly by the staff of the IMHM and the Hebrew Palaeography Project.

Fortunately, the article on the Cairo Genizah has been rewritten by a team of competent experts and supplies up to date information and the article on Illuminated manuscripts includes an updated addendum.


1. Using the search engine to compile this report has revealed a fatal flaw. As the reader may notice the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) was mentioned in at least two entries. However, a search for the words “Institute” and “Manuscripts” appearing together in the “Basic Search” turns up only one reference to the IMHM in the entire NEJ – by its correct name this time – in the article on Liturgy. A similar search in the “Advanced Search” engine turns up three references in the articles on Liturgy, Genizah and the Institute for the Research of Medieval Hebrew Poetry. Somehow, it missed the two entries we noted (Hebrew manuscripts and Jewish National Library). So, caveat lector let the reader beware when using the search engine.

2. After reviewing the entries on Hebrew manuscripts it is obvious that in some or many of the entries in NEJ , no attempt was made to update or revise the bibliographies. Some entries in the encyclopedia do include “Add. Bibliography,” but in other entries the bibliographies are valid only until ca. 1970. Since 1970 digital resources have advanced so far that with minimal effort a few moments devoted to searching the Jewish National Library’s Aleph catalogue and/or RAMBI or similar online catalogues in other institutions could reveal most relevant publications that appeared since 1970. In order to determine the scholarly value of the entries in NEJ one must carefully check not only the text of the entries to see if they were not copied verbatim from EJ, but also the bibliographies to see if they include any post-1972 publications.

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