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Hebrew Manuscripts

MANUSCRIPTS, HEBREW, term which includes religious and secular books, as well as letters and documents written on papyrus, parchment, hides, and paper in Hebrew characters, sometimes using them for the writing of languages other than Hebrew, e.g., Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, etc. Hebrew manuscripts have been preserved in archives and public and private libraries. It has been estimated that there are about 60,000 manuscripts (codices) and about 200,000 fragments, most of which have come from the Cairo *Genizah (and a certain number from the Judean Desert).

500 B.C.E.–500 C.E.

Documents and letters, some with accurate dates, have been preserved from the period of 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. The most important of them are a collection of *papyri from Yeb ( *Elephantine ) and Assuan in Egypt (494–407 B.C.E.); papyri from Edfu, also in Egypt, are thought to belong to the third century B.C.E., as are parts of the Book of Jeremiah and fragments of II Samuel among the *Dead Sea Scrolls . The other scrolls from the Judean Desert are regarded as dating from the second century B.C.E. to the Bar–Kokhba War (132–135), including some written or dictated by him (see bibl. nos. 1–5).


No material is available which can be proven with any certainty as belonging to the first centuries of this period. The oldest manuscripts of the period date from the end of the ninth century. Information has been published on a biblical manuscript in St. Petersburg dated to 846. On the other hand, some of the fragments found in the Cairo Genizah belong, without doubt, to the beginning of this period and possibly even to the end of the previous one. The development of Hebrew paleography should make it possible to determine with greater accuracy the dates of these most valuable fragments.


The oldest dated biblical manuscripts are: Prophets as vocalized by Moses b. Asher, which was found in the Karaite synagogue of Cairo and written in Tiberias in 895; Latter Prophets, with Babylonian punctuation, in the Saltykov-Shchedrin Library in Leningrad (No. 3), now the Russian National Library, was copied in 916; and a Pentateuch which was copied by Solomon b. Buya'a (who also prepared, according to a note at its end, the so-called Keter Aram Ẓova, later vocalized by Aaron b. Asher) in 929 and vocalized by his brother Ephraim b. Buya'a (it appears that both were active in Tiberias). This particular Keter Aram Ẓova (keter, "crown" being an appellation for a Bible codex; Aram Ẓova, "Aleppo") is at the Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem (see bibl. nos. 5–7). There are biblical manuscripts in the Saltykov-Shchedrin Library and others, which, according to their *colophons , were written during the tenth century, but doubts have been raised as to the reliability of these colophons. Finally, there is the Bible manuscript (St. Petersburg B 19A) which was written in 1009 in Egypt. The text is complete and the date appears to be authentic.


The oldest dated manuscripts of the Mishnah are: Paris Manuscripts 328/9, the complete text with Maimonides' commentary and written and vocalized by Joab b. Jehiel, the "Physician of Beth-El," from the province of Cesena (Italy), between 1399 and 1401. Individual orders (sedorim), written and vocalized (in part) from 1168 (Zera'im, Nezikin, Kodashim), are in Oxford (nos. 393, 404), and Mo'ed of the same set is in the Sassoon Library (no. 72). Not dated but definitely early works are: Kaufmann Number 50 (facsimile edited by G. Baer, 1929) and Parma Number 138. The oldest Tosefta manuscripts are Erfurt Number 159, which was thought to have been written in 1150, and Vienna Number 46. The oldest dated halakhic Midrashim are Sifra of 1073 (Vatican Library, no. 31) and Sifra of 1291 (Oxford, no. 151), which also includes the Mekhilta. The only manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud, which was written in 1299 by Jehiel b. Jekuthiel b. Benjamin, the Physician, is at Leyden. There is also only one complete extant manuscript of the Babylonian Talmud (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. Heb. 95). It was written "on the twelfth of the month of Kislev, in the year 103 of the sixth millennium" (1342) by Solomon b. Samson, probably in France (facsimile edited by H. Strack, 1912). At the end of this manuscript several minor tractates are added. Individual tractates from 1176 and after have been preserved in the Library of Florence, as well as a manuscript from 1184 in the Hamburg Library and in the Jewish Theological Seminary Library (Av. Zar., 1290).


Among the extant manuscripts of aggadic Midrashim are Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah from 1291 (Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, no. 149). There is a manuscript from the same year of the Pesikta de-Rav Kahana in the Bodleian. The Parma Library possesses a manuscript from 1270 (no. 1240) which contains Song of Songs Rabbah, Lamentations Rabbah, Tanḥuma, Pesikta Rabbati, Midrash Proverbs, and others.


Thousands of medieval manuscripts in the fields of philosophy and Kabbalah are extant; these are as numerous as those in medicine, astronomy, astrology, geography, and other natural sciences. A considerable number of these manuscripts are translations from Greek, Arabic, and other languages spoken and written in the countries of the Diaspora. Polemics, poetry, philology (grammar, dictionaries, masorah), history, sectarian literature, halakhah (responsa, novellae, codes, ritual compendiums), ethics, and homiletics are well represented, as is liturgy (siddurim and maḥzorim). Due to their constant use many tens of thousands of them were stored away in genizot after being worn and damaged. Occasionally autographs were also preserved, i.e., either manuscripts from the hand of the author, such as Maimonides' Mishnah commentary and miscellaneous writings (ed. S.D. Sassoon, 1966), or confirmations of the correctness of the copy as the one added by Maimonides to a copy of his code: "Corrected from my [original] copy, I, Moses, son of Maimon of blessed memory" (Oxford Ms. 577).


Manuscripts of this last period are also extant; some of them were published, some not. A considerable number of the manuscripts of this period were written in countries where there were no Hebrew presses (e.g., the Yemen). They were either contemporary works or those of earlier periods, but some were copied from printed works which had reached them from Western countries and are therefore of no original value. Manuscripts written by the authors themselves are of special importance because of their corrections. They make it possible to reconstruct the original text and compare it with other copies, either handwritten or printed editions. Early authorities, who wrote in the early years after the appearance of printing, made use of manuscripts of classic books and commentaries. In later centuries this practice naturally waned.

Owners and Other Lists

At the beginning and the end of manuscripts it was customary to note the name of the owner, with a formula such as "a man should always sign his name in his book lest a man from the street come and say it is mine." Owners, who usually were scholars, often added notes of their own to the text. At times, the names of several generations of a single family appear in these lists, and well-known names in Jewish literature and history are found among the owners, e.g., a manuscript of Maimonides' Guide (1472, Parma 660) belonged successively to David, Abraham, and Moses Provençal (father, son, and grandson).

Modern manuscript catalogs generally register these notes and lists in detail. The same pages were also used to commemorate family and general events, and documents which are sometimes of great historical value were also copied on them, although they may have no connection with the contents of the manuscript. Among this material are lists of books describing whole or parts of private collections. Such lists shed light on the cultural standards of various periods and environments. The prices of the manuscripts which are mentioned in them are of particular interest (see *Book trade ).

Collection of the Material

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. The most important works which had not been previously published in the form of facsimiles were enlarged by the Institute, as were all the fragments which reached it. Some of the material has been listed in the publications of the Institute (bibl. nos. 24–27). The Jewish Theological Seminary of America houses the Louis Ginzberg Microfilm Collection, which aims at the microfilming of important Hebrew manuscripts from all over the world. The list below cites all libraries containing over 100 Hebrew or Samaritan manuscripts. The numbers of the manuscripts and fragments are given in parenthesis, and the names of the authors of the catalogs and the year of their publication are given after the colon. The numbers of the manuscripts given here are not always identical with those which are classified in the catalogs, as additions were acquired after their publication.


VIENNA: Nationalbibliothek (216; 308 fragments): A.Z. Schwarz (1925); Bibliothek der Isr. Kultusgemeinde (215): A.Z. Schwarz-Oesterreich (1932; 40 Mss. transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw).


COPENHAGEN: The Royal Library (244): N. Allony-E. Kupfer (1964).


CAMBRIDGE: Trinity College Library (160): H. Loewe (1926); University Library (1,000; 100,000 fragments): S. Schiller-Szinessy (1876); Westminster College Library (3,000 fragments). LEEDS: University Library (371): C. Roth (Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume; 1950). LETCHWORTH: D.S. Sassoon Collection (1,220): D.S. Sassoon (1932). LONDON: Bet Din and Bet Ha-Midrash (161): A. Neubauer (1886); British Museum (includes the first part of the Gaster Collection, 2,467; 10,000 fragments): G. Margoliouth (1899–1935); Jews College Library (Montefiore Collection: 580); H. Hirschfeld, in: JQR (1902–03). MANCHESTER: John Rylands Library (second part of the Gaster Collection: 750; 10,000 fragments): E. Robertson (only the Samaritan Mss.; 1938–62). OXFORD: Bodleian Library (2,650; 10,000 fragments): A. Neubauer-A.E. Cowley (1886–1906).


PARIS: Bibliothèque de l'Alliance Universelle (338; 4,000 fragments): M. Schwab, in: REJ (1904, 1912); B. Chapira, in: REJ (1904); Bibliothèque Nationale (1459); H. Zotenberg (1886); Ecole Rabbinique de France (172): M. Abraham, in: REJ (1924–25). STRASBOURG: Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire (176; 292 fragments): S. Landauer (1881).


BERLIN: Preussische Staatsbibliothek (510): M. Steinschneider (1878–97); N. Allony-D.S. Loewinger (1957). FRANKFURT: Stadt-und Universitätsbibliothek (400; 10,000 fragments): R.N.N. Rabbinowitz (1888); N. Allony-D.S. Loewinger (1957; including the Merzbacher Collection; 10,000 Genizah fragments lost during World War II). HAMBURG: Stadtbibliothek 476); M. Steinschneider (1878; including the Levy Collection). MUNICH: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (476): M. Steinschneider (1895); E. Roth (1966).


BUDAPEST: Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Kaufmann Collection: 595; 600 fragments): M. Weisz (1906); D.S. Loewinger-A. Scheiber (1947); Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (315; 400 fragments): D.S. Loewinger (1940).


FLORENCE: Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana (187): A.M. Biscioni (1757). LEGHORN: Talmud Torah (134): C. Bernheimer (1915). A part transferred to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. MANTUA: Comunità Israelitica (167): M. Mortara (1878). MILAN: Biblioteca Ambrosiana (183): C. Bernheimer (1933). N. Allony-E. Kupfer (Aresheth; 1960). PARMA: Biblioteca Palatina (1,552): G.B. De-Rossi (1803); P. Perreau (1880). ROME: Biblioteca Casanatense (230): G. Sacerdote (1897). Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (see Vatican , below). TURIN: Biblioteca Nazionale (247): B. Peyron (1880). (A great part destroyed by fire in 1904.)


JERUSALEM: National and University Library (6,000): G. Scholem (1930); B. Joel (1934). N. Ben-Menahem (120); Hechal Shlomo (150): J.L. Bialer (1966–69); Mosad ha-Rav Kook (1,000): N. Ben-Menahem in: Aresheth, 1 (1959), 396–413; Ben-Zvi Institute (1,100); Schocken Library (400). RAMAT GAN: Bar Ilan University Library (Margulies Collection: 750). TEL AVIV: Bialik House (200).


AMSTERDAM; Portugeesch Israelitisch Seminarium Etz HaimLivraria D. Montezinos (160): N. Allony-E. Kupfer (1964); Universiteitsbibliotheek (Rosenthaliana; 305); M. Roest (1875); N. Allony-E. Kupfer (1964). LEIDEN: Bibliotheek der Universiteit (118): M. Steinschneider (1858).


WARSAW: Jewish Historical Institute (1,500): E. Kupfer-S. Strelcyn (Przegląd Orientalisticzny; 1954–55). WROCLAW (formerly Breslau): Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau (405): D.S. Loewinger-B. Weinryb, 1965 (partly transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw).


ZURICH: Zentralbibliothek (238): L.C. Wohlberg (1932); N. Allony-E. Kupfer (1964).


CINCINNATI: Hebrew Union College Library (1,500). LOS ANGELES: University Library (Rosenberg Collection from Ancona; the third part of the Gaster Collection, etc., 400). NEW HAVEN: Yale University Library (300): L. Nemoy (Journal of Jewish Bibliography; 1938–39). NEW YORK: Columbia University (1,000); Jewish Theological Seminary of America (10,000; 25,000 fragments): E.N. Adler (1921); JTS Registers (1902ff.); Jewish Institute of ReligionHebrew Union College (200); Jewish Teachers Seminary Library (120); R.H. Lehmann Collection (400); The New York University, Jewish Culture Foundation Library (114); Yeshiva University (1,000); YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Library (1,200). PHILADELPHIA: Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning (256; 500 fragments): B. Halpern (1924). SAN FRANCISCO: California State Library (Sutro Collection, 167): W.M. Brinner (1966).


ST. PETERBURG: M.S. Saltykov-Shchedrin State Library (now Russian National Library) (1,962; 15,000 fragments; including the Firkovich Collections): A. Harkavy-H.L. Strack (1875); A.I. Katsch (1957/58; 1970). Asiatic Museum (2,347). Moscow: Lenin State Library (now Russian State Library) (Ginzburg Collection, 2,000).


VATICAN: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (801): U. Cassuto (1956); N. Allony-D.S. Loewinger (1968).

[David Samuel Loewinger /

Ephraim Kupfer]

Judaica and Hebraica Manuscripts in Russia


Dr. A.I. Katsh first visited the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary in 1956, when he arranged for the microfilming of several thousand manuscripts and rare documents of Judaica and Hebraica in various collections in those countries. It was the first, and so far the only, such undertaking by a Western scholar. In subsequent journeys behind the Iron Curtain in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1969, and 1976, he augmented this collection, which was then housed at the *Dropsie College , Philadelphia.

In this article Prof. Katsh gives an account of the five major collections of Judaica that are to be found in Leningrad and Moscow as the situation was prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today the Russian collections are accessible to scholars.


Shortly after the Russian Revolution, the majority of the private collections of rare manuscripts on Judaica and Hebraica, which had been gathered over the centuries by Jewish scholars, disappeared. The only collections which remained were those in the possession of the Czarist government.

These collections constitute a bibliographer's paradise. They consist of a number of individual archives which include those of Israel *Zinberg , Daniel *Chwolson , Abraham Baer *Gottlober , David *Maggid and Shalom *Aleichem .

There is also valuable Hebraica material in the Academy of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia; in the government library of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia; in Kiev, Vilna and the synagogues of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Apart from those, however, the Russian collections consist of five major collections: the Baron David Guenzburg Collection, the Friedland Collection, the Two Firkovitch Collections, and the Antonin Genizah Collection.


The *Guenzburg Library was founded by Joseph Yozel Guenzburg (1812–78) and added to by his son Horace (1833–1909) and his grandsons David (1857–1910) and Alfred (1865–1930).

David Guenzburg was a brilliant scholar and an outstanding Orientalist who was reputed to have a knowledge of 34 languages. He founded the famous Guenzburg Academy in St. Petersburg. He was, however, also actively involved in all matters affecting the Jewish community.

In collaboration with Vladimir Stassoff, David published L'Ornement Hebraïque, a collection of artistic reproductions from the ancient Hebrew manuscripts in the St. Petersburg collection. In assembling their library the Guenzburgs had the help and advice of such experts as Adolf *Neubauer , who was the custodian of the Oriental Department of the Bodleian Library, and the scholar Raphael Nathan Nata *Rabbinovicz , the author of Dikduke Soferim.

In 1865, while the collection was in France, the renowned bibliographer Senior *Sachs was appointed its custodian. Ten years later he began work on a catalog to be called Reshimat Sefarim Kitve-Yad be-Oẓar ha-Sefarim Shel Guenzburg (list of manuscripts in the Guenzburg Library). The planned catalog was designed in such elaborate detail that it took 48 pages to describe the first two manuscripts. Realizing that this approach was impractical, Sachs then prepared a brief handwritten list of 831 items for the use of the family. This was apparently completed in 1887, when the Guenzburgs moved the collection from Paris to St. Petersburg, and it is now housed in the Russian State Library in Moscow. (Sachs himself, pensioned by the family, remained in Paris until his death on Nov. 18, 1892.)

A second handlist of items 832 to 1,908 was later prepared and catalogued, probably by a later scholar, by book size rather than by subject matter. Copies of these two handlist volumes are extremely rare. A Russian translation of the first 831 titles is now available in the Russian State Library. The actual number of titles may be as high as 5,000, because most of the codices list several items. However, not all the manuscripts listed in the handwritten catalogs are extant, since some were lost during the moving of the volumes from one place to another.

The manuscripts in the Guenzburg collection deal with a great variety of subjects, including Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Responsa, Midrash, Kabbalah, philosophy, medicine, astronomy and mathematics. The biblical literature consists of 40 texts, 30 translations and 180 commentaries. Among the latter are Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Kimḥi, Naḥmanides, Levi b. Gershom and Jacob ben Asher.

The section dealing with Mishnah, Talmud and Halakhah is rich in quality and quantity (350 items) and also contains a number of works of the Gaonic period. The Responsa material includes the names of Rabbenu Gershom, Alfasi, Rashi, the Tosafists, Maimonides, David ha-Nagid, Abraham B. David, Naḥmanides, Solomon ben Adret (Rashba), Meier of Rothenberg, and Asher b. Yeḥiel. Hebrew poetry, secular and religious, is represented by Judah Halevi, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Abraham ibn Ezra, Judah Al-Ḥarizi and Immanuel of Rome. Some of the prayerbook manuscripts are illuminated in beautiful colors.

The collection includes a vast literature on the Shabbetai Ẓevi movement, works by Aristotle, as well as philosophical treatises in Hebrew (or Judeo-Arabic) by Averroes, Maimonides, Al-Ghazālī, Isaac Israeli, Jacob Anatoli, Crescas and others. Some of these works are no longer extant in the languages in which they were originally written. The Guenzburg collection includes important works on astronomy and mathematics and about 40 volumes on medicine. In addition, there are works by 19th-century Hebrew authors and scholars which are now of great value, since most of the unpublished manuscripts of the leading Jewish scholars of the 19th century were destroyed in the Holocaust. Of special interest are works by the biblical scholar Wolf Heidenheim (d. 1832), by his disciple S. Baer (d. 1897), and by the first Hebrew novelist, Abraham Mapu.


The Friedland collection, housed in the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, contains unique manuscripts on the Bible: biblical commentaries in Judeo-Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other Middle Eastern languages; lexicography; ethics; astronomy; theology; philosophy; music; and historical material such as travel narratives, documents, archives and records of Jewish communities in Middle Eastern countries. There is a great deal of Karaitic literature. One of the rare Bibles, consisting only of the Later Prophets, bears the date 847 C.E.

A manuscript catalog begun by the late Yonah Y. Ginzburg was completed several years ago by A.M. Gasov-Ginzberg. The Oriental Institute in St. Petersburg, formerly under the direction of K.B. Starkova, has prepared an eight-volume catalog describing in detail the entire manuscript collection. This catalog lists the following: 339 items dealing with Bible, commentaries and lexicography; 291 items dealing with philosophy, ethics, mysticism and theology; 332 items dealing with mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine and music; 215 items dealing with Karaitic and liturgical works; 149 items of material on the Golden Age of Spain and literature of the Middle Ages, such as responsa, letters, records and documents.

The circumstances under which the Friedland collection was assembled, and its subsequent presentation to the Imperial Institute of St. Petersburg, is of more than passing interest and merits that it be given in some detail, especially in view of the fact that it explains the contents of this invaluable library.

Moses Aryeh Leib Friedland (1826–99) was a prominent Jewish leader in Czarist Russia and corresponded with all the leading rabbis of Russia in his endeavors to ease the economic and political plight of the Jews of the country during the era of the "Cantonists," when Jews were confined to the *Pale of Settlement and professions and trades were closed to them. Moreover, following the Congress of *Vienna (1814–15) some two million Jews were added from the Duchy of Warsaw or the Kingdom of Poland and draconic steps were taken by the authorities to uproot them from their settlements and change their way of life.

Into this oppressive and tyrannical atmosphere was tossed the complicated and stormy question of the Haskalah, the "enlightenment" movement which, according to its proponents, was to secure new standing for the Jews as a people, by means of an orderly and suitable process of integration into the life of the state. Against this background one can appreciate Friedland's leap into the battle occupying his people, which was one of the factors contributing towards the acquisition of his huge library.

Friedland did not belong to the same upper social class as the Guenzburgs. Starting from humble beginnings he traveled through the vast Russian steppes under the most trying conditions and in face of real danger, and he learned at first hand the joy of succeeding by dint of one's own labor. He felt the need to broaden the curriculum of education among Jews in Russia, by introducing into the yeshivah curriculum secular subjects and the Russian language. Convinced that this was the only way to salvation for the Jewish masses in Russia, Friedland ardently espoused the cause of the Haskalah and engaged in a voluminous correspondence with the great rabbis of the time in an attempt to persuade them to modernize their curriculum. Friedland's brother, Meir, was connected by marriage to Dr. Azriel *Hildesheimer . Friedland saw in his brother the ideal combination of religious and secular learning he strived for. Wherever he traveled in Russia he recorded accurate statistics concerning the size of the Jewish population, its communal institutions and his reason for demanding enlightenment and accepting the government's regulations, for under the circumstances that prevailed it was no longer possible to conceal from the authorities what was happening in Jewish communal life. All this had a direct bearing on the content of his library. Among his manuscripts is the Kol Negidim in four volumes, which is a veritable treasure house of information on the Jewish community of Russia during the 19th century. It consists of hundreds of letters, correspondence with the leading rabbis of his time dealing with their history and the many problems facing them. Included are the following references:

(1) The leaders of Russian Jewry at the time of Poliakoff, Guenzburg and others.

(2) Friedland's suggestion to include the teaching of the Russian language in Yeshivat Mir similar to the program in Yeshivat Volozhin.

(3) The rabbinical authorities – their attitudes to the introduction of secular education into the yeshivot.

(4) The Petersburg Congress of leading rabbis.

(5) The condition of Russian Jewry in Siberia, the Ukraine and elsewhere.

(6) The government requirement that every rabbi study the Russian language for six years.

(7) The controversy over deleting liturgical poems (piyyutim) and kinot in the prayers.

(8) The plan of Rabbi Isaac Jacob *Reines to establish a special yeshivah at Lida.

(9) The controversy between Rabbi Jacob Lifshitz and the leaders of the enlightenment movement.

In addition to these Friedland set himself the task of gleaning the treasures of Jewish learning in order to disseminate through them a knowledge of this heritage. He amassed a large collection of books, some of them extremely rare, at his own expense. These books were not limited to any one field or subject. His library was quantitatively large and qualitatively valuable, which was considered unique in the sphere of private libraries. Included also was a complete collection of the books of the Talmud, both early and late; books of rabbinical decisions (poskim); books of research and responsa in halakhah; books of meditation and thought; and numerous volumes of "enlightenment" books. Among the manuscripts in this collection are copies of Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed, with numerous variants, two translations of the Koran in Hebrew by Jacob b. Israel Halevi, works by Tanḥum b. Joseph ha-Yerushalmi, Isaac b. Judah ibn Ghayyat, Judah Halevi, Solomon ibn Gabirol and Judah Al-Ḥarizi.

In the foreword to Kehillat Moshe, St. Petersburg 1896, S. Wiener wrote: "Moshe [Aryeh Leib Friedland], in addition to his good deeds for the general welfare of his people, and for the welfare of the individual in his support of several thousand families who bless his name, as the best known and most famous throughout the dispersion, this man also managed to build an everlasting sanctuary for the works of Jewish scholars. In this he has been eminently successful for he has collected in his home more than 14,000 of the finest works and has placed them as eternal witness for permanent safekeeping forever for all generations to come, in a building of the Asiatic Museum of the Imperial Academy of Science in St. Petersburg where, together with the museum's collection, the number of volumes listed will exceed 24,000." In my archives there is a personal letter written by S. Wiener to a friend of his, a learned scholar in Warsaw, on 12 Tevet 1891, in St. Petersburg, in which he says: "The number of books being published in the holy tongue [Hebrew] is about 10,000, and there are about 400 handwritten manuscripts. There is no treasure that compares with this except in Oxford and in London; this one is third in quantity and value." Friedland's library included "the collection which the learned grammarian Ber Bamfi of Minsk gathered throughout his life (he died on 28 Adar 1888). He spent a vast fortune on locating and building up a library of new and old and even rare volumes in all the subjects of Jewish learning and literature, the like of which has never before been seen in our city" (Naphtali Maskileison, Alon Bachut, Ha-Meliẓ, 1888, No. 53).

Friedland's library also contained the collection of books of Elieser Lipman Rabinowich who died in Ḥeshvan 1887 (see Ha-Meliẓ , No. 147). It contained also the choicest volumes collected by the prominent man of wealth, Shmaryahu Zuckerman of Mogilev (died in 1879), among which is the Mekhilta with the commentary on Zeh Yenaḥameinu, which the Gaon of Vilna studied and revised with his own hand (Wiener's foreword to Kehillat Moshe). Likewise included in Friedland's library were "about 2,000 volumes from the superb and valuable collection assembled throughout his life by the excellent bibliographer Joseph Mazal of Wiazin" (ibid.) as well as priceless volumes from various collections acquired for Friedland in Europe and other places. Friedland prized his library and was fully cognizant of its importance and value. In the initial stage he attended to his collection himself, but in the course of time – as it expanded and became more ramified – he engaged people specifically to catalog and classify the works according to subjects and to supervise and direct the progressive completion of the collection by acquiring every rare and priceless volume available in order to render his library complete.

In 1880 there appeared in *Ha-Meliẓ an announcement which aroused consternation throughout the Jewish community. It declared that Friedland had decided to transfer his invaluable library to the Imperial Institute in St. Petersburg. It created a storm of controversy; it was considered by some as a betrayal of the Jewish people, especially since access to the institute was forbidden to Jews. Only one rabbi in Russia, Rabbi David ben Samuel *Friedmann of Karlin, at that time an active member of the *Hibbat Zion movement, while expressing his concern and sorrow at this step, tried to reason him out of it and proposed to Friedland that he transfer his library to Jerusalem. In a deeply moving letter he praised him for the labor and expense invested in this collection. The fact, however, that it would be housed in an institution closed to the Jews would result in "these volumes and the wisdom of their authors remaining locked up in darkness… Therefore, my advice to you is to establish a Jewish library in Jerusalem, the holy city, under the supervision of its rabbis, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi." He went into meticulous detail relevant to the implementation of his proposal: the binding of books, cataloging, means of keeping it up to date, budget requirements, librarians.

Rabbi Friedman's letter aroused a responsive chord in Friedland's heart. He regretted, however, that the suggestion had come too late; had it come earlier he would have accepted it.

In point of fact, Friedland was aware of the probable fate of his library, insofar as its use for Jews was concerned, if he gave it to St. Petersburg, since the authorities had closed the Jewish library in Warsaw and the Strashun Library in Vilna, and he sent 1,500 volumes of his library to the Great Bet Hamidrash of Dinaburg. To his consternation and dismay, however, he discovered that they had not even been taken out of their containers and he went to the expense of putting up shelves and appointing a librarian. But when the authorities refused to pay the wages of the librarian, he finally decided to give it to the St. Petersburg Institute. It was open daily and its "personnel consisted of people who regard Jewish learning very highly." Moreover, the authorities added to it some 3,000 duplicate copies of works already in their possession and undertook to appoint a special official in charge. The famous Russian Orientalist, Paul K. Kokovtsov, undertook the responsibility for its care and maintenance. Friedland consoled himself with the hope that circumstances would change. He believed that, housed within the Asiatic Museum, his library was destined to be used extensively. Many would study the volumes and contemplate their contents and would, through them, develop a familiarity with and esteem for the people which had produced men of such spirit and wisdom. The transfer of the library to the governmental institute was therefore, in Friedland's eyes – under the circumstances which then ruled the life of the Jews of Russia – a form of the most superior kind of "intercession" because as he saw it: "We shall find favor in the eyes of the government, for the benefit of our people, just as our Father Jacob placed the entire camp before him, when he went to face Esau, to ensure his safe journey."

Thus did the Friedland Library find its home in St. Petersburg.


The Firkovitch and Antonin collections are housed in the Russian State Library in St. Petersburg and contain principally genizah material.

The Firkovitch Collections

A native of the Crimea, Abraham *Firkovitch (1786–1874) was imbued with the notion that the Karaites of Babylonia were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes who had settled in the Crimea in the 6th century B.C.E. In his quest for documentary proof, he traveled throughout the Caucasus and the Middle East, exploring the genizot of ancient Jewish communities, and eventually assembled the most extensive collection of Hebrew, Samaritan and Karaitic manuscripts in the world, which was acquired in 1859 by the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg.

Some noted authorities, who checked the collection, accused him of tampering with dates on the manuscripts in order to prove his "theory" about the Karaites. Yet even his most severe critics admit that the manuscripts are extremely rare. Thus A. Harkavy and H.L. Strack wrote in 1875: "Though we, in the interest of science, deplore the numerous falsifications mentioned in our catalog, we gladly admit that A. Firkovitch, by the successful results of his tireless zeal for collecting manuscripts, assured himself everlasting recognition in the fields of Bible studies, Karaitic, and rabbinic literature." A considerable portion of the Firkovitch I collection consists of copies and molds of inscriptions found on old Jewish tombstones, mostly assembled by him while in the Crimea. These inscriptions are, in some cases, the only evidence we possess of the existence of Jewish settlements in early Crimean history. In the main, this collection consists of extremely valuable Hebrew, Karaitic and Judeo-Arabic manuscripts originating in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and the Crimean Peninsula. When Firkovitch visited these places, the manuscripts there were still plentiful and he was able to make a choice selection. He kept the material in his possession for a good many years, studying and classifying it. He gradually compiled a handwritten catalog, which he attached to the memo when he offered to sell the collection to the Russian government in 1856. Firkovitch's catalog contains 830 items, in addition to several hundred letters and documents.

The biblical manuscripts of this first Firkovitch collection, catalogued by Harkavy and Strack, consist of five Torah scrolls written on leather, 41 scrolls written on parchment, 76 manuscripts in codex form, and 23 manuscripts containing text and translation in Aramaic, Arabic, Persian, and Tatar.

Of particular importance in the Firkovitch collection is the section dealing with disputations between the Karaites and Rabbinites.

Included are a manuscript of the Ḥizzuk Emunah by the Karaite scholar Yiẓḥak b. Abraham, and by Moses b. Ezra, dealing with the history of Hebrew poets of the Middle Ages, containing material not found elsewhere, and the archives of Judah al-Ḥarizi.

A large number of the manuscripts deal with poets who lived in Palestine, Egypt, and Syria.

In addition to the first Firkovitch collection, another small collection of important Hebrew manuscripts came into the possession of the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg around the year 1863. This was the collection of the Society for History and Antiquity in Odessa. Since it contained manuscripts originally belonging to Firkovitch, the authorities of the library demanded that it be added to the Firkovitch collection. Harkavy-Strack included in their catalog of the Odessa collection 35 Torah scrolls and 20 in codéx form.

This important acquisition of unique manuscripts immediately placed Russia in a favorable position for Hebrew manuscript study, especially in biblical research. The announcement of this collection and the first reports of its contents aroused great excitement among biblical scholars and manuscript collectors. According to Firkovitch's description, and supported by Prof. Daniel Chwolson, there were in this collection 13 Bibles belonging to the period from the 5th to the 9th centuries and 15 Bibles of the 10th century. In his memorandum to the Russian government, Chwolson stated: "In the future, no edition of biblical text should be considered without consulting these important early manuscripts."

The Firkovitch Collection II was acquired by the Russian Imperial Library in 1876. For a long time little was known of its contents, nor was the exact origin of its material certain. Although Firkovitch himself did not provide this kind of information, there is no doubt that the greater part of it came from the genizot of the old synagogues in the Crimea. A substantial number of the fragments appears to have come from the Cairo genizah in Egypt. A detailed description of the contents of the Firkovitch II collection was given by the late Prof. P. Kahle, who examined the material while on a visit to Leningrad. According to Kahle it includes: 1,582 items of biblical fragments with masorah written on parchment; 725 items of biblical material written on paper; 159 items of scrolls of the Bible on leather or parchment; over 6,000 Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic fragments; and 344 non-biblical manuscripts. The material in the Firkovitch collections and the other Hebraica collections in Russia undoubtedly comprise the largest biblical manuscript collection in the world.

The Antonin Collection

The Antonin genizah collection was acquired by the Russian Archimandrite, Antonin Kapustin, who lived in Jerusalem from 1865 until his death in 1894. When he learned about the discovery of the Cairo genizah he was among the first to be on the scene and was able to acquire a choice selection of material. Upon his death, this material went to the Government Library at St. Petersburg. The Antonin collection occupies an outstanding place, not so much for its quantity as for its quality. The fragments deal with the Bible, biblical translations in Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic, Karaite polemics, historical documents, Kabbalah, liturgy, medicine, theology, philosophy and Ketubot. They are written in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Samaritan. The late Prof. S. Assaf in his book Gaonic Responsa (1929) lamented the fact that the Antonin material in Russia was not accessible to scholars, nor was a catalog available. As a result of many visits to the U.S.S.R. this author was able in 1963 to prepare and publish the only catalog of the entire Antonin material.

According to my classification, the Antonin genizah collection of 1,189 items represents 36 subjects ranging from biblical texts to Zohar, including such rare items as the Bible in Samaritan, Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Bible, and medical notes in Arabic. The proportions of these various subjects is interesting. Half the collection consists of biblical literature; liturgical material comes next with one-sixth; Talmud, Midrash, Halakhah, with one-seventh. This uneven proportion is due to the fact that the sacred books were in wide use among the people. Each household possessed a Bible and one or more prayerbooks. Each scholar had a Talmud and some midrashic and halakhic books, whereas the other non-sacred books were confined to special individuals only. The reason that so much non-religious material was found in the Cairo genizah at all is that the synagogue at Fostat-Cairo was also used for the offices of the rabbinical courts, where they kept the community archives. Later all this became part of the general genizah. Furthermore, the placing of discarded material in the genizah was not officially controlled; individuals merely sent their unwanted old books and papers to the genizah. No one examined the contents before they were stored away. Thus among the genizah contents are private papers, business letters and accounts, and a great number of documents in Arabic script. Prof. Harkavy, in evaluating the Antonin genizah, noted: "… the Hebrew and Arabic fragments … have the same origin as the material of the second Firkovitch collection, namely, from the genizot of Egypt. They complement each other to a great degree. Together they add great honor and glory to the Royal Public Library."

[Abraham I. Katsh]


S. Sachs, Catalogue or the Guenzburg Collection, 2 volumes. A.I. Katsh, The Friedland Library in the Leningrad Oriental Institute, NYU 1963. Y.Y. Ginzberg, Hebrew Manuscript Collection at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences (Report in Russian, 1936). A.A. Harkavy and H.L. Strack, Catalog der Hebraischen Bibelhandschriften der Kaiserlichen Orientlich Bibliothek in St. Petersburg, 1875. H.L. Strack, A. Firkovitch und seine Entdeckungen, Leipzig, 1868. K.B. Starkova, "Forty Years of Semitic Studies in the U.S.S.R.," Publication of the Oriental Institute of Academy of Sciences, XXV, 1960, pp. 263–77 (Russian). K.B. Starkova, "The Firkovitch Manuscript Collection in the Saltykov-Shchedrin Government Library" (Russian), Publication of the Academy of Science, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow, 1974, pp. 165–92. A.I. Katsh, Catalogue of Microfilms of the U.S.S.R. Hebraica Collection, Part I, 1957; Part II, 1968, NY. The Antonin Genizah in the Saltykov-Shchedrin Library in Leningrad, NYU, 1963, Yigal Hazon, Jerusalem, 1964 (from a 13th-century Barcelona manuscript in Moscow). Midrash David Hanagid, Jerusalem, Genesis (1964), Exodus (1968), Lamentations (1969), from Judeo-Arabic manuscripts in the U.S.S.R. Hebrew Collection, Jerusalem. Ginze Mishna, Jerusalem (1970). Ginze Talmud Babli, Jerusalem, 1975. Ginze Talmud Babli, Vol. II, Jerusalem, 1978. "S. Baer's Unpublished Targum Onkelos," in Text and Studies in Honor of A.A. Neuman, Philadelphia, 1962. JUDAICA AND HEBRAICA IN THE U.S.S.R.: C. Burchard, Bibliographie zu den Handschriften vom Toten Meer (1959, 1965); E. Sachau, Aramaeischer Papyrus und Ostraka (1911); N. Avigad, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4 (1958), 56–87; idem, Ha-Pale'ografyah shel Megillot Yam ha-Melaḥ… (1963), 107–34; G.R. Driver, Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century (1954); I. Ben-Zvi et al., Meḥkarim be-Keter Aram Ẓova (1960); I. Yevin, Keter Aram Ẓova… (1969); L. Zunz, in: ZHB, 18 (1915), 58–64, 101–19; A. Freimann, ibid., 11 (1907), 86–96; 14 (1910), 105–12; idem, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 231–342 (Eng. sect.); S. Poznański, in: ZHB, 19 (1916), 79–122; C. Bernheimer, Paleografia Ebraica (1924); S.A. Birnbaum, Hebrew Scripts (1954–57; 1 vol. of plates; Part 1 not publ.); C. Sirat and M. Beit-Arié, Manuscripts médiévaux en caractères hébraiques… (1969); Reshimat Kitvei-Yad… (1960), includes "Kitvei-Yad… Faksimiliyyot": 54–69; S. Shaked, A Tentative Bibliography of Geniza Documents (1964); S. Loewinger and A. Scheiber, (eds.) in: Geniza Publications in Memory of D. Kaufmann (1949), xiii–xv; A. Scheiber, Héber kodexmaradványok… (1969); Die hebraeischen Uebersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher (1893); Shunami, Bibl. (for the literature on and from M. Steinschneider); M. Steinschneider, Vorlesungen ueber die Kunde hebraeischer Handschriften (1897; Hebrew edition by A.M. Habermann, in: Aresheth, 4 (1966), 53–165; separate ed., 1965); A. Freimann, Union Catalog of Hebrew Manuscripts and their Location, 2 (1964); N. Allony and D.S. Loewinger, List of Photographed Manuscripts, Austria-Germany (1957); N. Allony and A. Kupfer, List… Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Spain, and Switzerland (1964); N. Allony and D.S. Loewinger, List… Vatican Library (1968); D.S. Loewinger and E. Kupfer, List… Parma Library (in preparation); D.S. Loewinger, Sekirah al Pe'ullot ha-Makhon… (1965); idem, in: Haaretz (Sept. 21, 1969); M. Beit-Arié, in: KS, 43 (1967/68), 411–28; 45 (1969/70), 435–46.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.