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Manuscript Collection 
at the JTSA


  • Genizah Manuscripts

  • The Genizah portion of the JTSA's manuscript collection houses some forty-thousand works. These works date as far back as 831 C.E. Mostly, they are historical texts, meant to pass on important elements in Jewish history. A vast majority of the works contain historical accounts of development and sustanance of mediterranean Judaism. The large amount this segment of the manuscript collection was a man named E.N. Adler, purchased by the library in 1923, the result of another proficient campaign by then head librarian Dr. Alexander Marx.

An Austrian Siddur (prayerbook), 1300


  • Historical Manuscripts

  • The historical manuscript collection at the JTSA has been gathered from disparate communities under great pains. The collection itself is composed entirely of what are known in hebraic as "Pinkasim." These are tiny books which contain short stories and histories of the struggles of many European and Asian Jewish communities. Divided into five subsections, they include books dating as far back as the 16th century. These sections are...
        I) Pinkas Metz (17th Century) 
        II) Pinkassim (17th & 18th Centuries) 
        III) Pinkas Friedburg (1563-1580 C.E.) 
        IV) Pinkas Bamburg (1757-1825 C.E.) 
        V) Memorbuch (1586-1837 C.E.) 

        (Special Collections, 29)
  • Biblical Manuscripts 

  • The JTS houses about eleven-thousand biblical manuscripts from such disparate nations as Persia, Yemen, Spain, and Italy. These works include a priceless Bible illuminated in 1496 by Abraham Farrisol and the Benaim Collection which contains one-hundred and ten manuscripts reflecting the history of Judaism in Morroco. All help to illustrate the rich cultural and religious mileau iwithin which Judaism has developed throught the world.

  • History of Science and Medicine Manuscripts 

  • This particular subdivision of the JTSA's manuscript collection houses just under three-hundred documents and is touted as being one of the most thourough collections in existance. Focusing on Jewish acheivments in various areas, it is divided into four smaller sub-groupings. They are...
        I) Calendrical, Astronomical, and Astrological Works 
        II) Mathematical Works 
        III) Medical Works 
        IV) Miscellaneous Works 

        (Special Collections, 30). 

  • Kabbalah and Mystical Manuscripts

  • Kabbalah encompasses the gamut of Hebrew mystical practices and all of the accoutrements, (tools, instruments, etc...) that accompany it. This division of the manuscript and rare-book collection is further subdivided into two categories. The first, simply called "Mysticism," deals entirely with both the theological and philosophical teachings and applications of the Hebraic mystical experience. The second grouping, entitled "Kabbalah," deals with studies of a more 'mystical' nature , as most people understand the word (Special Collections, 30). This group has many writings which attempt to delve into the hidden abstruse meanings of Hebraic mystical documents. These documents include many genres of writings from poetics and short-stories to lancient historical letters. Furthermore, it holds texts and documents devoted to discussing the use of amulets and other mystical aids.
  • Liturgical Manuscripts

  • This collection of Liturgical manuscripts ihas attained world renown as being the most thourough ever assembled. Housing some seven-hundred and fifty documents, texts, and scrolls, the liturgical manuscript collection was assembled as an attempt to give a cohesive picture of the development of the itual practices, rites, and liturgies of Judaic communities from around the world (Special Collections, 30). The communities discussed in the collection include such disparate lands as Constantinople, Persia, Algiers, Yemen, and Cochin. Furthermore, some of the most famous manuscripts ever produced are housed in this area of the collection . These include, but are not encompasssed by, the Rothschild Mahzor (Florence, 1492), the Mahzor Vitry (France, 13th Century), and Abraham Farrisol's Mahzor (Italy, 1488).(Special Collections , 31).

  • Philological Manuscripts 

  • These manuscripts, as the title of their subdivision implies, deal mainly with the spicifics of the Hebrew linguistic tradition .(Special Collections, 31). There are a total of one-hundred and fifty manuscripts in this collection. Highlights of the collection include dictionaries explaining the refrences in the Talmud and documents studiying the grammatics contained in the Hebrew language. Varied texts by over forty authors are contained in the collection, dating as far back as the 11th Century C.E.
  • Philosophical Manuscripts 

  • The philosophical subdivision of the JTSA's manuscript assortment includes well over two-hundred texts of Jewish philosophical teachings and discussions. Some of the most famous Jewish philosophers and thinkers are represented in this collection, including Abraham ben David, Maimonides, and Crescas. Two very famous manuscript collections, namely the Guide to the Perplexed and the Duties of the Heart are contained here (Special Collections, 31). 

  • Poetry Manuscripts

  • Well over three-hundred and fifty dramatic writings, tradgedies, and poems are held in the poetic division. Some of the most famous Hebrew poets, writers, and scribes' works can be viewed in thes section of the rare-book and manuscript collection. These include Immanuel Frances, Shalom Sibzi, Judah Sommo, and Moses Zacuto. Also included are works by the lesser-emphasized Jewish writers of history. Showcased here are the writings of Mediterranean and Arabian peninsula Jewry.
  • Polemical Manuscripts

  • This collection of manuscripts would be of most interest to a student of Medieval History. Contained here are about seventy manuscripts detailing the religious and social battles fought by Jews throughout the course of the Middle Ages. The majority of the texts take on a powerful anti-Christian tone. Some of the more famous of these works include the Bittul Ikkarei ha-Nozrim (Hasdai Crescas) and the Hizzuk Emunah (Isaac of Troki). Other works in the collection are devoted to the recording of many public debates over Judaism which took place during the Middle Ages. Abraham Farrisol's Magen Avraham is a prime example of this type of text. Once again, thes records of these public disputations contain many strong anti-Christian sentiments. 

  • Rabbinical Manuscripts

  • This collection has been touted as the most comprehensive gathering of Rabbinical texts in the world. It houses some 2,450 manuscripts and rare books. Everything one could ever possibly want to know about the subject of Rabbinitivcs is covered in great detail. Of special interest to students of ancient Hebrew texts is the Yihusei Tannaim we-Amoraim, a comprehensive collection of the adages of many of the most important and influential rabbis of the 13th Century.

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Site Author: Aaron Herman, Project for "Introduction to Medieval History", Fordham University, Spring 1997