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Library of Congress digitizes 230 medieval Jewish manuscripts

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Daniel Esparza - published on 09/11/23

The Library of Congress has recently made available to the public some 230 newly digitized manuscripts written in Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Persian.

The Library of Congress has recently made available to the public, through their website, some 230 newly digitized manuscripts written in Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Persian. Some of these manuscripts date to the 11th century, including a Torah Scroll probably written in Egypt and containing “the oldest known text of the biblical Song of the Sea laid out according to ancient scribal tradition,” as read in the Library’s website. This particular roll is still undergoing restoration – and thus not yet digitized.

The Song of the Sea is noted for its archaic language. The text is written in a style of Hebrew that is much older than that of the rest of Exodus. Indeed, some Bible scholars consider it the oldest surviving text describing the Exodus, dating to the pre-monarchic period. Some others claim that it was deliberately written in an archaic style – a known literary device used in the Book of Job, for example. The discussion is an ongoing one, and thus proposed dates for its composition range from the 13th to the 5th century BC.

The collection, which is available online for researchers and the public alike for the first time, includes a famed Passover Haggadah known as the Washington Haggadah. Perhaps the best-known piece in the collection, this Haggadah was created in 1478 by Joel ben Simeon, a Hebrew scribe working in both Italy and Germany, considered one of the finest Jewish artists of the period.

Another exceptional piece is the 18th-century Order of Prayers before Retiring at Night, a Hebrew miniature created in Mainz, Germany, in or around 1745. “Acquired by the Library of Congress in 2014, this is a work of exceptional beauty and charm, and certainly one of the pearls of the collection as a whole,” the Library’s website explains.

Medievalists.net explains that the full digital project was funded by the David Berg Foundation, a NYC-based organization that “works to strengthen institutions, improve the quality of life for the underserved, provide greater access to cultural treasures, and increase engagement with Jewish values for wide audiences.”

Together, these newly digitized manuscripts offer a rich glimpse into Jewish life over the centuries.

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JudaismMedievalUnited States
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