News | September 7, 2023

Library of Congress Releases Newly Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts

Library of Congress

Miniature prayerbook with additional blessings, illuminated by Joseph ben Meir Schmalkalden in silver and gold.

The Library of Congress has released some 230 newly digitized manuscripts written in Hebrew and similar languages such as Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian and Yiddish. The collection, available online for researchers and the public for the first time, includes a 14th century collection of responsa by Solomon ibn Adret of Barcelona, considered one of the most prominent authorities on Jewish law of all time. 

The full digital project, funded by the David Berg Foundation, offers a highly diverse collection of materials from the 10th through the 20th centuries, including responsa or rabbinic decisions and commentary, poetry, Jewish magic, and folk medicine. 

“The generosity of the Berg Foundation has enabled the Library of Congress to achieve a longstanding goal of making its rich collection of Hebrew manuscripts even more accessible to researchers,” said Lanisa Kitchiner, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division. “The collection reflects an extraordinary manuscript tradition of immeasurable research value. Its existence and online presence are both an inspiration and an invitation to admire, engage, draw upon and advance Jewish contributions to humanity from the 10th century onward.”

Seventeenth and 18th century Italy is particularly well represented in the collection, with numerous manuscripts on a variety of subjects including wedding poetry in Judeo-Italian and a considerable corpus on Kabbalah. Together, the newly digitized manuscripts offer a rich and often intimate glimpse into Jewish life over the centuries.

Other highlights of the collection include:

  • The Passover Haggadah, also known as the Washington Haggadah, created in 1478 by Joel ben Simeon, a Hebrew scribe working in both Italy and Germany, and today is considered one of the finest Jewish artists of the period
  • The 18th century Order of Prayers before Retiring at Night, a Hebrew miniature created in Mainz, Germany, in or around 1745
  • A fragment of unpublished poems by Solomon Da Piera (1342 - c.1418), one of the last of the great Hebrew poets of Spain
  • A large fragment of an autograph manuscript by Moses b. Abraham Provençal, from 1552
  • An unpublished novel in Hebrew written just after the first Zionist Congress in 1896