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Manuscript Collection
at the JTSA

Introduction


The manuscript collection at the JTSA is one of the largest ever assembled. The first large collection that the seminary ever received came from a judge in Philidelphia named Meyer Salzburger. In 1903, he gave the JTSA 2,400 books and 500 rare manuscripts from his personal collection. In addition, he purchased another 500 books and 200 manuscripts from the Halberstam library. Today, the library at the JTSA houses over 200,000 volumes and 10,000 manuscripts. The work of collecting and organizing these was begun in the year 1903 by librarian Alexander MArx. In 1907, Marx secured the manuscript collection of Moritz Steinschneider. In addition, in 1923, he organized an assosciation, headed by Mortimer Schiff, Felix Warburg, and Louis Marshall to affect the purchase of 4,000 manuscripts from the Elkan Nathan collection. The manuscripts at the JTSA are divided into three broad categories, each havin several sub-categories. They are bible, liturgcal, and general works.

Beautifully illustrated, the majority of the manuscripts are held on microfilm or in the special collections room on the top floor of the library. To view them, one must have a special appointment and know exactly which manuscript he or she wishes to see. The manuscripts themselves show an inverse relationship between how much they are decorated and how important the information contained in them is. Calligraphy, which plays a major role in illumination, is used so that the characters may decorate the page in addition to forming words. The decorations may be colored or plain, simply or complexly illustrated. Furthermore, many show a mix of Jewish and Christian influences, although there is almost never the type of symbolism and iconography one would find in Christian texts. This is said to be due to the lack of a Jewish visual tradition from which to draw upon. Besides holy books, other books such as technical manuals were illuminated by such great scribes as Joel ben Simon and Abraham Ferrisol. The manuscripts which are available are subdivided into several categories. They are...
  • Bible
  • Kabbalah and Mysticism
  • Geniza
  • Liturgy
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Philology
  • Poetry
  • History of Science & Medicine
  • Polemics
  • Rabbinitics
(Special Collections, 29-31).
Here are two of the library's treasures.
 


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