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For thousands of years Jewish people have used the written word to express their religious beliefs and scientific knowledge. Jewish prayer, customs, histories of communities and information from a range of disciplines, both religious and secular, were transcribed assiduously. Given that Hebrew was a written rather than spoken language, the extent of its use was surprisingly far-reaching. Jews gave abundant written expression to their rich intellectual world. Like the nomadic nature of the life of Jewish individuals and communities, Hebrew manuscripts and documents traveled across countries and continents. These significant texts reflecting the knowledge and culture of a people eventually found haven in the halls of great libraries, and in the vaults of private collectors. Today these precious Hebrew manuscripts shed light on the diverse and wide-ranging cultures of the Jewish people, their intellectual life and history.
With extraordinary foresight and vision, David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of the newly established State of Israel, recognized the need for gathering all these Hebrew manuscripts in Jerusalem. His aim was to form one unified collection which would serve academic, religious and cultural research of the history of texts and the cultural context in which they were created.
Realizing it would not be possible to collect all these physical manuscripts from across the globe, Ben-Gurion decided to establish the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, which would collect microfilm copies of Hebrew manuscripts in the world. The Institute was founded in 1950 as part of the Ministry of Education.
The Institute's first director, prof. Nehemia Alloni, an expert of Hebrew manuscripts, embarked on several voyages to Europe libraries, in particular Italy (including the Vatican), Germany, Austria, Hungary, France and the Low Countries. The many challenges he faced – organizational obstacles in Israel, limited financial resources for the manuscripts' copies and the travels, problems in locating the manuscripts in the different countries, and the unstable cooperation from the libraries' staffs – did not discourage Alloni. Inspired by the vision to gather the treasures of Jewish culture, and under the harsh impression of the ruins of European Jewish life after WWII, Alloni succeeded in his task and obtained thousands of manuscripts copies for the Institute.
In 1963 the Institute moved to the National Library of Israel, under the name of "The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts", and continued to collect manuscripts copies over the years. The Institute, now a vital part of the National Library of Israel, has made Ben-Gurion's early vision a reality and succeeded in collecting microfilm copies of close to 95% of all known Hebrew manuscripts worldwide.
With the rapid advances in the technological environment that significantly expand options for preservation, presentation and access to digital content, the National Library of Israel initiated the renewal of its collection of copies of Hebrew manuscripts. This enterprise, undertaken in partnership with the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society (FJMS) is designed to make Jewish manuscripts widely available. The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts will enable global centralized digital access to the complete corpus of existing Hebrew manuscripts. The images will be preserved long-term using state of the art technology, and the collection will be accessible to international communities of researchers and users from the comfort of their own institutions and homes.
The International Digital Library of Hebrew Manuscripts is made possible through the generous support of the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society (FJMS) and the Landmarks Heritage Program in the Prime Minister's Office, created to preserve national heritage.
• Open access to all Hebrew manuscripts, on the internet, on computers and on mobile devices.• A quick and efficient search engine, enabling manuscript searches according to their physical attributes, content, historical and artistic context. • A powerful viewer presenting the entire layout of the manuscript and single pages, enabling manipulation of high resolution images, and supplying links to the catalog record and to other related items or texts. • A personal work environment, consisting of text- and image-related tools chosen by the user to create his or her own space according to individual preferences and needs (In the project's second stage).• Enabling users to share and consult with fellow users for research, education and personal interest.
• Contacting the libraries and collectors around the world and agreeing on the terms of digitization and presentation of the material.• Scanning the manuscripts from the originals or from the microfilms. From the original, the digitization is generally done by the libraries’ teams, by local photographers or by NLI’s photographers, who take full color digital images, for long-term preservation, in the highest resolution possible. From the microfilms, the digitization is based on the negative reels of the manuscripts, which are scanned in gray-scale. The images are accessible in high quality in the website. • Receiving and testing the images by the NLI team.• The final outcome: high resolution images of the manuscripts.
Additional contributions will ensure the capacity to digitize the complete corpus of Hebrew manuscripts available worldwide. Designated donations can be made for particular manuscripts, for manuscripts belonging to specific communities, or for the development of educational activities and programming designed to promote engagement with this remarkable collection of manuscript treasures. The library will also welcome donations of digital images of manuscripts.