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About the Project

 Recovering the Records of European Jewry: The Pinkassim Project

The goal of this website is to provide free, centralized access to the records of Jewish self-government in Europe for both scholars and the interested public.  From the sixteenth century to the nineteenth, most European Jewish communities and regional councils kept their records in specially designated registers, using the Hebrew term for such a book, pinkas (plural, pinkassim).  On the pages of these pinkassim, most commonly kept in Hebrew, can be found regulations, agreements, and notes detailing not only the administrative functioning of the Jewish communities and regional councils but also relations with the non-Jewish world as well as the ways in which Jewish society organized its social, economic, religious, cultural, and even family life.  They therefore form an incredible repository of information about the Jewish past.

The vicissitudes of Jewish history mean that today these pinkassim are to be found scattered in various archival and library collections across the globe.  The National Library of Israel, together with the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, forms the repository of the largest collection of pinkassim in the world.Through international and interdisciplinary academic co-operation, the Pinkassim Project aims at locating, cataloguing, and digitizing all surviving record books, making them freely available on a single webpage.  In this way, it will bring the pinkassim into dialogue with each other, creating a unified corpus of material where none had existed before.

 

Doing this will make possible a whole range of new perspectives on European Jewish history.  For example, the examination of commonalities and differences in Jewish communal life across political borders, will show the extent to which the various forms of Jewish self-government were not just local developments but also in fact part of a Europe-wide phenomenon.  The corpus of pinkassim will also permit new perspectives on the development of the Hebrew language in the pre-modern period, well before its national “revival” in the twentieth century.  Finally, of course, the availability of these records, together with detailed explanatory materials, will permit a deeper understanding of European Jewish heritage, not just for Jews across the world, but for non-Jewish Europeans who want to explore this aspect of their own histories.

 

Though the overall goal of the project is to digitize all surviving pinkassim, including those created by Jewish courts, synagogues, guilds, and study societies, in its first phase it is dealing just with the pinkassim created by the top-level executive bodies running Jewish life – the community and regional councils.   It has also limited itself to pinkassim created in the early modern period (c.1500-1800), which is widely regarded as the Golden Age of Jewish self-government.  This means that the focus will largely be on the record books of the Ashkenazic communities that formed the great majority at that time.  Nonetheless, Sephardic record books, too, will be digitized as part of the project.

 

In addition to this, the Pinkassim Project has educational and technological goals.  It aims to create a new generation of scholars able to read and study these materials in depth.  To this end, it holds an annual summer workshop, entitled, Early Modern Ashkenazi Record Keeping: Pinkassim as Historical Sources, which introduces graduate students and early career academics to the materials and gives them the research skills they need to use them.  A longer term goal, is to help develop the technology necessary to make the digitized manuscripts themselves machine readable, without the need for transcriptions.  This will improve exponentially the possibilities for study and research.  The project is in contact with a research group at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel, which is working on developing the necessary algorithms.

 

The first steps of compiling a catalog of surviving pinkassim and a bibliography of previously published pinkassim and relevant research have already been completed and are available here.  Also available are links to scans of the first pinkassim to be digitized as part of the project, together with brief introductions.  As the project continues, both the number of pinkassim and the amount of explanatory materials will grow rapidly.

 

International academic committee:

Professor (emeritus) Israel Bartal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Professor Jörg Deventer of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

Professor Gershon Hundert of McGill University in Montreal, Canada

Professor Adam Teller of Brown University in Providence, USA

 

In conjunction with:

The  National Library of Israel, Israel

Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University, Germany

 

With the support of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe