British Library launches bilingual website showcasing 1,300 Hebrew manuscript treasures
The British Library has launched its first ever fully bilingual web resource, providing free access to its spectacular collection of Hebrew manuscripts to researchers worldwide.
The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts presents scrolls, codices and charters digitised in full, along with explanatory articles, videos and digital tools, offering scholars and the wider public alike the opportunity to explore this world-class collection as never before.
Generously funded by The Polonsky Foundation, the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project involves the photography, description and – where necessary – preservation of 1,300 items in the British Library’s collection of Hebrew manuscripts, ranging from illuminated service books to Torah scrolls, from scientific and anatomical treatises to great works of theology and philosophy.
The project’s website acts as a showcase for the collection, with images of highlight items and interpretive and contextual articles on subjects including Kaballah and mysticism, Hebrew bibles, Jewish communities in the Middle Ages and the process of conserving embroidered Torah mantles.
Video clips include time-lapse footage showing the meticulous work involved in digitising fragile scrolls, as well as presentations from the November 2016 conference on Hebrew manuscript digitisation by experts from the British Library, the John Rylands Library and the National Library of Israel.
The site has also been developed to support translations between different languages, via a drop-down button on the page. This includes languages that read right-to-left, including Arabic and Hebrew.
“The British Library holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Hebrew manuscripts,” said Ilana Tahan, the Library’s Lead Curator of Hebrew and Christian Orient Collections. “Digitising and making these beautiful and very important items available online is a huge step forward in opening them up to international scholars and a wider public audience. We hope that, by providing access to the articles and collection highlights in Hebrew as well as English, we will make them accessible to even more people, allowing them to learn more about our incredible collection of Hebrew manuscripts.”
She added: “The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts is the first British Library website to offer this function, and the British Library is hugely grateful to The Polonsky Foundation for their generous support throughout this project.”
Dr Leonard Polonsky, Chairman of The Polonsky Foundation, said, “We are very pleased to support the excellent work of the British Library in expanding the audience for this important cultural heritage.”
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Depiction of the finding of Moses in the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Hispano-Moresque Haggadah, Spain 1275-1324 (Or 2737 f065r).
Micrographic image of Jonah in the fish's mouth, the Yonah Pentateuch, Germany 14th Century. (Add MS 21160 f.292r).
A tree-like diagram to visualise some of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s complex kabbalistic theories, from Otsrot Hayim: A Treatise by Hayim Vital, with additions by other kabbalists, Italy 17th century. (Add MS 27006 f.227r)
Excerpts from Maimonides' Code of Law, embellished with sumptuous full-border illuminations. Mishneh Torah, Lisbon, 1472 CE (Harley MS 5698)
Biblical scenes in miniature paintings, illuminated in gold and striking colours. The Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, c. 1320 CE (Add MS 27210)
Conservator Lea Havelock handling the longest scroll in the Hebrew collection (52.4m) - a 16th-century Pentateuch scroll made of leather (Or 1459)
16th-century CE Scroll of Esther digitised at the British Library's Imaging Studio (Egerton MS 67a)
Notes to Editors
The Polonsky Foundation is a UK-registered charity which primarily supports cultural heritage, scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and innovation in higher education and the arts. Its principal activities include the digitisation of significant collections at leading libraries (the British Library; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Cambridge University Library; the New York Public Library; the Library of Congress; the Vatican Apostolic Library); support for Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York; and post-doctoral fellowships at The Polonsky Academy for the Advanced Study of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Its founder and chairman, Dr Leonard S. Polonsky, was named a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for charitable services in 2013.
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.