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Collection Hebraic Manuscripts

About this Collection

A Note to Our Readers

Digitization has begun – the work is in progress! By spring 2023, we are hoping to have all 230 of our Hebraic manuscripts fully digitized and available on the library website, thanks to the generosity of the David Berg Foundation. But till that time, no mere “Under Construction” image for you! Instead, we offer a peek at two of our most beautiful manuscripts; just enough to whet your appetites for the full website to come. So sit back and enjoy these two unique manuscripts, one of them the famous 15th- century Washington Haggadah; the other an exquisite Order of Prayers before Retiring at Night from 18th-century Germany.

We thank the David Berg Foundation for supporting our efforts to digitize these amazing collections of the Hebraic Section.

A General Overview of the Hebraic Manuscript Collection

The Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress houses some 230 manuscripts written in Hebrew and in cognate languages such as Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Yiddish.  It is a highly diverse collection with materials ranging from rabbinic responsa and commentary to poetry, Jewish magic, and folk medicine, and together they offer a rich, often intimate glimpse into Jewish life over the centuries.

The oldest manuscript in our collection is the fragment of a Torah Scroll sheet from the Book of Exodus dating to the late 10th or 11th century, written probably in Egypt and containing the oldest known text of the biblical Song of Moses laid out according to ancient scribal tradition (MS 231). The most recent manuscripts take us into the twentieth century, with two unpublished works by the Russian-born rabbi Menachem Mendel Risikoff (1866-1960), who immigrated to the United States in 1906 (MSS 224 and 225). In between are manuscripts from every century of the millennium and just about every corner of the Jewish world. Seventeenth and eighteenth-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.

Most of the Hebraic manuscripts entered the library through the collections of Ephraim Deinard, a noted bookdealer from Russia who traveled the world in search of Hebraica. The first two Deinard Collections were acquired through a major gift by Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920), the renowned financier whose generosity founded the Hebraic Section in 1912. Two additional Deinard Collections, purchased by the library, entered the Hebraic Section over the next few years, adding numerous manuscripts to its collections. Other manuscripts have been added over the course of the years, and efforts to acquire new and important manuscripts continue.

The Two Manuscripts on View

The two manuscripts now digitized here are in fact quite representative of the different stages by which the library acquired its manuscripts. The spectacular Passover Haggadah known today as the Washington Haggadah (MS 181) was purchased by Deinard in Mantua in 1902 and probably came to the Library of Congress as part of the Third Deinard Collection in 1916. The second manuscript, on the other hand, the 18th-century Order of Prayers before Retiring at Night (MS 227), was acquired far more recently, in 2014. We hope you will enjoy both of these beautiful manuscripts and look forward – as we do – to the time when they will take their place, digitally speaking, in the full showcase of Hebraic manuscripts here in the Library of Congress.