Israel’s National Library Ingathering and Digitizing the Diaspora’s Rare Hebrew Books

October 14, 2013

Source: The Times of Israel


Last week, the National Library, on the campus of the Hebrew University at Givat Ram, Jerusalem, took a major step forward in digitizing and storing all of the world’s Jewish texts by reaching an agreement to produce high-definition images of one of the world’s premier collections of Judaic manuscripts. The National Library and Italy’s Biblioteca Palatina in Parma signed a deal to convert centuries of parchment and paper Hebrew documents to high-quality digital files which will be available to Israeli scholars. A selection of those files will be uploaded to the Internet for general access.


Dr. Aviad Stollman, head of the National Library’s Judaica collection and overseer of the digitization project, said the library’s aim was to have “the heritage of the Jewish people in one room.” Speaking at the library in early October, Stollman praised the Palatina’s cooperation in the project, and said that the National Library was negotiating similar agreements with Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the Vatican Library.


Of the Palatina’s collection of 6,600 manuscripts, just under a quarter are Hebrew texts, the crown jewel of which is an 11th-century codex of the Mishna, Judaism’s core legal treatise. The Mishna, a compiled redaction of Jewish oral tradition, was first set to parchment in the 7th or 8th century CE. Written around 1073 in Palestine, the Parma codex is the second-oldest known version of this compendium of Jewish legal thought.


The National Library’s Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts now possesses replicas of 90 percent of the world’s known Hebrew literature manuscripts. The challenge is computerizing the now-antiquated technology. The room where 70,000 tiny black scrolls are stored and viewed, redolent of scholars and old books, will soon be replaced by computer banks with much easier access to troves of documents in high definition.


The digitization project would not only include high-definition color photographs of the manuscripts, but also special photos made using a technique called multispectral imaging. Library conservationists will scan pages of a manuscript, then pass the photos through a series of filters to produce images of the text under both visible and invisible wavelengths of light — from the infrared to ultraviolet ends of the spectrum. The composite image is then processed to reveal subtle features in the text previously invisible to plain sight.


Read more at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Oct. 21, 2013