Library Undertakes First-Ever Digitization of Medieval Riches

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950

January 3, 2006, New York, NY

Digitization of 40,000 fragments of the Cairo Genizah is underway at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the first library worldwide to have its collection digitized employing the latest technology through the support of the Friedberg Genizah Project.

The Library houses North America's largest collection of Genizah fragments. The Cairo Genizah was a storehouse of documents written in Hebrew characters between the tenth and nineteenth centuries located in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. Documents ranged from sacred scrolls (Torahs, rabbinic writings and prayer books) to secular documents (contracts and personal letters). Its historic value was first recognized in the late nineteenth century by Solomon Schechter, the renowned Judaic scholar and first President of JTS.

Today, the Cairo Genizah is universally considered one of the most important historical discoveries of all time, affording scholars across the globe an in–depth understanding of Jewish and Muslim life in the medieval Mediterranean world. Study, however, has been limited to on–site analysis. The digitization of The Library's fragments will afford global access to this treasure trove of antiquities.

Israeli photographer Ardon Bar–Hama, supported by The Library's staff, is shooting in excess of 5,000 images per week on a Leif Aptus 75, a camera basically created for use in the fashion industry. Bar–Hama has digitized collections at the Vatican, Israel Museum, the Chicago Oriental Museum, and other prestigious venues around the world, coupling talent and technology to produce high resolution images in a fraction of a second.

The digitized images will be housed on the Friedberg Genizah web site, to be joined in the future with images from other Genizah collections, including those of the world–famous Cambridge University collection.

Founded in 1893, The Library is recognized today as the greatest Jewish library in the Western Hemisphere. Its collection includes close to 400,000 volumes, including 25,000 rare books, 12,000 manuscripts, and much more. Among the collection's highlights are its collection of kettubot (Jewish wedding contracts), and its unparalleled collection of Haggadot (the story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt). The Library is also host to the world's largest collection of Hebrew incunabula, books printed before 1501.

Editors/Reporters. The media is invited to view the digitization process and to interview Dr. David Kraemer, Library Director; library staff; and Ardon Bar–Hama. Please contact Sherry S. Kirschenbaum in the JTS Department of Communications at (212) 678–8953 or email.

Founded in 1886 as a rabbinical school, The Jewish Theological Seminary today is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide, encompassing a world–class library and five schools. JTS trains tomorrow's religious, educational, academic and lay leaders for the Jewish community and beyond.

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