The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is honored to announce its receipt of a substantial grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the conservation and digitization of material from its Cairo Genizah collection. The project will make a valuable body of material widely available for research for the first time, and further The JTS Library's part in an ongoing international collaboration.
"The Library is thrilled to be able to conserve and digitize unidentified fragments from the Cairo Genizah. With support from the NEH, we will bring to light and make available to the world documents written over the past thousand years," says Naomi Steinberger, director of Library services and of the entire project.
The Cairo Genizah is one of the most voluminous and significant historical resources of all time, on par with the Dead Sea Scrolls in importance. A collection of writings held for centuries in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo, it provides information about life in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean from the 9th to the 19th centuries. Its documents testify to details of both Jewish and non-Jewish life that are unparalleled in any other source from any other historical period.
The JTS Library's collection contains approximately 43,000 fragments—the second-largest holding of Cairo Genizah fragments in the world—of which more than 7,300 are currently inaccessible to scholars because they are unreadable or too fragile to be handled and digitized.
With the NEH grant, JTS will be able to conserve approximately 5,400 of these inaccessible fragments, then digitize them with support from the Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP). FGP will add these new images to its comprehensive website, www.genizah.org, which makes possible the exploration of the Cairo Genizah by scholars and students around the world. The site already includes 35,000 previously conserved fragments from The JTS Library's collection. The new images will help to expand the historical picture represented by the Cairo Genizah, and enable new discoveries and bodies of research in multiple fields.
"We are very excited about this grant," says Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor Talmud and Rabbinics at JTS. "For too long, we have been aware that we hold this important historical resource that has been unavailable to researchers. We will now be able provide them with the access they need. Who knows what findings may emerge."
The grant to JTS is part of the NEH's Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program, which "supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education, and public programming in the humanities." It will provide JTS $231,880 outright and $68,120 in matching funds for a total of $300,000.
"We at JTS are grateful and proud that the National Endowment for the Humanities will help the greatest Judaica library in North America share one of its greatest treasures with the widest possible public," says Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS.
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. "NEH grants play a crucial role in expanding our knowledge of our past, ourselves, and our world," said NEH Deputy Chairman Carole Watson.
The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary has the most extensive collection of Hebraic and Judaic material in the Western Hemisphere, and the largest outside of Israel. Its distinguished holdings of more than 425,000 volumes include nearly 11,000 Hebrew manuscripts, 43,000 fragments from the Cairo Genizah, 25,000 rare books, and 400 archival collections.