On March 10, 2002 the library was honored by a visit from the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav. Accompanying President Katsav were the Ambassador of Israel to the United States, Amit Ivry, and the General Consul to New York, Alon Pinkas. Various aides and officials also accompanied them.
President Katsav spent over an hour in the rare book room showing great interest in the various kinds of materials that are housed there. President Katsav was born in Persia. He was shown a number of manuscripts that we have from Persia. One is Yusuf and Zulaykha, written in Farsi, which is the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. The president indicated that he remembers the story very well because it was read to him when he was a child. Another manuscript was the Adashir Namah, a Jewish myth from Persia also written in Farsi. The manuscript is illuminated and contains an illustration of Queen Esther giving birth to Cyrus. Because of his familiarity with these stories dating back to his childhood, both manuscripts were very meaningful to President Katsav.
In addition, Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, librarian, showed him materials from different times and places. The president expressed great interest in learning more about the written legacy of the Jewish people. Mr. Katsav signed two bookplates that were made specially for the occasion. One was affixed to a biography of the president. The second bookplate was affixed to the signature of Maimonides, one of our documents from the Cairo genizah. The collection meant a great deal to the president. He offered to host an exhibition of some of the library's holdings in the President's House in Jerusalem so that others will have the opportunity to see these treasures of the written word of the Jewish people.
Mr. Katsav's visit was a wonderful occasion both for JTS and the president and his entourage. In fact, the duration of President Katsav's visit was longer than originally anticipated.
Tisha b'Av 5747 (1987) was Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz's first day as librarian and his first appointment that day was a job interview with me for the position of Administrative Librarian for Public Services. Thus began a long journey of working together at the library.
Mayer Rabinowitz was known at JTS as a superb administrator, a beloved Talmud professor, and a respected rabbinical authority in the Conservative movement. Now was his opportunity as the new librarian, to fulfill the mandate given to him to lead the renowned Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary into the twenty-first century, in the new environment of global communications.
After establishing the Friends of The Library and laying the groundwork for its semi-annual publication Between the Lines, Mayer Rabinowitz outlined in its first issue (Spring 1988) four goals for his tenure as Librarian: computerization, preservation, publications, and retrospective conversion of the library's card catalog.
When I arrived at the library, there was one computer terminal hidden in a closed work area. Within months, new PCs were purchased to replace typewriters; workstations were purchased for connections to online networks, and investigations began to find an integrated library system. In January 1990, the library installed the ExLibris/ ALEPH200 system, which facilitated a multi- lingual online catalog. The installation of this system initiated a revolution in computing at this institution, as the library was the first department in JTS to computerize. Today, the library's resources are available over the Internet through its upgraded web online catalog, virtual exhibitions, electronic resources, full-text access and digital collections.
Preserving the collections is a long and arduous process. With funds provided by the Vivian and Nathan Fink Family in 1990, the library hired a full-time conservator and a part-time conservation consultant, and established a small conservation lab with limited equipment. A program to survey the physical condition of the library's collection of 11,000 manuscripts began. To date, more than seventy percent of the manuscript collection has been surveyed. In 2001, the library was awarded a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand the conservation program. Two additional conservators were hired, equipment was purchased and a systematic program of conservation of the library's Hebrew manuscripts began.
Under Dr. Rabinowitz's leadership, a publications program of exhibition catalogs was initiated along with a regularly scheduled exhibition program showcasing the library's treasures. In addition to sending items for exhibit around the world, the library has presented a number of on- site exhibitions that have received rave reviews from the New York Times. A series of nine exhibition catalogs have been published during his tenure, and two have received awards from the American Library Association. Mayer Rabinowitz leaves the library with a roster of publications of inventories of archival and musical collections, scholarly catalogs of specific collections and a product development program using images from the library's collection that produces an annual Jewish calendar, notecards, notepaper, postcards and exhibition posters, distributed and sold worldwide.
The final goal outlined in 1988 by Mayer Rabinowitz was the retrospective conversion of the library's catalog. Moving the library's card catalog to computer format is a monumental task, particularly since the collection is half in Latin characters and half in Hebrew characters. The Latin character retrospective conversion has been completed and the Hebrew records are well on their way to completion.
Mayer Rabinowitz has achieved far more than his original list of goals: He established endowed book funds in order to ensure the library's ability to continue to purchase the plethora of current publications in Jewish studies; he increased the library's special collections and was instrumental in the creation of digital collections available online on the library's website.
Most important, Mayer Rabinowitz has guided the library staff, now numbering thirty-five, with enormous care, thoughtfulness, a sense of humor and professionalism. He has supported us with sensitivity, kindness, and menschlichkeit. For this we are grateful. We will miss his presence among us enormously. We wish him well as he returns to full-time teaching in the Department of Talmud at JTS.
James L. Buckley, former Senator of Connecticut, had been moving a box of papers from office to office for some twenty years. Upon close examination of the papers in the box he found a Hebrew manuscript. Buckley gave it to a neighbor, Stuart Marks. Marks, a JTS graduate student and retired lawyer, brought the manuscript to the library to get some particulars.
The manuscript was a copy of the second Book of Moses Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (the most extensive code of Jewish law ever written, and still widely studied today), called Sefer Ahavah (the Book of Love), which treats Jewish prayer. It seemed to be rare, a seventeenth- century Yemenite copy. Buckley was pleased to donate it to the library, as the most appropriate depository for such a work.
Upon accessioning this gift, we had a chance to re-examine the manuscript. It turned out to be much rarer than we thought, dating to the thirteenth century. It was probably written in Egypt rather than Yemen. Maimonides, who settled in Egypt after fleeing Moslem persecution in Spain, died there in 1204. A Maimonides manuscript copied in Egypt in the thirteenth century is extremely rare and valuable for it came into being very close to its author's life.
Ora Buck, a Toronto-based photographer is exhibiting "Babatha's Story" at the library.
"Babatha's Story" is based on documents found by archeologist Yigal Yadin and showcases papers written by Babatha in the second century. The account of Babatha's story is accompanied by spectacular photographs from Petra, Jordan.
The exhibition takes place on the second floor of the library and will be on view from May 2 - August 26, 2002.
The library, with funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2001, has put into effect an expansion program for its conservation department. Amy E. Gerbracht and Narelle Jarry were hired as Mellon Conservators in addition to the current conservators, Rita Blank and Nellie Stavisky.
"I have been continually amazed at the vastness of the library's collection as well as the diversity," says Amy who has worked at the library since July 2001, "the objects I have worked on so far have included manuscripts from many different time periods as well as geographic regions, written on various types of paper and parchment. This makes each conservation project interesting, challenging, and rewarding." Narelle, who joined the conservation department in October 2001, was particularly fascinated with the nature of the collection itself, "It is very interesting," she notes, "to work in a library with a collection focused on Hebraica and Judaica....it is fascinating to get perspective and understanding into the cultural and social situation of the Jewish community through the evidence of the books left behind."
Current projects under way by the Mellon conservators are the thirteenth-fourteenth century Mishneh Torah, a seventeenth-century commentary on the Zohar on Exodus, early sixteenth-century haftarot, a Yemenite Book of Exodus dating from around 1600 and a volume of the thirteenth-century Codex Hilleli.
The conservation lab was expanded in order to maximize the work of the Mellon conservators. The conservators enthusiastically agree that "It is exciting to be in a new, expanded lab environment with brand-new equipment and cabinets that have ample storage for our tools, supplies, and conservation literature. A high-quality digital camera facilitates documenting our conservation treatments photographically. A newly arrived suction table used for controlled washing treatments of paper artifacts and having our own spacious working areas located near the windows for good lighting, provide the perfect conditions in which to examine and treat manuscripts from the collection."
The extensive collection of 11,000 manuscripts at the library will be greatly enhanced by the implementation and support of the current conservation and preservation program by JTS and the Mellon Foundation.
Italian Jews, like their Christian counterparts, were caught up in the poetic fervor that swept through Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to a proliferation of sacred poetry, occasional poems and poetic riddles were written to celebrate a variety of communal and private events. While some poems commemorated public occasions such as the dedication of a new synagogue or the anniversary of the founding of a learned society, individual milestones were also acknowledged. Poems were written to celebrate circumcisions and marriages, or to lament the deaths of prominent personalities. These literary offerings, usually composed in Hebrew and occasionally in Italian, were often commissioned by affluent members of the community. They were authored by some of the most prominent Jewish writers of the period. The wedding poems and riddles represented in this exhibition evoke the vibrant celebratory traditions of Italian Jewish society. They were often given as gifts to the couple from friends and family members and read at the wedding banquet accompanied by toasting.
This exhibition is on display on the first and fifth floors of the library building from March 17, 2002 - August 2, 2002. It can be viewed Monday through Thursday 9:30 am - 7:00 pm , Friday 9:30 am - 4:00 pm and Sunday 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm.
Selections from the exhibition are also available online.
The library is proud to announce its newest virtual collection. Judaica Americana is a unique collection of 100 pamphlets published in the United States between 1725 and 1900. The pamphlets include sermons given by rabbis at various occasions, lectures on Jewish/Christian relations, educational pamphlets, historical articles and biographies of renowned Jews of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are also political and civic documents relating to the Jews and the government of the United States during that period. Judaica Americana is a primary source for the study of American Jewish life before the mass migrations of the early twentieth century.
Judaica Americana can be accessed from the library's online catalog, catalog.jtsa.edu, or from the library's website: Click on ALEPH 500 Main Catalog, then click on Database and select Judaica Americana (Pamphlets) from the database list.