News From the Library: Vol. 1 No. 2 (September 2005)


WHEN I BEGAN MY POSITION as Librarian just slightly more than a year ago, I had no idea what the year would bring - or just how exciting it would turn out to be. While I knew that I had a lot to learn, I didn't know just how diverse and thrilling my new fields of study would prove. I have had to learn, to one degree or another, something about conservation and climate control, the history of book production, scribal arts and manuscript illumination, early Hebrew printing, the mysteries of the Cairo Genizah, Yiddish cartoons, the Yiddish and Italian languages, Hebrew poetry from medieval Spain and maskilic (nineteenth-century Jewish enlightenment) Germany, and the value of rare Hebrew books and manuscripts on the international auction market. And that was just the beginning!

The highlights of the year are too numerous to discuss here. They started with the auction of a lifetime at Sotheby's in New York - an auction at which The Library picked up a number of very interesting and important pieces - and it ended with the visit of the Honorable James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, on the occasion of JTS's commencement. In between, there were visits from scholars from around the world, including one from Ravenna who is recovering manuscripts preserved in early modern book-bindings, and another from Jerusalem who is publishing a unified catalog of Talmud fragments in genizah collections worldwide. (These were only two of many visitors, including lay people, scholars, students, and other distinguished special guests.)

It quickly became apparent to me that there were two goals to which I would have to give priority. The first was the climate control system of the Rare Book Room. This system is crucial, of course, for protecting and preserving the tens of thousands of irreplaceable rare materials in our collections. The current one is no longer adequate to handle the job during the brutal summer months in New York City (with the wide variations in temperature and relative humidity). I imagined that finding support for a replacement would be a multiyear challenge. But, to our great relief and good fortune, the family foundation of Beverly Baker, who is on our Board of Overseers, had the foresight and generosity to decide to fund this project - a gift they announced just before the summer. On behalf of the Jewish people, we are grateful to Beverly for this crucial support.

My second goal was to make some of The Library's great treasures Internet-accessible worldwide - again, a project that I thought would take many years. Yet, with the kind support and generosity of George Blumenthal (see "Treasures") we were able to accomplish a miracle by getting a website up just after Passover. I am happy to report that the response of those who have so far visited the site is exceeded only by our own excitement at having been able to accomplish this feat. Our prayer is that this will be the first of many such projects.

What do I foresee happening this coming year? I hesitate to even venture a guess, fearing that reality will surpass my prognostications. But, there are a few things I can say with confidence: We will continue to be the premier Jewish library in the western hemisphere, and also one of the most important in the world. I am confident as well that The Library will continue to have a dedicated and highly trained staff who work to support students, scholars, and visitors from near and far. And we will continue to fulfill our founding mission - "to collect, preserve, and make available the literary and cultural heritage of the Jewish people" - with the same dedication as we have in the past.

As we enter the new academic year, I want to wish you all a wonderful and healthy year to come. This wish comes not only from me, but from the entire staff of The Library as well.

Please visit us soon. We are eager to share our recent discoveries with you.

David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian

Back to top


THE LIBRARY IS PLEASED to announce the publication of a two-volume, groundbreaking catalog of one of The Library's jewels - the world's most complete collection of Hebrew incunabula. The catalog provides a detailed critical description of 127 editions represented by 217 complete volumes or fragments.

The Library's Hebrew incunabula holdings originated with the personal collections of Mayer Sulzberger (1843-1923) and Elkan Nathan Adler (1861-1946). These collections were supplemented by volumes or fragments from other sources, all thanks to the wise and zealous efforts of The Library's first Librarian, Dr. Alexander Marx.

The Library's incunabula collection includes products of all fifteenth-century presses that are known to have produced books in Hebrew. Forty of these items constitute the only such incunabula held in libraries in the public realm in the United States, with nine classified as unica - the sole examples of their kind in the world.

For these and other reasons, the collection of Hebrew incunabula in The Library is the world's most important such collection for the study of early Hebrew printing.


The catalog is bilingual (English and Hebrew), and is arranged by geography and chronology. Entries are ordered according to the country and city of the press, printer, and date, and are divided into five parts: a brief bibliographical discussion, a detailed typographic description, commentary on the unique qualities of the particular copy or edition, and a bibliography for the copy or edition, as well as notes. Each entry is also accompanied by at least one illustrative plate. In addition, the catalog contains extensive indices of titles, authors, printers, former owners of the volumes, censors and censors' marks, watermarks, and volumes printed on vellum.

Shimon Iakerson's enlightening introduction, among other things, explicates the criteria that governed the choices made by the printers of these early Hebrew works. Why did they choose to publish what they published, and what can we learn from their choices?

The author of the catalog, Shimon Iakerson, is a Senior Researcher with the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a Correspondent Member of the Hebrew Palaeography Project (Jerusalem). An expert on the history of the Hebrew book in the Middle Ages, he is the author of a number of books and articles, including: Hebrew Incunabula: A Description of Publications Kept in Libraries of Moscow and Leningrad (Leningrad, 1988; in Russian); Ohel Hayim: A Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts of the Manfred and Anne Lehmann Family, Vol. 3; Incunabula and Sixteenth-Century Books (New York, 1996; in Hebrew); Selected Pearls: Treasures of Jewish Culture in Saint Petersburg(St. Petersburg, 2003; in Russian and English); and The Hebrew Book in the Middle Ages (Moscow, 2003; in Russian).

The catalog has been made possible by The Library's Rubloff Publication Fund.

In connection with the publication of the catalog, we are mounting an incunabula exhibit. Curated by our Curator of Jewish Art, Sharon Liberman Mintz, it will illustrate key characteristics of early Hebrew printing and trace the ramifications of these books. Beginning with a case dedicated to the development of printing from manuscripts, the exhibit will illuminate the geographical range of early Hebrew printing, including the major printing houses, the nature of the works chosen for print, the art and typography of early printed works, and the phenomenon of censorship as it affected these early volumes. At the conclusion of the exhibit, we invite the viewer to ponder whether the current information revolution that gives us access to unlimited information on the web is similar to the information revolution that resulted from the invention of the printing press.

Back to top


BY NOW, WE HOPE YOU HAVE SEEN The Library's announcements of our new website, Incorporating some of The Library's greatest treasures, the site has been supported from digitization through design and online service by George Blumenthal. His generosity is also making such treasures as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex ( Internet accessible. The Library's site, one of the first of its kind for a major Jewish library, is among the most beautiful. We have received worldwide praise for our efforts, and we are being linked with regularity to related sites, assuring a constant stream of visitors.

Among the treasures featured on The Library's website are the following:

The Prato Haggadah (JTS MS 9478) - Spain, circa 1300. A magnificent codex with artwork of exceptional quality, it is of particular interest for its incomplete illuminations. This element helps to reveal the process by which such medieval manuscripts were illuminated. (Readers of the predecessor publication, Between the Lines, will know that the Prato was recently conserved with the generous support of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation.) The Library will be mounting an exhibit devoted to the Prato during the spring semester of 2006. Information concerning the conservation of the Prato can be found on The Library's website. In addition, The Library's calendar for 2005-06 features images from the Prato. (Copies of this magnificent calendar can be purchased on our website.)

Siddur, Italian Rite ("The Woman's Siddur") (JTS MS 8255) - Italy, 1471. Scribe: Abraham Farissol. This siddur was copied by Farissol as a gift from a groom to his bride. The text has been altered for a woman's use; especially notable is the blessing on folio 5v, thanking God for "making me a woman and not a man."

Esslingen Mahzor, Ashkenazic Rite (JTS MS 9344) - Germany, 1290. Scribe: Kalonymus ben Judah. An elaborate High Holiday prayer book that is abundantly decorated. The size and decoration of this mahzor make it clear that it was intended for use by the cantor in a synagogue.

The Rothschild Mahzor (JTS MS 8892) - Florence, 1490. Scribe: Abraham Judah of Camerino. Contains the full order of prayers, for both the community and individuals, for the entire year. The illuminations in this mahzor - viewable, for now, only on this website, since it still requires conservation - are of exceptional beauty.

Fragments from the Cairo Genizah - selected images from our collection of approximately 40,000 fragments. The genizah texts, written mostly in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew, contain unique testimony to the lives of Jews (and others) in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean in the eleventh through twelfth centuries and beyond. Included in our online selection are letters by Judah Halevi, the great Hebrew poet and philosopher of the Spanish Golden Age.

The Maimonides Fragments - Discovered among the many fragments in the Cairo Genizah were numerous writings by Maimonides and his son, Abraham. Among these is a letter by Maimonides - bearing his own signature - pleading for payment of pledges to redeem Jewish captives from the Crusader King, Amalric I of Jerusalem.

We believe that, except for the wonderful selection of images available on the website of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem, this new site contains the most extensive compilation of images of medieval Hebrew manuscripts available anywhere online. We hope to be able to continue to expand our online offerings in coming years, and to be able to provide mechanisms for more sophisticated searches in the interest of furthering Judaic scholarship.

Back to top


SOME ARTISTIC CREATIONS CAPTURE the spirit of a moment or a condition such that people living in another place and time may, upon seeing them, think "this is me." A contemporary lover may feel just like an earlier one upon reading a Shakespearean sonnet; an African American yearning for freedom or a Soviet Jew seeking to emigrate may see herself or himself reflected in the narrative of redemption preserved in the book of Exodus. A newly cataloged Yiddish manuscript (MS 10756) in The Library's collection tells the story of this kind of empathetic identification with art that transcends time.

The writer of the manuscript, L. Rovner (no relation to this author), describes how the "history" of the popular Yiddish song Zog nit keynmol (known as the Partisan Song, the Partizaner-lied), first adopted as its anthem by resistance fighters in the Vilna Ghetto in January 1943, underwent a remarkable transformation in the space of just four months. Rovner recounts how, in the new version of the history, the song was not known in the Vilna ghetto until Hirsch Glick, who was recognized there for his Yiddish writing style, sang it in May of that year. The new date positions the song as a response to the famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which did not occur until April. Reports of that uprising raised the spirits of denizens of the Vilna Ghetto, and Zog nit keynmol expressed their feelings perfectly. The song gained a historical context as well as an author.

Hirsch Glick's Zog nit keynmol was translated and adopted by other partisan groups, Jewish and non-Jewish. It was translated into Polish, Russian, Spanish, Romanian, and Dutch, as well as Hebrew and English. In 1946, just after World War II, a Dutch film corporation produced a color movie based on its words. The Yiddish original has been performed by Jan Peerce, Theodore Bikel, Hava Alberstam, Martha Schlamme, Sidor Belarsky, Sol Zim, and, as recently as 1999, by Fran Kleiner, who featured it in a live recorded concert.

However, the author of our manuscript does not stop at exposing this new ghetto uprising narrative. Instead, he goes on to reveal that it was, in fact, he, and not Hirsch Glick, who wrote the Partisan Song. He further reveals that he did so while still a teenager, before fleeing with his family from their home in Constantine (Ukraine) in 1921, as marauding bands and armed bandits preyed upon Jews in the wake of World War I. Hence, the song originated in an earlier age, a different place, and during another period of persecution. Not only have the time and setting of the song been transformed in popular mythology, but its very authorship has been shifted from that of an unknown teenager to a concentration camp resident with a literary flair. The shifting origins of the song are a testimony to its immense power. Its words, rendered in a stirring melody, resonated with Jews and Gentiles in similar situations in many places and times. If you're interested in the details, you can read about them in the Yiddish text of MS 10756, or in the accompanying English version, also penned by the author.

Jay Rovner, Manuscript Bibliographer

Back to top


ONE OF THE LIBRARY'S MOST IMPORTANT TASKS, and one that is not often emphasized, is its role as educator - partnering with The Jewish Theological Seminary's great faculty in educating future Jewish community leaders.

Students at JTS must be able to explore the sources of our tradition as well as the secondary scholarship that discusses these sources. They must be able to research questions in Jewish history, the Bible, and other fields that are central to their studies at JTS. Yet, they often begin with little idea of how to do either of these. The Library steps in to help them find their way. At the beginning of each semester, The Library runs orientation sessions designed to help students navigate The Library's many resources. Where does one find material on Talmud or Hebrew poetry? What sorts of guides and research tools are available? What sorts of electronic searches can they do? The Library has developed a number of subject-specific research guides in various fields of study and others are in development. In addition to general orientations, The Library also runs sessions geared to students in specific fields. We even work with professors to provide sessions for individual classes. With the mountains of information that are now available - in books and online - for any given subject, students are often at a loss when it comes to knowing how to find reliable materials of worth for their studies. Librarians are the experts who can help them learn how to make these judgments.

The Library's Special Collections create obligations as well as educational opportunities. Recently, due to a Library initiative, entire classes from JTS's five schools have been making use of the Special Collections Department's resources. Professors and students, guided by departmental staff, select and examine specific items germane to their particular course of study, whether it be Bible, Midrash, Kabbalah, Jewish philosophy, etc. Students have been very excited about this exposure to our rare materials (which some had wrongly assumed were off-limits). One student even remarked to his dean, "if JTS has these materials available, why would anyone ever study [Judaica] anywhere else?"

In addition to our own students, there are other intellectually curious sectors who are educated by The Library. They are not scholars from great universities around the world (though they, too, come). They are men and women from all walks of life who want to learn about the Jewish legacy. They arrive in groups, usually from a synagogue or community center, but sometimes even from a high school or college. In fact, we recently compiled lesson plans to help teachers prepare their middle school and high school students to get the most out of their visit to our Special Collections. Once here, they learn a little bit about the history of JTS, about Solomon Schechter's discovery of the Cairo Genizah, and about the great Library fire of 1966. They get to see a page from the first book ever printed - the Gutenberg Bible - and they view correspondence signed by Maimonides, probably the most influential Jew of the Middle Ages. No matter what their reasons are for visiting The Library, our guests tend to describe their Rare Book Room education experience as a transformative one. They tell us it helps them gain a greater understanding of what Judaism has been, what it is today, and what it will be in the future.

David Wachtel, Research Librarian for Special Collections
David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian

Back to top


A FRONT PAGE HEADLINE APPEARING in the May 14, 2005 edition of the New York Times read, "College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age." The article discussed the removal of books from the undergraduate facilities at a number of prominent university libraries to make room for "digital learning laboratories."

However, in his commencement address at JTS on May 19, 2005, the Honorable James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, sounded a very different note when he said:

Books are and must remain at the center, not the periphery, of our America. They are our guardians of memory, our tutors in language, our pathway to reason, and our golden gate to the royal road of imagination. Books take us beyond the boundaries set by someone else's pictures on a screen, into trains of thought that cannot be derailed by someone else's boom box.

Books convince rather than coerce, put things together rather than just take them apart. They help us pose an unimagined question and deal with an unwelcome answer. Libraries are temples of pluralism where books that contradict each other sit quietly side-by-side on the shelves just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other in reading rooms.

These two juxtaposed statements highlight the challenges we face today in keeping the library of the twenty-first century current, active, relevant, and dynamic. Our role is extremely complex. Libraries today serve as the guardians of both historic documents and extensive contemporary collections. But given the technologies of today, and recognizing the expectations they create, we are also expected to provide users access to the maximum amount of information from virtually everywhere throughout history, and at all times of the day and night.

Where does the librarian fit into this complex picture, and what about the physical library, bound by its limited budgets and staff? Our mission at The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is to "make available the literary and cultural heritage of the Jewish people." How do we fulfill this mission in a new and changing world?

The librarian has always been, and will continue to be, an information mediator. Librarians organize, prioritize, choose, and provide access to information. The ongoing essential role of the librarian - even in this new world - is made clear by the recent announcement by Google, the Internet search company, that the company has signed an agreement with several major university libraries (Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and Michigan), along with the New York Public Library, to "digitize millions of volumes from their shelves and make the content searchable to all for free on the Internet." This agreement places librarians at the center of the information age. It is librarians who will be responsible for selecting the materials to be digitized and placed on Google's website. In this environment, the librarian's role is to evaluate materials found online, and to create structure in the chaotic world of the Internet.

The librarian also has the responsibility for creating digital archives so that they are sustainable. The rapid changes in digital media and storage are ultimately also the responsibility of librarians in partnership with their information technology colleagues.

The library of the twenty-first century, and specifically, The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, will be a hybrid. We will continue to be the physical repository for the historical documentation of our cultural heritage. However, in our new role, we will not necessarily meet our users face-to-face. Accordingly, we must expand our services to provide mediated access to electronic resources for library users throughout the world. We must set priorities for the digitization of our historic collections. We must make digital copies so that fragile, crumbling materials can be made available to users without danger of damage. We must select electronic resources to add to our virtual collection, and create links to recommended resources available over the Internet.

While our physical collection of books, manuscripts, and archival and audiovisual materials will continue to demand our attention, increasing amounts of energy will need to be focused on the new technologies and the new demands being placed on our library.

Naomi M. Steinberger, Director of Library Services

Back to top


OUR LONG-TERM PERIODICALS LIBRARIAN, Esther Greenberg, recently retired after twenty-two years of service. Below is a moving interview done by our Administrative Librarian for Technical Services, Sara Spiegel, who has worked with Esther since she came to The Library in 1996.

Q. Esther, where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Talpiot, Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), in the late thirties and forties. I lived in the same area until I moved to the United States in 1961.

Q. What was special about growing up in Jerusalem in those days?
A. In Jerusalem during this period, the Jewish community was very united. There was no distinction between those who were rich and those who had less money. Differences between the classes were less apparent because we all seemed so similar. We wore the same clothing, ate the same foods, and shared in similar experiences.

Q. Can you tell us about some of the interesting people you met in Jerusalem during your childhood?
A. In Talpiot, where I lived (now Old Talpiot), I knew the famous author Shai Agnon and Prof. Klauzner. Agnon even said blessings on my behalf. Customarily, the role of the Leviim (Levites) is to wash the hands of the Cohanim (priests), in preparation for the blessings they give, and since Agnon was a Levi and my father was a Cohen, he would wash my father's hands. My father was greatly honored to have Agnon assist him because he sensed that Agnon was a unique scholar and writer.

Talpiot itself was a thriving neighborhood, settled by many well-educated German Jews. There were professionals, including doctors, professors, and lawyers, who, after leaving Europe, settled for lower jobs in Israel.

I studied to be a teacher in a teachers college in Jerusalem. I supplemented these lessons with a variety of classes that interested me, including theater, music, and Bible studies.

Q. What brought you to America?
A. After receiving a post-doctorate fellowship from Hebrew University, my husband was sent to the United States to pursue studies in chemistry, specifically to research enzymes. This was made possible through a scholarship from the Friends of Hebrew University. After living a year in Binghamton, New York, we decided to move to New York City.

When my son was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism. At this point, the United States was more accepting of individuals with autism than Israel. In America, they had schooling for children with disabilities. As the parent of an autistic child, I felt it was important to be involved in organizations dedicated to autism, and contributed greatly to ensure that people with autism receive the recognition and assistance they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

Q. What drew you to work at JTS?
A. I started to work for The Jewish Theological Seminary when my children grew up. I moved from Brooklyn to Queens and started to teach Hebrew to adults. When my son, at the age of sixteen-and-a-half, moved to a residence home, I started looking for a full-time job, hoping to find a bookkeeper position. Since I once served as the unofficial librarian of a library in Israel, Dr. Frost, Principal of Brandeis High School, where my daughter went to school, suggested that I put my knowledge of Judaica to practice and apply for a job at JTS. My daughter, meanwhile, went on to pursue her PhD in psychology. Mrs. Degani, who then served as head of Technical Services at JTS, was very excited to find someone who had such a keen interest in analyzing and reading books.

Q. What was your main responsibility in connection with the periodicals collection?
A. My main responsibility in connection with the periodicals was obtaining and organizing publications that circulated from different Jewish communities, representing a wide spectrum of Jewish practices within Judaism. I have a special interest in sociology and the history of Jewish communities, so I wanted to ensure that The Library would cover different ideas and customs within the Jewish Diaspora.

Q. How is the knowledge of Hebrew crucial to our periodicals collections?
A. Knowledge of Hebrew is crucial to our periodicals collection because, within our assortment of literature, there are many scholarly publications that are produced solely in Hebrew. For one to be involved in the process of bringing these publications into The Library, it is important to be able to understand the content of the literature in the language in which it is produced. Tell me about your interests and concerns in life. Interests of mine include Israel and Judaism, but my main concern is autism and understanding the lives of those that live with the disability while working to help make their lives more comfortable and productive.

Edited by Chava Schwarzbard

Back to top


MARGARITA BLANK, who served as Paper Conservator at The Library for fifteen years, passed away on June 28, 2005, after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Prior to her work at JTS, Margarita, or Rita as she called herself in the United States, was a senior scientist in the Conservation Department at the National Library of Russia in Leningrad for almost thirty years. She was extremely active in the field, publishing some fifty articles, as well as a book on conservation techniques used in the former Soviet Union during the later half of the twentieth century. Rita held a PhD in paper chemistry, studied with well-known Russian conservators, was a mentor to doctoral students in the field, and held several Russian patents for leaf-casting techniques.

In 1989, Rita, her husband Felix, and other members of her family, immigrated to the United States. They settled in Teaneck, New Jersey, where they enrolled in adult education classes on Jewish life at Congregation Beth Shalom. Rita and Felix's connections to Judaism were further enriched by studying with our former Librarian, Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, who was impressed by their eagerness, excitement, and hunger to learn more about their Jewish heritage. Early in their relationship, he also learned about Rita's professional expertise. The Library had recently received a grant for the conservation of rare materials and, before long, Rita was hired to establish a conservation program at The Library. Commenting on her experience at JTS, Rita recently wrote to me, "To say I was glad to join the staff of The Library is to say nothing. I was absolutely happy to become a part of the Jewish environment, an experience I never had before. I was glad to learn as much as I could about the Jewish history, Jewish art, Judaism itself, and Hebrew."

Rita worked with Nellie Stavisky, The Library's Conservation Consultant, and learned American methods of conservation. Together, they worked on thousands of documents from the collection, including one of The Library's greatest treasures, The Esslingen Mahzor (Ashkenaz, 1290). They published two papers - in Russian and in English - about American methods of conservation, which Rita delivered at the International Conservation Conference in Moscow in 1997. Rita's work focused on preparing materials for exhibition at JTS and at other venues. She also undertook a condition survey of The Library's entire manuscript collection.

Rita generously shared her new knowledge with members of the Russian immigrant community, and gave several talks about her work and The Library's collection. She also published articles in the Russian Forward.

Rita was an extraordinarily strong and determined woman. She was a feminist who persevered at everything she put her mind to doing. Embracing a new country, a new-found commitment to Judaism, learning Hebrew, expanding her professional horizon, and her valiant five-year battle with cancer, are all testaments to her character. Her granddaughter, Julia Blank, in her eulogy at Rita's funeral, spoke of Rita's gift for beauty and aesthetics. She loved nature and had a true "green thumb." Her plants and flowers blossomed all year, and she shared them with us in The Library. She loved walking in the countryside, and always took wonderful vacations to areas where she and Felix could take walks. She and Felix often went to the ballet and to concerts. Julia also spoke about the poems of forbidden Russian poets she was introduced to by Rita.

The conservation lab grew under Rita's guidance, and was recognized by grants conferred by many foundations and donors. Most notable among these were a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a grant from the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, and a large endowment from the estate of Sophie Freidkes. With these funds the lab grew by enlarging its space, installing state-of-the-art equipment, and adding staff. Rita's legacy to The Library is the conservation lab established under her tutelage and the historical Jewish materials she had a hand in preserving.

In a note Rita sent to me shortly before she died, she said, "I feel very satisfied with everything I have done and it makes me happy. Thank you." May her memory be a blessing.

Naomi M. Steinberger

Back to top


THE LIBRARY IS THRILLED to announce the receipt of an important gift that will allow us to protect our invaluable Special Collections into the next generation. Thanks to the wisdom and generosity of Beverly Baker and the Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, the climate control system for the Special Collections (housed in the Rare Book Room) will now be replaced and upgraded.

The Library is the custodian of a world-renowned collection of rare and unique materials. We possess the most extensive collection of medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the world and the second largest collection of fragments from the Cairo Genizah. We also have an extensive collection of megillot and Haggadot from the Middle Ages to modernity, and more. Simply put, we are privileged to be the guardian of a significant part of the Jewish historical legacy.

These materials, of extraordinary worth both historically and financially, require special care. Kept under proper conditions, they will survive for many more centuries. But extreme variations in climate - temperatures or relative humidity that are too high or too low, or large swings in either during short periods of time - can conspire to do damage. This is what we must protect against. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever spent time in New York City in the summer knows, temperatures and humidity can be very high, and fluctuations can be extreme (just think about hazy, hot, and humid conditions followed by a thunderstorm and cooling breezes with low humidity). The task is not an easy one, and, after more than twenty years, the current climate control system is no longer up to the job.

Recognizing the need - and recognizing our responsibility to the Jewish people, now and in the future - Beverly saw fit to recommend to her Board that they underwrite this project, and they gave their wise and forward-looking approval. Now we in The Library, with the cooperation of JTS's Facilities Management Department, are determining precisely the best way to execute this project, recognizing that the system we install during the next few years will be used to protect this incomparable collection for years to come.

Again, on behalf of the Jewish people, we are grateful to Beverly Baker. Her mitzvah is enabling us to continue doing our mitzvah.

Back to top