In 1903 the library's collection consisted of a mere five thousand books and three manuscripts. In that same year, Judge Mayer Sulzberger, a celebrated book collector and eminent JTS trustee, claimed that "a learned library is no longer complete unless it serves also as a museum of books, in which the books themselves, instead of being the teachers, become the objects of study." Sulzberger's donation of his personal collection in 1904 ushered the library into prominence.
Under the leadership of the renowned librarian Alexander Marx, and with the support of determined patrons, the library acquired several of the exceptional private collections that were available in the early part of the century. During Marx's fifty-year tenure as librarian, he cultivated relationships with some of the most prominent bibliophiles and philanthropists in America and Europe. As a result of Marx's immense bibliographic talents, the library flourished and by 1953 grew to house more than one hundred and forty thousand books and seven thousand manuscripts. Since then, under the leadership of subsequent distinguished librarians Gerson Cohen, Nahum Sarna, Menahem Schmelzer and Mayer Rabinowitz, the library has continued to enjoy rapid growth and remains one of the premier research centers of Hebraica and Judaica in the world.
The Library in the Twenty-First Century
This exhibition reflects the scope of the library's vast holdings and presents a splendid overview of the riches and resources found in the collection. In addition to the 370,000 volumes in the general collection, the library's special collection currently comprises eleven thousand Hebrew manuscripts, thirty thousand fragments from the Cairo Genizah and twenty thousand rare printed books, including the largest collection of Hebrew incunables in the world. The Jewish art collection boasts an outstanding assemblage of ketubbot and megillot, as well as a diverse selection of broadsides and rare engravings from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. The bookplate, postcard, music and Americana collections allow scholars to study the cultural history of Jewry in the twentieth century. These materials, gathered from all corners of the globe and representing communities from North America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe , have established the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary as a preeminent American center of Jewish scholarship.
The pieces shown here are not merely artifacts; they are agents of Jewish identity that reflect human experience and progression while ensuring the perpetuation of Jewish spirit and knowledge.