25 September 2007

Ohio: HUC's Jewish library treasures

Rare Jewish treasures await in the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Klau Library, according to a story in Ohio's Cincinnati Post.

When HUC was founded in 1875, the librarians could "lock up everything in two trunks to keep them safe from the river rats," libraries director David Gilner said.

Today, the library grows by some 7,000 items annually, holdings total some 465,000 items, an internal computer network can access more than 200 Judaica databases and 10,000 digitized images of works from the museum's collections.

It is the largest printed Judaica collection in North America; the only larger one is in Jerusalem at the Jewish National and University Library.

Among its precious holdings are:

*A 1490 Passover Seder Haggadah - only 44 similar Middle Ages items have survived.
*An 18th-century scroll of the Book of Esther.
*A 17th-century manuscript printed in Hebrew and Chinese in the 1660s, recording 13 generations of one clan in the Kaifeng, China Jewish community.
*A 1479 Samaritan book from 1479, written on parchment in Paleo-Hebrew.
*A 1,000-year-old Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, the Bible's first books, which demonstrates both Persian and Byzantine styles.
*An extensive collection of miniature books, 4-inches or less in height.

David Gilner's eyes light up as he roams the double-locked room beneath the rare book room in Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Klau Library.

Each of the thousands of volumes crowded onto the shelves has a story to tell, and Gilner, the director of libraries, seems to know them all.

He picks up an Ethiopian edition of the Psalms written on parchment, with wood covers bound together with string and wrapped in a leather bag for easy carrying. It's written in Ge'ez, an ancient South Semitic language spoken in the Horn of Africa.

"Look it up on Wikipedia," Gilner suggests, with a grin and nudge with his elbow. "That's what we do."

The school has just broken ground for a renovation and expansion of the library, at a cost of $11.5 million, and Gilner has recently been moving holdings thousands to temporary storage.

Among its holdings: the largest collection of early Jewish America, American Jewish music manuscripts, Christian Hebraica and a Spinoza collection. It is one of three worldwide conservators of Dead Sea Scroll negatives, and offers on microfilm some 900 newspaper, journal and synagogue bulletin titles at the American Jewish Periodical Center, books printed before 1501, 16th century Hebrew volumes and a special Chinese-Hebrew collection.

Learn more here.

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