02 October 2009

Denmark: Rare Jewish manuscripts online

The Royal Library (Copenhagen, Denmark) just made available some 160 Judaic manuscripts originally belonging to Rabbi David Simonsen (1853-1932). The collection was acquired by the library in 1932, and thanks to a private donation, they have been digitized.

The digitized collection contains items from 20 countries in 15 languages, and 163 volumes of various types, covering 131 shelfmarks, and more than 26,000 digitizations.

Denmark's Chief Rabbi, Simonsen was also a scholar, bibliophile and philanthropist, whose private library (some 25,000 printed volumes in numerous languages, 500 periodical titles and 160 manuscripts) forms the core of the Royal Library's Judaica Collection. Some items exist in only a few copies worldwide, making this collection very rare. His personal archives (some 100,000 documents, letters, etc.) are also at the Library.

The manuscripts have been digitized, with exceptions noted below. Read more about the project, including the user's guide. See the digital facsimiles here.

Tracing the Tribe was mesmerized by the collection's most well-known manuscript.

Gemma’s Prayerbook is a Hebrew prayer book written for the widow Gemma (Yemma) in Modena, Italy in 1531. Many pages are decorated with red and blue ink designs (see above left for an example on page 86; cover at right).

View each of the interior 622 pages by clicking the green square to the right of the photo in the link above to reach the viewer.

For those into Jewish heraldry, the title page has two coats of arms (at the top and bottom), and it includes a Haggadah, complete with wine stains. View each of the interior 622 pages by clicking the green square to the right of the photo to reach the viewer.

View page 8 for more handwritten personal information concerning the scribe and recipient. The Mahzor was written by Eli'ezer ben Avraham, of Pisa; אליעזר בן אברהם מפיסה for Yema, widow of Moshe of Modena; יימה, אלמנת משה ממודמה

The Passover haggadah (seder shel pessah) starts on page 334, and see page 344 for the Four Questions (mah nishtana.....).

The image viewer provides excellent detail except that only a narrow window is given and one must focus on a detail to see it in magnification. I would have liked to see the whole page in large format, rather than pieces.

There are handwritten inscriptions dated 1601 in Bologna (page 628), 1613, 1626 and others, containing names of individuals that I cannot decipher.

Other items include the only Genizah fragment in Danish collections, a Judeo-Arabic letter, tentatively dated to the 12th century , a musical score, three Jewish marriage contracts (ketubot)and more.

The unusually shaped ketubot are for: (1831, Rome) Ya'aqov Avraham ben Yosef Pipirnoa (Pipierno?) and Perla bat Shabtai; (1847, Rome) Yeshayahu ben Shlomo Piani and Yudita bat David; and (1847, Rome) Ya'aqov Refael ben Shabtai and Grazia bat David.

Items excluded include 10 megillot (scrolls of Esther for Purim), as a new viewer needs to be developed to view the scroll format. Also excluded are those with technical problems (size, condition or other concerns), although they are expected to be included eventually.

High resolution copies (B&W, Color, and even posters) of the digitized documents may be ordered. For more information, contact the Royal Library's Judaica Collection research librarian Eva-Maria Jansson.

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