EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2015/16
‘The Other Within’ – The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of the John Rylands Library
John Rylands Research Institute, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, 27-29 June 2016
Convener: Dr Katharina E. Keim, John Rylands Research Institute, University of Manchester
The conference, entitled ‘The Other Within’ – The Hebrew and Jewish Collections of the John Rylands Library, convened an international group of scholars and curators at the University of Manchester’s historic John Rylands Library. Organised by Dr Katharina E Keim in collaboration with staff at the John Rylands Research Institute and the John Rylands Library, the conference met on 27-29 June 2016 to advance the study of the Library’s important Hebrew and Jewish collections. The event brought 60 delegates from Europe, Israel, and North America to Manchester, and support from the EAJS Conference Grant Programme enabled the organising team to offer bursaries to doctoral candidates and early career researchers. An evening Public Lecture opened the programme up to a wider audience of academics from related disciplines as well as to the general public.
Despite the wealth of Hebraica and Judaica collections in European libraries, the scholarly networks and codicological and book-historical expertise required to study them fully are insufficiently cultivated in European academic institutions. This conference sought to address this by convening scholars and curators from across the UK, Europe, Israel, and North America to study the John Rylands Library’s collections and their relationship to others. As the John Rylands Library’s collections span late antiquity to the twentieth century, the Library provides the ideal forum to gather researchers with different fields of expertise with a common cause. In-house research, curatorial, imaging and collection care teams provide the optimum setting.
Overview: The conference programme was designed to bring scholars and curators from a wide range of disciplines together to study the Hebraica and Judaica collections at the John Rylands Library and bring them into conversation with related collections internationally.
This intense two-and-a-half-day meeting took place in the Historic Reading Room of the John Rylands Library. The 24 papers presented by 26 presenters were grouped into 10 themed sessions that showcased the diversity within the Rylands’ collections. All conference sessions were held in the same room, allowing participants to be present for all papers and for the discussion to develop throughout the programme. The conference schedule included ample opportunity for further exchange over coffee breaks and lunches provided, and the conference was enhanced by two collections encounters with Hebrew printed books and manuscripts that were curated and presented by Rylands archivists and curators Elizabeth Gow, Julianne Simpson, and John Hodgson. The conference was attended by a total of 60 participants, who were joined by a further 40 members of the public for the Public Keynote Lecture delivered by Sarit Shalev-Eyni.
The use of the John Rylands Library as a conference venue also allowed participants to benefit from proximity to the special collections, and a significant number of the participants took advantage of the opportunity to conduct research on important and understudied items in these collections during their visit. The Rylands also hosts two exhibition spaces that contained a number of items of significance to the discussion during the conference. The special exhibition on ‘Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World’ contained a number of items from our Gaster collections, and included magical texts and amulets. The Rylands Gallery also featured two cases curated by Stefania Silvestri, Katharina E. Keim, and Elizabeth Gow on Jewish life in the ancient, medieval, and modern world, and featured some of the earliest known fragments of the book of Deuteronomy in Greek (dating to 200 BCE), and an Amidah written on rice paper from the Jewish community of Hunan, China.
Session 1 focussed on Jewish Books: Production and Reception. Emile Schrijver (University of Amsterdam) offered a comprehensive overview of the history of the Jewish book from manuscript to print, with particular emphasis on seventeenth and eighteenth century Amsterdam as a centre of Jewish book production. Schrijver’s paper showcased a number of manuscripts originating in Amsterdam in the John Rylands Library’s collections, which contribute to our understanding of the development of Hebrew books following the invention of printing and, in particular, the use of the Amsterdam Hebrew type. Marci Freedman (University of Manchester) analysed the 17th century Latin and English translations of Benjamin of Tudela’s Book of Travels to investigate the Protestant reception of a popular 12th century Hebrew work. Freedman considered the ways in which the Protestant translators of the text read it through a theological lens, and examined their contribution to the reception of the work in the Christian world.
Session 2 centred on Cairo, with papers by Dotan Arad (Bar Ilan University) and Esther-Miriam Wagner (University of Cambridge and Woolf Institute) that engaged with the Cairo Genizah collections of the John Rylands Library and the Cambridge University Library. Dotan Arad gave an account of the organization of communities and guilds in the Musta’rib community of Cairo in the Ottoman period (1517-1882), demonstrating the importance of documents from the Cairo Genizah for understanding the makeup of Jewish communities in Cairo in this period. Esther-Miriam Wagner brought together examples of early 19th century North African Jewish mercantile correspondence from the Cairo Genizah collections of Cambridge, Manchester, Paris, and Oxford, and analysed their significance for our understanding of Jewish business and trading networks across the Mediterranean.
Session 3 was entitled Digital Humanities and Hebraica Collections, and brought together two ongoing digitization initiatives. Renate Smithuis, Stefania Silvestri (University of Manchester) and Nienke Valk (University of Amsterdam) presented the ongoing project to digitize manuscripts in Hebrew script at the John Rylands Library. The paper considered the benefits of digitizating of the collection, and discussed the importance of creating a catalogue in TEI XML that is compliant with the latest cataloguing standards. Ilana Tahan (British Library) presented the British Library’s Hebrew Manuscript Digitization project, outlining the project’s aims, methods, and the significance of making this material accessible to the wider public.
Session 4 on Magic included papers by Agata Paluch (Freie Universität Berlin), Gideon Bohak (Tel Aviv University), and Miruna Belea (University of Manchester). Agata Paluch described multi-text manuscripts containing a range of Jewish mystical texts, examined a number of Jewish magical formulae and considered their theoretical and practical uses and settings. Paluch also considered the effect of digitization on the study of Jewish mystical texts, and the changes in scholarly approaches to these texts following the advent of digitization. Gideon Bohak described the relationship between the Genizah fragments at the John Rylands Library (the third largest collection of such fragments in the world) and those of other Genizah collections. Bohak spoke of the usefulness of the Friedberg Genizah database to review the tens of thousands of fragments held in collections across Israel, Europe, and North America, and demonstrated the importance of digitized collections in allowing scholars to reunite texts by digitally ‘joining’ fragments held at different sites. Bohak presented some texts he has digitally reunited, and threw light on parallels between magical formulae in Genizah fragments he had surveyed so far. Miruna Belea presented a detailed close reading of magical formulae in three charms in the Rylands Gaster collection. Belea considered these in the light of ‘conceptual blending’ in order to articulate the mindset of the commissioners of the charms. Belea also presented the mechanisms of the legal and biblical language and formulae and their perceived importance for the efficacy of the charms.
Session 5 was dedicated to Moses Gaster’s Collections and Scholarship, wherein Brad Sabin Hill (George Washington University Libraries) offered a detailed study of Gaster’s collections with particular emphasis on his printed book collections. The distribution of his collections across a range of institutions across Europe, Israel, and North America has complicated the task of listing and describing Gaster’s printed book collections, and at present some are untraceable and others are likely lost. Reinhard Pummer (University of Ottawa) considered Gaster’s Samaritan scholarship, with particular reference to Gaster’s collections of Samaritan marriage contracts and deeds of divorce, as well as his Samaritan Hebrew Book of Joshua manuscripts and edition.
Session 6 was the first of two sessions on illuminated manuscripts. Dagmara Budzioch (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University) presented three recently-digitized illuminated Esther megillot at the John Rylands Library. The scrolls represent popular types of Italian scrolls with engraved decoration, and Budzioch examined their decoration programmes with reference to those of a related type of engraved scrolls. Eva Frojmovic (University of Leeds) analysed the Rylands Haggadah (Rylands Hebrew MS 6) and presented the decoration programme as a form of autoethnography, throwing light on the importance of these images as ‘self-portraits’ of the community and offering insight into how they had wished to see themselves. Stewart Brookes (King’s College London) continued the theme of the study of the Rylands Haggadah by presenting it as a test-case for extending the DigiPal framework. Brookes demonstrated the usefulness of DigiPal for the comparison of scribal and visual elements of the work with related manuscripts (including the Brother Haggadah and Mocatta Haggada), and presented a case for creating a consistent framework for the study of paleography and illuminations.
Session 7 on Prayer consisted of a paper by Aron Sterk (University of Lincoln) on an 18th century English translation of the Spanish and Portugese prayer book. Sterk reveals developments in the English language through an examination of the translation of particular Spanish words and phrases into English. Sterk argued that this manuscript represents the earliest English translation of the whole Spanish and Portugese prayer book, and demonstrated that it was likely produced for a woman.
Session 8 on Bible began with a paper by Benjamin Williams (King’s College London) on the Rylands’ annotated 1525 Bomberg Bible and its Jewish and Christian readers. Williams traced the uses and ownership of the text from Jewish to Christian ownership, and demonstrated the usefulness of multi-spectral imaging for revealing an important link in the chain of owners. Javier del Barco (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC)) described the development of glossed Hebrew bible manuscripts, and highlighted the influence of the Latin Glossa Ordinaria in the development of such multi-text Hebrew manuscripts. Del Barco presented the graphic development of multi-text bibles, and expounded on the importance of the layout of text and paratext as models for later printed Bibles. Ben Outhwaite (University of Cambridge) drew together a number of examples of personal Bibles from the Cairo Genizah collections of Cambridge and Manchester, describing their range of quality and use. Personal bible texts copied on scraps of paper by their users were presented alongside commissioned Biblical manuscripts on parchment. Outhwaite demonstrated the importance of the personal bibles for our understanding of the development of the Hebrew language, and highlighted the Palestinian pronunciation tradition preserved in them.
Session 9 centred on Autobiography and Memoir. Gila Hadar (Haifa University) presented a little known autobiography of Reina Cohen of Salonika, a manuscript written in Ladino for Moses Gaster’s collection and received by Gaster in 1910. Hadar gave an account of Cohen’s access to education, the difficulties she had in accessing religious learning, and the perception of those around her that she was mentally ill due to the nature of her ideas. Despite the challenges she faced, Cohen authored three books, including a commentary on Daniel, and Hadar presented her life and work within the context of Jewish and Ottoman political and religious developments. Gershon Hundert (McGill University) presented a newly discovered portion of the Memoirs of Dov Ber Birkenthal, which he had found in the Marmorstein collection at the John Rylands Library. Hundert compared the Rylands manuscript with a manuscript at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and demonstrated the importance of this memoir text in throwing light on an otherwise drab picture of Eastern European Jewish life in the 18th century. Maria Cioată (University of Manchester) presented another newly discovered memoir – Friedrich Horn’s Der Nationaltraum der Juden. Horn, an Austrian schoolmaster, was amongst the first Jewish settlers who moved from Romania to Palestine in 1882 and contributed to the founding of the colony at Samarin (later renamed Zihron Yakov). Cioată demonstrated that Horn’s Nationaltraum has much to contribute to our knowledge of the role of Jews from Romaina in the historiography of Zionism.
Session 10 was the final session of the conference, and the second on Illuminated manuscripts. Zsofia Buda (British Library) and Sara Offenberg (Bar Ilan University) presented papers on the Ashkenazi Rylands Haggadah (Rylands Hebrew MS 7), which is the less studied of the two famous Rylands Haggadot. Both papers offered descriptions of key images in the Haggadah’s decoration programme, contextualizing these against the decoration in comparable Ashkenazi haggadot. The papers took particular interest in the decoration relating to Ezekiel 16:7, and in the images of human figures decorating various folia of the work.
The event’s public keynote lecture was presented by Sarit Shalev-Eyni (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) on, “New Light from Manchester on Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts: The John Rylands Collection and its Significance”. Shalev-Eyni analysed the decoration programmes of a number of key Rylands manuscripts, including the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Haggadot (Hebrew MS 6 and 7), Naḥmanides’ commentary on the Pentateuch (Hebrew MS 8), and Hebrew MS 36 (a decorated Hebrew Bible codex). The lecture contextualized the above Rylands manuscripts with reference to relevant manuscripts in collections in Paris, Jerusalem, Lisbon, Oxford, London to show religious and cultural aspects of Jewish life. Shalev-Eyni considered text, codicology, the decoration programmes and illuminations of these manuscripts in order to demonstrate the processes by which these books were produced, as well as the commissioners of these manuscripts who studied and used them for ritual purposes. Shalev-Eyni expounded upon the distinctive features of these works, and demonstrated their importance for our understanding of the history of the Jewish book.
Summary of discussions
The structure of the conference enabled all presentations to be given in the Rylands’ Historic Reading Room, with all participants present throughout. As a result, the conversation developed throughout the conference, the key themes of which are summarized here.
There was much discussion throughout the conference regarding the importance of digital approaches to the humanities. Particular reference was made to the digitization and digital cataloguing of manuscripts (with a session devoted to two ongoing digitization projects), and the great potential this has for scholars who wish to survey manuscripts/manuscript corpora held at different institutions. A number of papers on the Cairo Genizah, for example, demonstrated the usefulness of digitally accessible collections for reuniting separated fragments, and for cross-corpus surveys that support philological, codicological, and text-linguistic analysis. Initiatives like that of DigiPal also allow for corpus-specific interfaces to be built to allow comparison of text and image across selected manuscripts, and make individual user’s selections available to others via a URL permalink.
The discussions across the conference confirmed the importance of understanding the difference between the aims and methods of humanities scholars and computer scientists, and the need for communication between the two for the development of digital humanities projects.
History of the Book
A number of papers demonstrated the importance of Hebraica and Judaica collections like that of the John Rylands Library for the study of the history of the Jewish book. Most of the papers considered in some way the contribution that the manuscripts and objects presented had on our understanding of the development of the Jewish book. Papers considered a wide range of issues, including: the relationship between manuscript and the printed book, the graphic development of text and paratext, marginalia and evidence of reception and readership.
Jewish cultural, religious, and social contexts
Several papers considered the way in which Jewish manuscripts and artifacts reflect the cultural, religious, and social contexts of their production, use, and reception. These themes were present throughout the discussions, with particular emphasis on the study of Jewish domestic life, gender, culture, society, and Jewish/non-Jewish relations.
Collections and collecting
A significant strand of discussion related to the study of collections as corpora. This encompassed discussions of the following:
- the diversity and distinctiveness of Moses Gaster’s collections, which are significant for the understanding of marginal groups and less well-known aspects of Jewish life from the Middle Ages to modernity
- the collecting philosophy of Judaica collectors, and how this impacted the methods of collecting and the contents of collections
- the challenges of collections being spread across multiple institutions, and the importance of digitization to reunite fragments and reconnect related items (as described above).
Networking: The conference provided a unique occasion for scholars of the John Rylands Library’s collections to meet. The event has broadened the academic networks of all participants, and has enabled the John Rylands Library and the John Rylands Research Institute to strengthen its relationships with scholars who have worked and will continue to work on the collections. It is anticipated that a number of fellowships, collaborations, and initiatives will develop from this meeting.
Training of early career researchers: The EAJS Conference Grant awarded supported thirteen early career scholars (MA- to postdoc-level) in attending the conference. This was a unique training and networking opportunity (as mentioned above), and the planned proceedings volume will provide opportunity for some of the early career scholars to see their first articles published.
Exhibition: The conference also provided the occasion to focus two cases of the Rylands Gallery’s exhibition space to showcase Jewish life around the world. This rare opportunity allowed the Rylands’ Greek Deuteronomy papyrus fragments (P Ryl 458) to be restored by the Library’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care for display.
A proceedings volume is planned. This edited volume will draw together key papers presented at the conference, and provide an important resource for the access and study of the John Rylands Library’s Hebrew and Jewish collections. It will also be of interest to scholars working with cognate collections in Britain, Europe, and Israel, as well as to researchers concerned with the study of Jewish history, culture, and society, and the study of the history of the Jewish book. The volume will be co-edited by Philip Alexander, Katharina E. Keim, and Stefania Silvestri.
Event Programme: Please see attached PDF (link).
The event was publicized through the following channels:
1) Event page on the JRRI website: http://www.jrri.manchester.ac.uk/connect/events/conferences/institute-conference-2016/
2) The mailing lists of the following:
- John Rylands Research Institute,
- University of Manchester’s Centre for Jewish Studies,
- British Association for Jewish Studies,
- European Association for Jewish Studies’ Newsflash,
3) Pre-event publicity on Twitter by Katharina E Keim and Stefania Silvestri;
4) The conference was live-tweeted using #JRRIConf2016 by the following participants: Katharina E Keim (@katharinakeim), Stefania Silvestri (@stef_books; University of Manchester), Stewart Brookes (@Stewart_Brookes, King’s College London), Magdalena Janosikova (@magdajanosik; Queen Mary University of London).
Katharina E Keim (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, John Rylands Research Institute, University of Manchester)
With agreement from co-applicants, Professor Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (EPHE Paris) and Professor Emile Schrijver (University of Amsterdam).