Category Archives: Primary Sources

Updated Resource: The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People

"The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) were established in 1939. They hold the archives of hundreds of Jewish communities, as well as of local, national and international Jewish organizations and the private collections of many outstanding Jewish personalities. The Archives now hold the most extensive collection of documents, pinkassim (registers) and other records of Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the present day."

The Central Archives, located in Jerusalem, is a tremendous resource for the history of the Jews all over the world.  In the past, however, it was sometimes hard to find what the collection held, as the collections are so vast and deep.  Recently, the Central Archives has put together some wonderful new finding aids (by creator organization, by Jewish community location, and by donor) which should make the search for Jewish community records much easier.  See below for an important list of recently processed (and soon-to-be processed) collections.



- Polish Sources at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People – a digital updated version of the 2004 printed guide (16th - 20th Century)



- Guía de documentos de Comunidades e instituciones en el Archivo Central de la Historia del Pueblo Judío, Jerusalén


Algeria – Jewish Communities, 1795 - 1962 (244 files)

Argentina – Jewish Communities and Organizations, 1894 - 2008 (380 files) 
Brazil – Jewish Communities, Organizations and Schools, 1886 - 1979 (260 files) 
Ecuador – Jewish Communities and Organizations, 1915 - 1972 (200 files) 
El Salvador – Communities and Zionist Organizations, 1935 - 1975 (39 files) 

Floss Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (Germany), 1687 - 1938 (147 files) 
Izmir (Smyrna) Jewish Community (Turkey), 1760 - 1970 (ca. 1000 files) 
Le Tribunal Rabbinique de Mogador et sa Region (Morocco), 1919 - 1966 (26 files) 

American Jewish Organizations, 1866 - 1972 (300 files)

Gesamtdeutsche Organisationen, Verbände und Vereine, 1844 - 1970 (272 files)

Deutsch-Israelitischer Gemeindebund (D.I.G.B.), 1868 - 1930 (47 files) 
JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization), Bavaria – Community Property (221 files) 
JRSO Berlin – Administration, 1947-1974 (579 files) 
JRSO Hessen – Community Property (426 files) 

Elias Tcherikower, 1917 - 1928 (575 files) 
Ismar Freund Library 


- Colombia – Jewish Communities and Organizations

- Venezuela – Jewish Communities and Organizations

- Worms Jewish Community (Germany)

- Thessaloniki Jewish Community (Greece)

- Judah Leib Magnes Private Collection

- Ismar Freund Private Collection

- Yitzhak F. Baer Private Collection

Online Resource: JDC Archives online

The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has been helping Jews around the world since its inception at the onset of World War I in 1914.  Its archives have long been a resource for scholars researching Jewish immigration, anti-semitism, Jewish aid, geneology, and many other topics.

Now, for the first time, the JDC Archives from 1914-1932 are available online here.

According to the website, "The vast digital collection contains searchable text collections from 1914-1932, a detailed interactive timeline, historically-themed exhibitions, over 45,000 photographs, findings aids, educational resources, relevant archives news and more. The JDC Archives houses one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history and attests to JDC's relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities from its inception in 1914 to the present."

The archive includes a text-searchable document database, photographs from over 70 countries, and a timeline of Jewish (and JDC) history by decade.

Hebrew mss @ CUL: Notes on Incunabula

Nofet Tsufim 1The word manuscript comes from a combination of two Latin words (manu, meaning "hand"; and script, meaning "writing").  In the literal definition of the word, a manuscript is anything written by hand (as opposed to printed).  The manuscript you see in this post would not be found as part of our "Hebrew manuscript collection," but is a manuscript nonetheless.  This manuscript is one of four leaves bound with a printed book in RBML, the Nofet Zufim, by Judah Messer Leon, printed in Mantua between 1474 and 1476 (Call Number: Goff Heb-62).

Nofet Zufim is a unique work in its own right as a Hebrew incunable (one of the first books printed from the invention of the printing press through 1501), and is the first book printed in Hebrew during the lifetime of its author.  It was extremely controversial, a philosophical text which used texts from the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate Aristotelian rhetoric.  (Its author was later expelled from Mantua, after an argument with the famous 15th century rabbi, Joseph Colon, also known as the MaHaRIK). 

Columbia has 29 Hebrew incunabula in RBML.

But this series is supposed to discuss manuscripts, not printed works, and so I digress.  What’s fascinating about the manuscript attached here is that it’s a discussion of the history of early Hebrew printing.  You may notice the word in brackets, in Latin script, "Piobe de Sacco" – one of the two places that claim the very first dated Hebrew book, in this case an Arba Turim by Jacob ben Asher, which was completed on July 3, 1475 (the poem listed at the bottom of the manuscript comes from the colophon of the Arba Turim of Piove di Sacco).  This page has been dated to the 19th century, which gives us a glimpse into the research that was known at the time about early Hebrew printing.  Another page bound in with this book has been dated to the 18th century.

It also tells us a little bit about one of the owners of this book – at one point, this copy of the Nofet Zufim was owned by someone who was interested in it, not as a book of rhetoric, but rather as a rare specimen of the early days of Hebrew printing.

Ah, the stories books could tell, if they could but speak to us…

Nuremberg Trials Project

"The Harvard Law School Library has approximately one million pages of documents relating to the trial of military and political leaders of Nazi Germany before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and to the twelve trials of other accused war criminals before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT)." The Law Library has undertaken a tremendous project to digitize these documents and make them available to the general public. You can find these important primary source documents, which include " trial transcripts, briefs, document books, evidence files, and other papers," here, at the Nuremberg Trials Project website.

They currently have 13,904 images digitized, in addition to "keyed text of the first seven days of court proceedings in the Case 1 trial transcript (through December 13, 1946: approximately 500 pages)."

The site is also fully searchable.  This is an incredible resource for a very important time in Jewish History.

New Database: Jewish Life in America, c1654-1954

I am very pleased to announce a new database available at Columbia, Jewish Life in America, c1654-1954

According to their own description:

"Jewish Life in America will enable you to explore the history of Jewish communities in America from the arrival of the first Jews in the 17th century right through to the mid-20th century. This rich collection brings to life the communal and social aspects of Jewish identity and culture, whilst tracing Jewish involvement in the political life of American society as a whole.

"This treasure trove of material provides digital images of collections from the American Jewish Historical Society in New York. All of the typescript and printed material is full-text searchable.

"In addition, Jewish Life in America contains a wealth of materials designed as supplementary resources; these include a chronology, interactive maps (coming soon), essays by leading scholars, a selection of American Jewish Year Book articles, a visual resources gallery, biographies and links to other useful websites"

As far as I know, this is the first resource of its kind available for American Jewish History.  Take a look, play around, and let me know what you think!

Corfu Ketubah

MS X893 K51991 (Ketubah) smallOn Wednesday, February 23, 1820 (8 Adar 5580), Abraham son of Hayyim Shaptai and Esther, daughter of Jacob were married in Corfu.

This Ketubah (MS X893 K51991) is one of about 50 ketubot in the Columbia collection, of which about 20 are from Corfu.

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, Jews have been known to live in Corfu from the 12th century until the present day, but the community was particularly vibrant from the 16th century until 1944, when 1800 Corfu Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

Historical Jewish Press

In studying historical events, one of the most interesting primary sources (aside from manuscripts from those involved) is newspapers from the time detailing this event.  Often fatalistic or extreme (as newspapers can tend to be), these articles can give the researcher a good idea of how the general public reacted to an event, and can be quite informative.  One of the problems with doing research from newspapers, however, is their lack of availability and searchability.

The Historical Jewish Press Project at Tel Aviv University, however, has made doing this sort of research much easier.  With a fully searchable site, they have linked to digitized newspapers from around the world (see a full list of the collections here).  They also include links to sites that have digitized Jewish newspapers not included on their site.


Sefer ‘Evronot

MS X893 Se36, 23v-24r

This manuscript is one of many Hebrew calendar books that we hold in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  This particular copy (call number: MS X893 Se36), was most likely produced in the 17th century, probably somewhere in Germany. 

From the CLIO Record: "The Ms. is done in magnificent fashion and contains a large number of illustrations, tables and even mechanical devices in all of which several colors are employed. In addition, many drawings are included that do not bear on the text at all but are merely decorative, for example a picture of Adam and Ave covered with fig leaves (leaf 19b), or Agag’s execution by Samuel (16b)."

The circular image on the left is one such mechanical device.  It is a series of three circles, laid one on top of the next, which can be spun to match up years, months, and days.  Want to spin the wheel yourself?  Click here to give it a spin! (Note that it only works in Chrome and Firefox 4.)  Thanks to Schuyler Duveen, Senior Programmer at the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), for putting this together!

This image shows the 23rd and 24th leaves of the manuscript.

For more information on Sifre ‘Evronot (included the two images mentioned in the CLIO record above), see "Palaces of Time: Illustration of Sifre Evronot in Images : a journal of Jewish art and visual culture (available to computer users on the Columbia campus here, or in the Avery Art and Architecture Library (see the CLIO record here) by Columbia Professor Elisheva Carlebach.

Note: To browse the Hebrew manuscripts in CLIO, enter X893 as a Call Number Exact.  As of today, there are 1018 manuscripts listed.

New “Series”: Hebrew Manuscripts at CUL

In recognition of the amazing work being done by Yoram Bitton, our Hebrew manuscript cataloger, and to let our users know about the wonderful treasures that we have hidden in our collection, Jewish Studies at CUL will be periodically posting an image and/or some information about a manuscript or rare book that we have in our Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Do you know about a manuscript that you’d like to hear more about? Let us know, and we’ll post on that one next!

Mordecai Kaplan Diaries Digitized and Online

The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary is pleased to make available the digitized diaries of Mordecai Kaplan. These diaries, written between 1913 and 1972, are a window into the thoughts of this towering figure over the course of most of the twentieth century. Kaplan’s diary reflects, often in intimate detail, on his work, the people he met, the political situation of his day, theology, and Judaism. These personal records are crucial to many areas of study of twentieth-century Judaism, particularly in America.

For example, in his early entries he often speaks about people who came to see him at JTS. Among them were new immigrants, who spoke poor English, often coming with family members who spoke better English, expressing their desire to study at JTS after working in the sweatshops of New York City’s Lower East Side. He also discusses his meetings with Jewish leaders concerning the future of "Judaism with an open mind." His reflections during the Holocaust, on Zionism and the birth of the state of Israel, and on the development and challenges of the Reconstructionist Movement, are all major primary source material that is now open to students, scholars, and the general public.

To access the diaries, go here.

Reminder: JTS is just down the block at 122nd and Broadway, and contains the largest collection of Hebrew and Jewish-related manuscripts in the country!   CU affiliates (faculty, students, and staff) are able to check out books from JTS’s general collections.  (Note that there is a one-time $20 charge to obtain a JTS library card.)

Access hours to JTS’s special collections are below:

Access to the Special Collections is by appointment. We ask that you make an appointment one week in advance to enable us to prepare the materials for you. Please call (212) 678-8077 or email for an appointment to visit during these hours:

Monday–Thursday, Noon–5:00 p.m