Tag Archives: Primary Sources

New Acquisitions: Travels of Moise Vita Cafsuto

In 1733, a man from Firenze, in Italy, named Moise (Moses) Vita (Hayyim) Cafsuto (Cassuto) set off on a journey to the Holy Land.  He kept a diary of his travels throughout the Middle East, where he noted interesting sites (specifically Jewish ones, like graves and synagogues) and scenes along his journey.   We recently acquired a copy of this manuscript, in Italian with Hebrew blurbs for sites of Jewish interest.  It is an interesting journey of travels in general, but also specifically for Jewish "Biblical tours."  In one instance, for example, the author describes how he and his fellow travelers found "Har Ha-har," the site of the Biblical Aaron's burial.  He describes the site as containing a "cave, where there are writings said to be in Arabic on a great stone of marble, and there is an everlasting candle…"

New Resource: Sefaria

Sefaria is a new, crowdsourced website which is "building a free living library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and in translation. [The] scope is Torah in the broadest sense, from Tanakh to Talmud to Zohar to modern texts and all the volumes of commentary in between."

Thus far, over 200,000 words have been translated, and it looks as if Sefaria already is a wonderful resource for referencing Bible and commentaries in both English and Hebrew.

New Acquistions: Old Yiddish printed books (digital)

The Columbia University Libraries has recently acquired a database of 400 digitized Yiddish books from the Hebraica and Judaica of the Tychson Collection at the Rostock University.

According to the publisher's description:

"The nearly 400 titles of this edition offer a cross-section of the history of Yiddish books up to the 19th century. There are numerous rarities and unica, including the first Yiddish printing, Mirkevet ha-Mishne, Krakau 1534. Among translations and paraphrases of the Bible the collection contains the Konstanz-edition (1544) as well as translations by Blitz and Witzenhausen. Three of the existing editions of the Tsene-rene (Frankfurt a.M. 1685, Sulzbach 1702) were first discovered in Rostock, and the third of those (Fürth [Pseudo-Amsterdam] 1761) is apparently to be found nowhere else. One of the rarities among the prayer-books is a Hebrew Siddur. It contains Yiddish passages and was published in 1560 in Mantua."

This resource provides access to some of the oldest and rarest printings of Yiddish materials in existence.

We will soon be adding records with direct links to each of the titles in CLIO for easier searching.

Note: The site is in German.  To view a list of titles, go to: http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio10264881, and then click the link for "Titel" after "Die Hebraica und Judaica der Sammlung Tychsen und der Universitätsbibliothek Rostock" in the "Collections" box.  You can also search by keyword.  To access the PDF, click "Details" under the title that interests you, and then click "PDF" under "komplettes Werk."   The link to PDF will then change to "Herunterladen," and you can click that to download the file.

Yosef Yerushalmi Papers: Processed and available for research

The papers of noted Columbia professor, Yosef Yerushalmi, have now been processed and are mostly (with the exception of some closed correspondence) open for use in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Many thanks go to Jacob Goldwasser and Carrie Hintz for their tremendous work on the archive.

More information can be found in the finding aid, here: http://findingaids.cul.columbia.edu/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_6892527/summary

Yosef Yerushalmi was a Jewish historian and a professor of Jewish history, primarily at Harvard University and Columbia University. This collection includes most of his academic records and many of his personal records as well. This includes research, correspondence, and notes.

The collection varies greatly in its constitution. It contains some very personal correspondence, such as an anniversary card from Yerushalmi’s father in the late 1960s. It also contains some or Yerushalmi’s meticulous personal records, including a journal of his own experience undergoing psychoanalysis and various date books. It has a very full and comprehensive assortment of professional correspondences, including hundreds of hours of meeting minutes for “A Psychoanalytic Study of Anti-Semitism” and all of Yerushalmi’s correspondences as the president of the Leo Baeck Institute. The collection has very specific logistical information, even records of transportation for lectures and financial records.

The majority of the materials in the collection are in the form of correspondence. Even much of Yerushalmi’s research was correspondent in nature, as he often requested various materials from individuals and archives around the world. The other major component of the collection is Yerushalmi’s personal notes. This includes thousands of pages of lecture notes, class notes, and publication drafts. Yerushalmi lectured all around the world, but mainly at universities in the United States and Israel, and most of these speeches are well preserved in the collection. After a long and fruitful teaching career, Yerushalmi produced reams of notes to himself about what to discuss in class. In addition to his personal notes, there are actual tests that he administered to his students in the collection, as well as syllabi and grading sheets. He even saved some student papers and letters of recommendation. Yerushalmi was also a prolific writer, and draft upon draft of his publications lie in the collection.

The publication materials are in a few formats. In terms of linear feet, corrected drafts of manuscripts comprise the bulk of them. For each of the books that Yerushalmi wrote—and he wrote several—there are many versions, often in many languages, sent between him and his editors, with corrections from both entities. Some were reprinted in different editions, which begot even more manuscripts.

In order to produce these works, Yerushalmi relied heavily on research from primary sources for the most part. Much of his research was on the Jewish communities of the Middle Ages, and he saved thousands of photocopied primary documents, as well as photocopies of letters the Freud wrote used as research for Yerushalmi’s work Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable.

New Online Resource: Aufbau

The Library of the Leo Baeck Institute has completed digitizing all issues of the German-Jewish émigré Journal, Aufbau published between 1934 and 2004, thus ensuring that the entire contents of the most important publication of the global German-Jewish refugee and exile community will remain available online to researchers.  The new resource is available immediately at: archive.org/details/aufbau

In 2012, LBI worked with Internet Archive, an online library and LBI’s primary digitization partner, to digitize the issues ofAufbau published between 1951 and 2004. This project, partially funded by the Metropolitan New York Library Council, put the entirety of the Aufbau online for the first time, since the German National Libray (DNB), had previously digitized the volumes of Aufbau published from 1934 – 1950 as part of its Exilpresse Digital project.

However, in June 2012, the DNB closed online access to the Aufbau along with other German journals published in exile and many Jewish periodicals published in Germany during the Nazi Regime, citing legal concerns. In order to ensure that this critical resource remains available to researchers, the Library of the Leo Baeck Institute digitized the early years of the Aufbau in 2013.  JM Jüdische Medien, the Swiss Publishing company that owns the rights to the Aufbau, has granted its approval for the digitization, and funding was once again provided by the Metropolitan New York Library Council.

Hebrew Mss @ CUL: New Acquisition: Franchetti Family Archive

I am pleased to announce the acquisition of manuscripts from the archive of the Franchetti family.  The Franchettis were hatmakers, originally from Mantua, who moved to Tunis and established their hat business there.  The business quickly became global, with connections in Leghorn/Livorno and Izmir.  This new collection includes 8 volumes of business correspondence and records. 

The Franchetti family is also mentioned as members of the Scuola Grande of Mantua in the archives of the synagogue, which are also held here at Columbia.

New Database Acquisition: Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud text databank

I am pleased to announce the acquisition of a new database for the study of Talmud at Columbia, the Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud text databank.  The databank includes typed transcriptions and images of nearly all of the critical manuscripts and early printings of the Talmud, to allow scholarly research of variants and alternate readings of the text (including the Columbia Talmud and the 10th century Menahot – shown here – from Columbia's collection).

The ultimate goal of the databank is to "encompass all primary textual witnesses of the Babylonian Talmud, including the manuscripts of the tractates of the Babylonian Talmud of Oriental, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, or Yemenite provenance, and first printed editions. It will include hundreds of Cairo Geniza and European binding fragments of the Babylonian Talmud, many as both text and digital image."

Primary sources in American Jewish History

The Penn Libraries have launched a new website, the Gershwind-Bennett Isaac Leeser Digitization Project, featuring access to the personal papers and publications of Isaac Leeser, widely regarded as the foremost American Jewish leader in antebellum America



The Leeser site, developed as an international partnership over the course of seven years, is the first of a number of planned digital initiatives as part of the Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project.  The Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project, founded in 2006, is an international initiative to integrate digital technologies into the way we study early American Jewry.  Its primary goal is to create an open access digital repository or “genizah” of physically dispersed primary sources that document the development of Jewish life in the western hemisphere from the 16th-19th centuries.

This looks to be a wonderful new primary source resource in the history of the Jews in the Western Hemisphere.

Online Resources: Holocaust and Genocide

The Shoah Visual History Archive is largest database of first-person Holocaust testimonies, founded by Steven Spielberg.  With over 50,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors and liberators, carefully indexed in short segments for ease of searchability and use, the VHA is a tremendous resource for the history of the Holocaust.

Recently, the VHA has expanded to include other genocides, and now also holds 65 indexed testimonies of survivors from the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide.

To search the database, visit the Visual History Archive.  Once you create a username and password, you will be allowed access to the tremendous index within the database.  You can search by basic keyword, but also limit by qualifiers like "Warsaw" or 'ghetto bribery," to narrow your search and make it extremely specific.

Due to the large size of the database, the videos are not held locally at Columbia, but are uploaded upon request to a Columbia server.  Once you find a testimony that looks appropriate for your research, click on the link to "request this testimony."  You will receive an email notification when it is available for viewing. Because the uploaded videos are held on a Columbia server, the testimonies can only be viewed on the physical campus.  If you are not in New York, or can't get to Columbia, you can view testimonies at one of many access sites located around the world.

(Cross-posted on the Global Studies blog)

Crowdsourcing Yiddish transcription/translation

As anyone who has done research using Yiddish newspapers can tell you, it's not easy to find primary sources, especially those from newspapers, in the digital world.  While Yiddish newspapers contain critical information about the labor industry, immigration, the Jewish day-to-day environment, and so much else, finding these materials is not easy, and often requires endless searches through microfilm or brittle newspapers.

The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, however, have taken impressive action to begin to make these materials available.  Realizing that transcribing and/or translating Yiddish newspapers is no quick task, they have turned to crowdsourcing in order to publish online important papers relating to the Jewish garment workers in 19th and 20th century USA and UK.

Among the newspapers they are working with are The Polish Yidel (1884-1886), Hashulamith. (1891-1895), and The Ladies' Garment Worker. (1910-1918).  One must register for an account to begin translating, but people have already been translating and transcribing!  See here for the full list of scanned pages from the Polish Yidel, for example; (P) indicates a partially completed page; (C) indicates that the page has been completed

Now this is something we can all learn from!

(Crossposted at the Global Studies blog)