National Library

Inside the National Library of Israel.

The National Library of Israel (NLI) has launched a massive online database of centuries-old Jewish manuscripts from across the world.

The archive is known as the “Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts.” Ktiv is Hebrew for “written word.” The archive contains nearly 4.5 million images from 45,000 manuscripts, including prayer books, biblical texts, commentary, philosophy, literature and scientific writings in various Jewish-related languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and Judeo-Arabic. The Ktiv was launched at the opening of the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem on Aug. 6.

The archive advances the mission set in 1950 by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who declared, “it is our first duty to save Hebrew literature.”

As a result, experts were sent across the world to find and reproduce, with permission, Hebrew manuscripts that could not be physically brought to Israel. Ultimately, an estimated 90 percent of all Hebrew manuscripts existing in the world were collected and held in original or microfilm form at the NLI in Jerusalem.

“Over the course of thousands of years, the Jewish people used the written word to express their religious beliefs and their scientific knowledge,” said David Blumberg, chairman of the National Library of Israel. “They meticulously copied Torah scrolls, books of religious laws and customs, and essays on different topics related to religion and science. Hebrew manuscripts, reflecting the knowledge and culture of the Jewish people, traversed countries and continents before finding refuge in large libraries and the vaults of private collections. Today, these manuscripts present a rich resource for learning about the spiritual and material cultures of Jewish communities across the globe and we are now enabling free access to all Hebrew manuscripts from any computer or mobile device.”

According to the NLI, the digitized archive also contains the Leningrad Codex, writings from Maimonides, the Aleppo Codex, “some of the oldest extant Talmudic manuscripts, documents from the 13th century detailing struggles within the Yemenite Jewish community, [and] commercial and personal records chronicling Jewish life in Afghanistan in the 11th century.”

“To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented, not only for Jewish studies and Judaica,” NLI Director Aviad Stollman said, according to the Associated Press. “There is no project with this scope that aggregated so many manuscripts from so many places in the world.”

The database is a collaboration between the NLI, the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society, the British Library, the Vatican Library and the Italy-based Palatina Library in an effort to bring almost half of the world’s known volumes of Jewish manuscripts together in one online location.

The NLI reports that scholars estimate “approximately 90,000 Hebrew manuscripts written from the Middle Ages until today exist, spread throughout collections across the globe. These manuscripts include millions of pages, ancient and significant texts, many of them including exquisite illustrations and illuminations.”

Library officials expect the Ktiv collection to continue to expand as more of the NLI’s manuscripts are digitized and more writings are discovered around the world. JN

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