Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


The Jewish Division has the responsibility for collecting Hebrew and Yiddish literature, as well as literature in Jewish languages and dialects such as Ladino and Judeo-Arabic. Works of sociological, ethnological, and linguistic importance relating to the Jewish experience are collected along with Hebrew and Yiddish belles-letters.

Hebrew and Yiddish fiction, poetry, drama, and essays are acquired comprehensively. Contemporary translations into Hebrew and Yiddish are acquired selectively, with a comprehensive attempt to collect nineteenth-century translations. The Jewish Division collects all anthologies of Hebrew and Yiddish literature translated into languages other than English.

A Dictionary Catalog of the Jewish Collection in fourteen volumes, including a three-volume title catalog of works in Hebrew and Yiddish, was published in 1960 by G. K. Hall & Company of Boston.

Hebrew Literature

The 4,000 volumes of Hebrew literature represent 12 percent of the total holdings in the Hebrew language, as compared to Yiddish literature, which represents about 40 percent of the total holdings in the Yiddish language. These proportions are somewhat misleading, due to the fact that so much material of a literary nature in Hebrew is classified as "religion," "Bibles," or "philosophy."

Strong resources in Hebrew literature include important early literary periodicals such as ha-Me'asef (1784-1811) and Bikure ha-'Itim (1820-31), as well as modern examples such as Moznayim (1929- ) and ha-Do'ar (1921- ). Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages is represented primarily by modern printed texts. Among the approximately forty incunabula in the division are Immanuel ben Solomon's Sefer ha-mahbarot ("Book of Poems") (1491) and Solomon ibn Gabirol's Mivhar ha-peninim ("Maxims") (1484). Other rare texts include Ephraim Luzzatto's Eleh bene ha-ne'urim (Poems) of 1766, and Moses Chayyim Luzzatto's play la-Yesharim tehilah (1743). A number of first editions of the nineteenth century are worthy of note. The novel ha-Avot veha-banim (1868) by Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch (Mendele Mokher Sforim), the grandfather of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and his first story, Limdu hetev (1862), are both in the division. Judah Loeb Gordon's play Mishle Yehudah (1859) is also present. Poland, Israel, and the United States were the leading centers of publication in Hebrew before World War II; after the war Israel assumed leadership in this field. The Jewish Division has obtained almost all the significant publications from the major areas of Hebrew book production. There is complete coverage of materials published in Israel since 1964. Most of the Hebrew literary manuscripts held in the Jewish Division date from the twentieth century, together with several hundred letters written by Hebrew literary figures. An older manuscript of outstanding importance is the 1640 copy of the first play in Hebrew by Leone Sommo de Portaleone.

Yiddish Literature

Approximately 6,500 volumes in Yiddish literature are administered by the Jewish Division. The division also has rich holdings in manuscripts of Yiddish drama (some 460 items); 300 plays and prompt-books were donated by the family of Boris Thomashefsky, and cover his career on the New York stage from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s. The division holds an additional 150 plays, parts of plays, and scenarios which were performed in the New York Yiddish theatre from the last decades of the nineteenth

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century to 1920. Works of the classic Yiddish literary authors are present in the collections, with Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch (Mendele Mokher Sforim), Isaac Loeb Perez, and Sholom Aleichem (Shalom Rabinowitz) best represented. The division presently receives everything of significance published in Israel, the United States. Argentina, and France, as well as from countries with less ambitious publishing programs.

Among rare items in the division are first editions of nineteenth-century Yiddish authors. Works of Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch, Israel Axenfeld, and Abraham Goldfaden are particularly worthy of mention.

Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) Literature

A small collection of material in Ladino consists primarily of translations of ethical and Kabbalistic works, commentaries on the Bible, and translations of popular literature from French and Spanish. The first printed original work in the language, Moses ben Baruch Almosnino's Regimento de la vida (1564) is outstanding among the holdings. The division has files of four major newspapers published in Ladino.

Judeo-Arabic Literature

Judeo-Arabic is the dialect spoken by the native Jews of Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, and other Oriental countries; it is written in Hebrew characters. Resources in this area include approximately 100 volumes published in a village on the island of Jerba off the Tunisian coast, among those liturgical works, rabbinical texts, biblical commentaries, and biographies of religious leaders. Some 50 paperback romances, translations for the most part, were published in Tunis and in the town of Sousse. Sefunot, published annually by the Ben-Zvi Institute of Hebrew University, is devoted to gathering documents, stimulating research, and encouraging publication of studies bearing on Oriental Jewish communities.