Later today, the National Library of Israel (NLI), on the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will host the signing of an historic agreement between the host organization, the Russian State Library in Moscow, and the Moscow-based Peri Foundation regarding the future of the Günzburg Collection. The collection includes some of the most important Hebrew manuscripts and books in the world.
While the originals will remain in Russia, with the help of the Peri Foundation, around 2,000 manuscripts and thousands of books will be digitized and subsequently made accessible to researchers and other interested parties around the world, via the NLI’s web site.
This is also quite a feather in the NLI’s hat as it progresses towards construction of a new state-of-the-art facility near the Knesset, which is due to open its doors to the public in 2020.
One of the construction project’s major funding contributors, Lord Rothschild, will attend today’s ceremony, along with Peri Foundation founder Ziyavudin Magomedov, Russian Ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein, who will read a message from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin and NLI director Oren Weinberg.
The Günzburg Collection was started in the 19th century by Joseph Günzburg (1812-1878) and continued by his son Horace. The family manuscript repository grew incrementally towards the end of the 19th century when Joseph’s grandson Baron David Günzburg, who died in 1910, acquired over half of the 2,000 manuscript items in the current collection.
The documents in question cover diverse themes and subject matter, including biblical texts and commentaries, works on halachah and the Talmud, prayer books and Kabbalah, as well as volumes of Jewish and Aristotelian philosophy, and texts on astronomy, medicine, and magic.
There are numerous medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the collection, but also books of more recent date. Most were produced between the 13th-17th centuries. There are also a number of Karaite works, mainly for synagogue use, including Biblical translations in the Judeo-Tatar dialect.
Magomedov, whose foundation invests substantial resources in furthering educational opportunities through the use of cutting edge technology, considers the current venture as “a project of the utmost importance. New technology has the potential to assist in comprehending one’s identity, history and culture, change approaches to education, and give access to the exploration of historical heritage. Humanitarian collaboration is extremely important for a balanced world.”
Lord Rothschild commended Magomedov’s role in the digitization project and lauded the NLI’s initiative.
“For many decades now the National Library has lived in hope of having access to the great Günzburg Collection in Russia,” he notes.
“Thanks to the imaginative generosity of Ziyavudin Magomedov and the Peri Foundation, and with the support of the Russian State Library, this will at last happen."
Rothschild also confessed to have a personal vested interest in the undertaking. “This is of particular sentimental importance to me as I happen to be an Executor of the estate of Isaiah Berlin’s widow, born Aline Günzburg, a direct descendant of the Günzburg family.”