Italian Jewish communities look to digitize 35,000 Jewish texts

Tens of thousands of uncatalogued printed Hebrew books dating back hundreds of years, are held in collections belonging to local Jewish communities.

 ROME’S GREAT SYNAGOGUE. The 1982 attack was claimed to be a surprise to Italian authorities, though they had been warned of threats to Jewish targets in Italy.  (photo credit: REMO CASILLI/ REUTERS)
ROME’S GREAT SYNAGOGUE. The 1982 attack was claimed to be a surprise to Italian authorities, though they had been warned of threats to Jewish targets in Italy.
(photo credit: REMO CASILLI/ REUTERS)

MANTUA, Italy — A new initiative aims to digitize some 35,000 Jewish texts sitting in the hands of 14 different Jewish community organizations and 25 state institutions across Italy.

Around 10,000 volumes have already been digitized as part of the Italya Books project, an initiative of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the National Central Library of Rome, the National Library of Israel and the Rothschild Hanadiv Europe Foundation.

Tens of thousands of uncatalogued printed Hebrew books dating back hundreds of years, are held in collections belonging to local Jewish communities, as well as in libraries owned by the state, Italian church institutions and the Vatican. Many are of significant historical importance.

Reading room of the National Library of Israel. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Reading room of the National Library of Israel. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most important books is the 1488 Hebrew Bible printed in Soncino, in the province of Cremona, by one of the most important Jewish families of printers, who took their name from the town.

Some of these collections have previously been partially cataloged, but there has never been one integrated and standardized listing of all of the holdings, making them often difficult if not impossible to find.

In addition to the main pages of the works, each entry contains photographs of the cover, the title page, the colophon and any records of censorship and marginal notes.

The goal is to finish all 35,000 reproductions in the next three years, said Union of Italian Jewish Communities spokesperson Gloria Arbib.

“Italya Books will allow us to discover, in the 40 libraries involved, volumes that represent important pieces of the history of Jewish culture in Italy,” she said.