Touch Judaic History at Penn’s Herbert D. Katz Center

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Media Contact: | | October 12, 2012

At the University of Pennsylvania’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, you can touch some of the oldest tomes in the history of Judaism, and you don’t have to wear white gloves, de rigueur for patrons at some rare-book libraries.

That’s because many of the books and manuscripts are online, due in part to the efforts of Arthur Kiron, the Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections at the Penn Libraries.

Kiron, who oversees Judaica education and outreach public presentations for the Penn Libraries, directs the Penn-based Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project.  The national initiative seeks to locate, scan, catalog and provide online access to American Jewish historical documents. He also organizes annual Web exhibitions in partnership with the postgraduate Fellows at the Katz Center, http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/cajs/.

Approximately 200,000 volumes, including 17 Hebrew and 15 Latin incunabula and more than 8,000 rare printed works, in Hebrew, English, German, French, Yiddish, Arabic, Latin and Ladino are at the Library at the Katz Center.

One recent addition to the rare collections is an 1837 Passover Haggadah, printed in Livorno, Italy.  Kiron says that many of the Livornese Haggadah’s illustrations first appeared in a series of 17th-century Venetian editions of the Haggadah, such as the ones depicting 13-panel stages of the Seder, a 10-panel depiction of the 10 plagues and one panel of Pharaoh bathing in the blood of Israelite infants to cure his leprosy.

The Katz Center purchased the Haggadah from London rare-books dealer Samuel Gedge with the support of Gilbert Mathews, a Penn alumnus who graduated from Wharton in 1970.

An “extraordinary Torah scroll from Calcutta” is among the recent acquisitions in the Katz Center Library collections with enormous public appeal,  http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/cajs/fellows12/cajs2012.html. 

“It was kept in the family for six generations before being donated to Penn in December of 2011,” Kiron explains.

“The Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript was also donated in the Fall of 2011,” he says. “It is one of the most amazing gifts we've recently received.”

With 180 illustrations and 85 carefully drawn maps, The Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript takes readers on a tour through the Kingdom of Israel, or the Holy Land, as it was known geographically and in Biblical times and at the end of the 17th century.

Readers can browse the entire manuscript, see a selected gallery of images and learn how the Katz Center acquired it and the research behind its many mysteries at http://devsceti.library.upenn.edu/Zucker_Slides/index.html.

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