by Mara Vigevani
A historic agreement is being signed Tuesday in Jerusalem between the National Library of Israel (NLI) and the Russian State Library in Moscow to digitize 2,000 Jewish manuscripts and thousands of books from the renowned Günzburg Collection.
The digitized collection will be added to the NLI collection and also made available online, while the original manuscripts will remain in Moscow where teams from both national libraries will work on the project together.
Lord Jacob Rothschild, who is funding the NLI’s new building in Jerusalem, will sign the agreement together with Ziyavudin Magomedov, a Russian-Dagestani Muslim billionaire, who is funding the project through his Peri Foundation; Dr. Vladimir Gnezdilov, General Director of the and NLI director Oren Weinberg.
Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the curator of the National library’s Judaica collection, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that “the agreement is the result of a hard diplomatic work and the support of the Peri Foundation. From tomorrow (Wednesday, Nov. 8) Russian and Israeli teams will begin to work together making these significant works accessible online.”
The agreement ends an affair that began some 100 years ago when the collection fell into the hands of Soviet revolutionaries.
Three generations of the Günzburg family amassed one of the largest private collections of Hebrew books and manuscripts in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Begun by Joseph Günzburg (1812-1878), the library grew under the patronage of his son Horace (1833-1909) and especially his grandson Baron David Günzburg (1857-1910), who acquired over half of the 2000 manuscripts in the collection.
After the death of the Baron, the Günzburg family decided to donate part of the collection to the World Zionist Organization. In 1917, the family packaged the books to send them to the Land of Israel, but when the Russian revolution exploded, the Günzburg family fled Russia, leaving the collection in their house in St Petersburg.
Soviet soldiers found the collection and brought it to the Russian State Library in Moscow where it has remained until now.
The collection contains biblical texts and commentaries, works of Jewish ritual law (Halakhah) and Talmud, prayer books, mystical works of Kabbalah alongside books of Jewish and Aristotelian philosophy, and texts on astronomy, medicine, and magic.
Several Karaite works, mainly for use in the synagogue, including Biblical translations in the Judeo-Tatar dialect, are among the later acquisitions.