Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
December 2001

On October 28-29 the Midwest Jewish Studies Association met at Spertus Institute (Chicago, IL)  for their 13th annual conference. This is an organization of professors of Judaica and others interested in Jewish studies at the college level. I was part of a session on new approaches and resources in Jewish studies. When my children heard that I had only 20 minutes to present my topic, they asked, "Abba, couldn't you ask for more time?" I answered, "Everyone has the same time limit." Some presenters just read papers. I spoke from notes and 20 minutes was enough for an introduction to the topic. The conference was very well organized and melded with two other events meeting at Spertus, a Sunday concert and a Monday "lunch and learn" that was part of an on-going series open to the public.

In this column and continued in my next column I will present some history of American Judaica library collections. In a future column I will deal with the definition of Judaica. This is not a comprehensive examination, but rather some samples of library histories. The gathering of the information is almost as interesting as the information found. Some libraries are described in the Jewish Book Annual. Some information is from web pages and some was based on queries to the library. One library had the number of volumes as 350,000 in one place and 370,000 in another on their web site. I asked the librarian for a better answer and all I got was a quotation from their web page.

The Beginnings of American Judaica Collections

The earliest collections of Hebrew books in academic institutions in the United States were in the libraries of Harvard University (founded in 1636) and Yale University (founded in 1701). Harvard College Library had several items of Judaica from the collection of John Harvard that included Hebrew Bibles, Hebrew grammars and rabbinic works. Yale's collection had similar books. This was evidence of the interest in Hebrew language but not in Judaism in pre-revolution New England.

The development of major Judaica bibliographic resources was a product of the late 19th century and early 20th century. The need for such collections developed in conjunction with the beginnings of major research institutions and the explosion of knowledge in general. Small colleges transformed into major research institutions and new institutions such as the University of Chicago were started. Nothing illustrates the need for bibliographic resources more than the story of Isaac Mayer Wise.

Isaac Mayer Wise arrived in New York on July 23, 1846. He spent the first few weeks attending different synagogues in Lower Manhatten (New York City). At the "English-Polish" synagogue on Elm Street he asked for a volume of Mishnah from the shamash. The shul did not have any Hebrew books except siddurim and humashim (prayer books and books containing the five books of Moses). Wise wrote, "that individual laughed so mockingly, that I readily perceived what a sign of 'greenness' it was on my part to ask for an ancient Hebrew book in the New World, and that too in an orthodox synagogue..."(1) While this may seem like an absurd incident, it made a lasting impression on Wise, who was one of the few rabbis in the United States at the time with rabbinical ordination and secular education. Wise found that few leaders of congregations could read unvocalized Hebrew, and most had no knowledge of Jewish history or literature. When Wise took a pulpit in Albany, NY, he used the New York State Library in the Capitol and the library of the Young Men's Association. Neither had any Jewish books. He managed to buy one volume of Shuhan Arukh and a few other books for his personal collection with the help of a friend. He had to wait a long time for his books from Bohemia to catch up to him.

Fast forward to Cincinnati in 1876. When Wise started Hebrew Union College, the library had 276 books. Most of them were siddurim. All were donated by people who no longer wanted them on their shelves.(2)

Every major collection of Judaica started with the help of a major gift or the purchase of a major collection. These collections were from scholars or bibliophiles. For example Jewish Theological Seminary had the Elkan N. Adler collection, Harvard its Ephraim Deinard and Lee M. Friedman collections, Yale its George A. Kohut and Scholem Asch collections, UCLA its Bamberger-Wahrmann collection, and University of Chicago its Rosenberger(3) collection.

Jacob H. Schiff, 1847-1920, was an extraordinary friend of Jewish studies and Jewish libraries. He made substantial contributions to Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia University, Barnard College, New York University, Amherst College, Harvard University, Cooper Union, New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Hebrew Union College, and even the Library of Congress. For example Schiff purchased in 1898 the collection of Moritz Steinschneider, the founding father of Jewish bibliography, for the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1912 he purchased 10,000 books and pamphlets for the Library of Congress and that practically started the library's Judaica collection. In 1888 he contributed money to start the Jewish Publication Society. He was instrumental in the project to translate the Bible into English. After a disagreement among the board of editors, he paid for the entire publication and was the host at the 1917 dinner honoring the publication.

Schiff, encouraged by his wife, offered a substantial sum for publication of Jewish classics in the same pattern as the Latin and Greek classics that his brother-in-law James Loeb funded for Harvard University Press. The project required the setting of Hebrew type and a Hebrew press, which Schiff paid 50% of the costs. Seventeen volumes of the Schiff Classics were published by the Jewish Publication Society.

After World War II, Jewish Cultural Reconstruction distributed European ownerless books to American libraries. Most Judaica libraries received books for the cost of shipping. In the period of 1964-1973 the Library of Congress procurement office in Tel Aviv acquired copies of every book published in Israel under the PL 480 program. Some 25 research libraries were given copies of books that were of research value. Full participants received 65,000 items. The program distributed 1,665,000 items. Not all of these books were Judaica.

In some general universities counting Judaica is hard because the collection covers so many subjects. In Jewish schools the counting is easier. The largest libraries are adding between five and seven thousand items per year. Smaller libraries have no trouble adding 2000-5,000 items. In 1974 when Charles Berlin wrote, an article for the American Jewish Year Book(4) on library resources good sized university collections contained 15-30,000 volumes. Now good sized collection would have more than double that amount. Berlin says that 10,000 Judaica items are required for under-graduate programs and double that amount for graduate programs. If the library were adding even a modest 1,000 items per year, an undergraduate program would need more than 27,000 items today. The United States has about 63 colleges and universities with Jewish studies programs and about thirty libraries that consider themselves research collections.

Individual Libraries

Hebrew Union College

The library has branches on each of their four campuses, Cincinnati (the main library), New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. The New York collection has a particularity large collection of Hebrew literature. The Jerusalem collection has a very strong archeology collection.

In 1962 the collection had about 175,000 volumes. Notable acquisitions are the Solomon Freehof (responsa), M. Kayserling Library (10,000 items), A. Freiman Collection (7,000 items including 32 Hebrew incunabula), Moses Mielziner (professor), Kaufman Kohler (professor and HUC president) and Louis Grossman (18,000).

Today the collection has more than 300,000 volumes in Cincinnati and more than 140,000 in New York.

Jewish Theological Seminary

In 1963 the Library owned about 200,000 printed books and 10,000 manuscripts. Today the Jewish Theological Library has more than 360,000 items in their collections that includes, 25,000 rare books, 11,000 manuscripts, 13,000 reels of microfilms (primarily of Hebrew manuscripts), 750 periodicals subscriptions, 1000 video recordings, 4,000 sound recordings, 3,000 musical scores, and CD-ROMs. In addition, the library has 40,000 Cairo geniza fragments, archives of modern Jewish history, prints, photographs, and illuminated documents, including the largest collection in the world of marriage contracts.

At the dedication of the library building on April 26, 1903 Judge Mayer Sulzberger stated that is was the library's purpose to make the collection as complete as possible. Sulzberger added his personal collection of about 7500 books and fifty Hebrew manuscripts. He also helped acquire the 5000 volume Halberstamm collection that was very rich in liturgy, Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) works, and periodicals. Four years later he presented 417 haggadot.

The greatest single addition was in 1923 from the English bibliophile, Elkan Nathan Adler. The collection included 15,000 leaves from the Cairo Geniza, 3,500 printed books, and Hebrew incunabula. The collection was secured through the generosity and initiative of Mortimer Schiff, Louis Marshall and Felix Warburg.

Dr. Hyman G. Enelow bequeathed to the Library his library including Jewish history, philosophy, theology, art and bibliography. In area of Jewish social work, psychology, education and related subjects the library has the collection of 5000 from the defunct Graduate School for Jewish Social Work. The personal collections of Professor Louis Ginzberg and Alexander Marx added 15,000 volumes of Jewish literature, history, responsa, codes, and rabbinics. In 1959 the Library acquired the collection of Judah A. Joffe of more than 1000 printed books and 25 manuscripts. This meant the Library owned 90% of all Yiddish imprints from the 16th to the 18th century.

Library of Congress

The collection was established in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitica and Oriental Literature, however the beginnings can be traced to 1912 when Jacob H. Schiff gave nearly 10,000 and pamphlets from the private collection of Ephraim Deinard, 1846-1930, the same bibliographer and book seller who sold another part of his collection to Harvard. In the years that followed the LC expanded its collections in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and other "Judao" languages. The section is especially strong in the areas of Bible, rabbinics, liturgy, Hebrew language and literature, responsa and Haggadot shel Pesah as well as a comprehensive collection of post-Holocaust remembrance books. Of course the PL 480 supplied more than 65,000 items. Among the rarities and special treasures are 24 Hebrew incunabula, more than 200 Hebrew manuscripts, ketubot, and a 15th Century illuminated manuscript known as the Washington Haggadah.

Unique to the Library of Congress are more than 1,000 scripts original Yiddish plays written for American theaters from the from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and submitted for copyright registration.

Stanford University

The first large collection acquired for the Stanford University Library in Jewish studies was the collection of Salo Wittmayer Baron, 1895-1989, purchased in 1985. Professor Baron held the first chair in Jewish history at Columbia University from 1930-1963. The collection was purchased with the support of the Jewish Federation and the family of Tad Taube.

Other major collections include the collection of Israeli publisher Israel Cohen (1905-1986) containing of 12,000 monographs and periodicals; the Jo and Rabbi Jacob Milgrom collection of more than 5,000 monographs and serials in Hebrew and English that is strong in Biblical and rabbinic literature, the collection of Rabbi William G. Braude (1907-1988) which is strong in Biblical and rabbinical exegesis and homiletics; and the Ezra Lahad Collection containing more than 2,000 titles in Hebrew and Yiddish constituting a major resource on the Yiddish and Hebrew theaters.

Center for Judaic Studies

The Center for Judaic Studies (CJS) is the descendant of Dropsie College. Dropsie College was named after its principal benefactor, Moses Aaron Dropsie(1821-1905). Born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, he converted to Judaism at age 14. He made his fortune through his law practice and investments in Philadelphia's streetcars. Upon his death he bequeathed his entire estate to the establishment of a college "for the promotion of and instruction in the Hebrew and cognate languages and their respective literatures." Dropsie College because Dropsie University then Annenberg Research Institute (1986) and in 1993 merged with University of Pennsylvania to become the Center for Judaic Studies. The collection of Dropsie included about 180,000 volumes including 20 Hebrew incunabula and more than 8,000 rare printed books, 451 manuscript codices, 656 fragments for the Cairo Geniza, cuneiform tablets and the papers of more than fifty American Jewish leaders including Isaac Lesser, Sabato Morais, Charles and Mary M. Cohen, Mayer Sultzberger, Cyrus Adler, Abraham Neuman, Ben Zion Goldberg and Moses Aaron Dropsie.

When added to Penn's collection, the result is a library of approximately 350,000 volumes. The library has one of the largest and richest corpus of research materials documenting the history and culture of Jews from Biblical times to contemporary America.

to be continued...

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: /~ddstuhlman/liblob.htm. He can be reached via e-mail at:

1. Heller, James G. Isaac M. Wise : his life, work and thought. New York : Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1965. p 109.

2. ibid, p. 442.

3. See Librarian's Lobby from January 2001 for my description of the Rosenberger Collection.

4. Berlin, Charles. "Library resources for Jewish studies in the United States" in American Jewish Year Book, 1974-75, pages 3-53.

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