JBuzz News May 29, 2013: Mauro Perani: Oldest Known Complete Torah scroll found at University of Bologna Library in Italy

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Old Torah scroll found in Italy university library

An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts says he has found the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225. Photo / AP

An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts says he has found the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225. Photo / AP

An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts said Wednesday he has discovered the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225. It was right under his nose, in the University of Bologna library, where it had been mistakenly catalogued a century ago as dating from the 17th century.

The find isn’t the oldest Torah text in the world: the Leningrad and the Aleppo bibles – both of them Hebrew codexes, or books – pre-date the Bologna scroll by more than 200 years. But this is the oldest Torah scroll of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, according to Mauro Perani, a professor of Hebrew in the University of Bologna’s cultural heritage department….READ MORE

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JBuzz News May 27, 2013: Friedberg Genizah Project: Computer network to help break Cairo Genizah codes

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Computer network to help break Cairo Genizah codes

Source: JTA, 5-27-13

The Friedberg Genizah Project will use a high performance computer network at Tel Aviv University Cairo Genizah to break the codes of the Cairo Genizah….READ MORE

JBuzz News September 25, 2012: Devin Naar: Scholar with New Jersey roots creates digital Ladino library

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Scholar with NJ roots creates digital Ladino library

Source: New Jersey Jewish News, 9-25-12

Devin Naar, assistant professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, surrounded by boxes of source materials for his Sephardic Treasures Project….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 17, 2012: Iraq Rejects Offer for Return of Half of Jewish Archives

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Iraq rejects offer for half of Jewish Archives

Source: JTA, 7-17-12

Iraq has rejected a U.S. offer to receive half of the country’s Jewish Archives, which were removed from Iraq in 2003 following the U.S. launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 15, 2012: Devin Naar: Rushing to Preserve Ladino Legacies with First Digitized Library

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Rushing to preserve Ladino legacies

Source: JTA, 7-15, 12

Devin Naar, a University of Washington assistant professor in Jewish studies, is creating the first digitized library of Ladino source materials….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 2, 2012: Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life Merger with UC Berkeley Has Its Costs

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Magnes Merger Has Its Costs

Source: NY Jewish Week, 4-2-12

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest 
collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

Partnership with UC-Berkeley seen mostly as a boon but questions linger about prized collection’s independence.

The new home of the Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life, a Bay Area institution renowned for its archives of material relating to Jews in the American West, displays all the museum’s ambition.

Prominently situated just off the main campus of UC-Berkeley, with which it merged in 2010, it has all the hallmarks of a cutting-edge building: sleek wooden displays made from local re-salvaged elm; floor-to-ceiling glass walls allowing glimpses into the museum’s vast collection of Judaica, the third largest in North America; and a spacious hall for lectures and functions, as well dance, theater and art.

“In the museum model, this accessibility was much harder to achieve,” said Alla Efimova, the Magnes’ director, referring to the collection’s past focus on being more of an art museum than a research and educational facility, as it now primarily sees itself. “The new design was about making the collection accessible and encouraging work with the collection,” she said.

Few doubt that the Magnes’ merger and new home will vastly increase its use, but museum watchers agree that the move comes with some significant costs. Already, Berkeley classes for Jewish studies courses are held weekly in its building. Scholars like Jeffrey Shandler, a professor at Rutgers, are planning not only to use the Magnes’ enormous archives for research, but also to create innovate exhibits based on them.

Not long ago, Shandler began talking with the Magnes’ chief curator, Francesco Spagnolo, about using the archives for a project — likely a book or article — on the Jewish fascination with list making. “He said, ‘This would make a great exhibit,’” Shandler recounted. Now, with the Magnes’ new home having a centrally located gallery, that exhibit is underway, set to open some time later this year.

The new building has been a boon for artists like Emmanuel Witzhum, an Israeli artist-in-residence at Berkeley. He had no plans for an exhibit at the Magnes when he applied to Berkeley, but the museum approached him about exhibiting work. “It was perfect,” he said, “They immediately got the idea.”

Founded 50 years ago by the Bronx-born Jewish educator, Seymour Fromer, the Magnes’ ambitions always exceeded the realities of being a small Jewish museum. Over the years, Fromer and his wife, Rebecca Camhi Fromer, amassed not only the largest archive of Jewish American Western history, but also a treasure trove of exotic Judaica.

Some of the highlights are on view at the Magnes’ inaugural exhibit, titled “The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collection.” There is a 19th-century purple velvet wedding dress from Rhodes; a sword given by the Ottoman rulers of Palestine to the Jewish developer, who, in 1892, financed the road connecting Jaffa to Jerusalem; even a century-old ketubah from the Jewish community in Kochi, India.

All these holdings were hard to display in its former home, a cramped residential house in Berkeley, where the museum had been since 1966. “Even Google maps had a hard time giving directions on how to get there,” said Spagnolo, the Magnes’ chief curator.

The Magnes’ new building, along with its merger with Berkeley, has been widely praised by scholars, fundraisers and museum directors alike. As an independent institution until its merger in 2010, the Magnes had limited staff and hours, and found it difficult to preserve and organize its archives. Now that the heart of its collection — the documents of the Jewish American West — sit in the Bancroft Library on campus, accessing them will be considerably easier for scholars.

Moreover, the renovated new building — at 25,000 square feet, roughly three times the size of the collection’s former home — enables it to house 80 percent of its exotic collection of Judaica in-house, not, as it had in the past, in an off-site storage facility. By taking over administrative costs, Berkeley has also cut the Magnes’ annual operating budget in half. Instead of roughly $2 million a year to operate, it will now cost just under $1 million.

But the changes come at a price. Merging the Magnes with a much larger, and secular, institution like Berkeley was never part of Fromer’s vision. He died in 2009, before the decision was made. And the merger only highlights the mishaps and difficult choices the Magnes has had to make simply in order to survive.

“In an ideal situation, it could have remained independent,” said Fred Rosenbaum, another leading scholar of the Jewish American and the West. While acknowledging the ultimate benefits of the merger, he couldn’t help but lament the decision.

“Just a minor caveat,” he said: “There was something wonderful about the old Magnes. There was a kind of feeling in the air of being a part of something special. Now it will be highly efficient, but it won’t have the warmth, the intangible, of being a highly creative independent Jewish institution.”

Perhaps the most important sacrifice Magnes made was the relinquishment of the central item that made it famous in the first place: its collection of Jewish archives of the West. The include the papers of the Haas family, an original owner of Levi Strauss and Company, and many founders of the Bay Area’s Jewish community. All of those documents have been moved to the Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, itself a renowned institution with one of the largest collections of materials relating to the American West.

Many scholars of Jewish history think this is good for Jewish scholarship.

“I think it’s great — it’s better than good,” said Marc Dollinger, chair of the Jewish studies department at San Francisco State University and a leading scholar of Jews in the American West. “It’s better to house [the Jewish West documents] at a research library; it’s more accessible to a wider audience.”

But few deny that the merger was one made out of dire need. A series of inopportune choices, including a hasty merger with the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 2002 (that ended a year later), and the purchase of two new buildings — one just before the dot-com crash in 2000, another before the 2008 recession — left the Magnes badly damaged….READ MORE

Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts

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Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz: Hi-tech rescues Jewish texts

THOUSANDS of fragments of centuries-old Jewish texts, from shopping lists to historical documents, are being joined together using new software.

The scraps of the Cairo Genizah being catalogued include a letter from a wife complaining about her husband and a rabbinical judge’s authorisation of the kosher status of cheese sold by a grocer.

The software, developed by Tel Aviv University professors Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz, is analysing texts that span about 1000 years of Middle East history. The algorithm program adapts facial recognition technology to identify similar handwriting on documents which are then sorted into digital loose-leaf binders.

”The computer found thousands of items running for a week,” Professor Dershowitz said. ”Then it took months for the scholars to look at it and decide if the computer was correct.”…READ MORE