Department of Manuscripts
The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts

Jewish National and University Library

POB 39105 Jerusalem 91390. Fax 972-2-6511771. Tel 972-2-6585853

The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) has undertaken the task of collecting microfilm copies of all Hebrew manuscripts extant in public and private collections. Over 74,000 reels, representing more than 90% of known Hebrew manuscripts are available for the use of scholars and interested laymen. The IMHM located in the Jewish National and University Library offers scholars a unique facility to study, compare and collate Hebrew manuscripts found in distant locations on different continents. All the vast printed resources of Hebraica and Judaica are available in the same building. Adjoining the IMHM are the Department of Manuscripts of the JNUL housing 10,000 original MSS and the Hebrew Palaeography Project which is conducting research on the codicology and palaeography of medieval dated Hebrew MSS.

Contents of the IMHM Homepage

Brief history of the Institute Catalogues in the Institute
Opening hours and general information Ordering reproductions from microfilms
List of collections microfilmed for the IMHM Addresses of Libraries
Access to online catalogue ALEPH500 Guide to Hebrew Manuscript Collections (Jerusalem 1994).
Publications of the Institute Additions and Corrections to the Guide
E-mail messages to the Institute  

Brief history of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts

"... our first duty is to save Hebrew literature. There are thousands of Hebrew manuscripts lying idle in various libraries ... Many of them have vanished in the darkness of the past or have been destroyed by the wrath of oppressors ... It is the duty of the State of Israel to acquire and gather those exiles of the spirit of Israel dispersed in the Diaspora. I do not think that it will be possible to acquire ... the original manuscripts, but their reproductions ... will have the same practical value as the manuscripts themselves ..." (David Ben Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, March 5, 1950).

The fate of Hebrew book collections was determined by many of the same factors that tempered Jewish history. The intense intellectual activity and a high rate of literacy that so frequently characterized Jewish society encouraged the production and cumulation of large numbers of manuscripts (and later printed books) but also led to their steady deterioration through constant use. Persecutions, pogroms, exiles and mass book burnings over the centuries further depleted the number of Hebrew books so that today there are probably no more than seventy thousand manuscripts extant, fewer than half of them dating to the Middle Ages. These manuscripts are scattered in over 600 collections housed in public and university libraries, synagogues, monasteries and private homes in over twenty five countries on all five continents.

Manuscripts are in a sense the "raw material" for research in Hebrew literature. Without manuscripts at his disposal the scholar cannot establish accurate texts. If his library includes only printed books his studies in certain fields such as kabbalah, philosophy or poetry will be severely limited as the number of unpublished works in these fields rivals or exceeds the number of edited works. In order to preserve, fully appreciate and study all the treasures of Jewish written culture it is necessary to concentrate all the Hebrew manuscripts in one center and to provide a comprehensive union catalogue of all the works copied in these codices. David Ben Gurion understood this!

In March 1950, Ben Gurion, then prime minister of Israel, was enjoying a hard earned vacation in Tiberias, now a resort town, but in the ninth century the seat of Jewish learning in Eretz Israel. The problems facing the prime minister of a state still less than two years old were enormous: security, economy, immigration and colonisation to name a few. Nevertheless, Ben Gurion found the time to write a long letter to his minister of finance requesting a large sum for the establishment of an Institute of Manuscripts in Jerusalem for the purpose of microfilming all the Hebrew manuscripts in the world. The letter was sent to the minister and copies to all the other members of the government on March 5, 1950. A few days later the government voted to establish the Institute of Hebrew Manuscripts under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Dr. Nehemiah Allony, the first director of the Institute set out with unbounded energy to accomplish the task set by Ben Gurion. During the first decade of the Institute's existence Allony made eight trips to Europe persuading and convincing the directors of most of the major libraries of the continent to have their Hebrew manuscripts copied on microfilm. By the time he completed the period of his directorship in 1963 - when the Institute was transferred to the Jewish National and University Library at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University and acquired its new name, the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts - the collection of microfilms had grown to over 15,000. Over forty years later the number of microfilms on file at the IMHM exceeds 74,000. Almost all the major collections in the world have been, or are in the process of being filmed. Until the dissolution of the USSR access to manuscripts in Russia was very limited, but during the past decade the major collections in Moscow and St. Petersburg, numbering over 20,000 manuscript items (complete and partial codices) have been filmed.

The IMHM at present

The search for Hebrew manuscripts continues. While most of the large collections have been traced and microfilmed, hundreds of individual manuscripts or small collections are hidden away in remote libraries or repose almost forgotten in attics together with other family heirlooms. Thousands of pages from ancient Hebrew books were used to bind other volumes or archival records in dozens of libraries and archives throughout Europe, unrecorded in any catalogue. The IMHM is making efforts to uncover these precious writings and make them available for study. Each year hundreds of letters and questionnaires are sent out to libraries, museums and private collectors all over the world. Newspapers, journals and scholarly publications are carefully scrutinized for any information relating to Hebrew manuscripts. Though these methods do bring results, they have severe limitations. Not all the sources holding manuscripts are reached and many of those to whom we apply are unaware of the cultural value of the treasures they possess or for various reasons refuse to cooperate. It would be of utmost importance to launch a wide ranging and well-publicized search for these manuscripts but budgetary restraints prevent the Institute from carrying out such a program.

Projects in cooperation with the IMHM

The Institute serves as a laboratory or workshop for a number of prestigious projects of Jewish scholarship. The Mishna Project, the Piyyut Project and the Hebrew Palaeography Project, all under the auspices of the Israel Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Firkovich MSS Cataloguing Project under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Judeo Arabic Culture and Literature in the Ben-Zvi Institute all draw upon the resources of the IMHM, and none of them could have been initiated had the Institute not been in existence. Together with the Bodleian Library in Oxford the IMHM has prepared a supplementary volume of addenda and corrigenda to the Neubauer Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian. A new catalogue in English describing the 1600 Hebrew manuscripts in the Palatina Library in Parma has been published (Jerusalem, 2000) and a new catalogue of the 800 Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican Library is in preparation. The Institute is willing and eager to cooperate with other institutions contemplating projects involving Hebrew manuscript material.

The IMHM in Jerusalem - opening hours

The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts is situated in the Manuscripts and Archives Wing on the ground floor of the National Library of Israel at the Hebrew University - Edmond Safra campus, Givat Ram, Jerusalem.
The IMHM is open to the public Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 AM till 5:00 PM.

The IMHM offers its readers a number of services. In addition to the catalogues described above the Institute is preparing a card-index to manuscripts mentioned or published in scholarly journals, festschriften etc. The expert staff of the IMHM will be pleased to assist readers in using the catalogues or locating manuscript material. The S.D. Goitein Genizah Laboratory which houses the card-indexes compiled by the late Prof. Goitein while preparing his Genizah studies is found on the premises.

Reproductions from microfilms

Requests for photocopies are processed in the Library's Reproduction Department. Photocopies from reader-printers and microfilm copies can be ordered. Generally, permission must be obtained from the library owning the original manuscript before photocopies can be made. Application forms for permission to copy manuscripts are reproduced below. Download the relevant form and send it to the library. For a list of addresses of the libraries press on the appropriate line.

Addresses of Libraries

Addresses of Libraries in Jerusalem - In Hebrew only

Addresses of Libraries in Austria

Addresses of Libraries in France

Addresses of Libraries in Germany

Addresses of Libraries in Israel - In Hebrew only

Addresses of Libraries in Italy

Addresses of Libraries in Spain

Addresses of Libraries in the UK (England and Scotland)

Addresses of Libraries in the USA

Addresses of Libraries in other countries

Some libraries require that their own forms be filled in. Below we have reproduced both the standard form and the forms required by the British Library, London, the Montefiore Library, London; The Bibliotheque de l'Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris; Staatsbibliothek, Berlin; Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem.

Application forms for permission to reproduce Mss. from the The Jewish National and University Library: English form טופס בעברית

General application forms for permission to reproduce MSS

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the British Library, London

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the Montefiore Library, London.

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the Yeshiva University - Mendel Gottesman Library, New York

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the Hebrew Union College Library, Cincinnati.

Application forms for permission to reproduce MSS from the Lehmann Hebrew Manuscript Collection

Application forms for permission to reproduce Mss. from the National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg

To obtain permission to duplicate Yad Ben Zvi manuscripts from our microfilms, use this link: English form טופס בעברית

We appreciate your comments or queries

Publications of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts

Between 1957-1968 the IMHM published three catalogues of selected Hebrew Manuscripts in microfilmed collections. These catalogues generally do not include MSS adequately described in earlier printed catalogues. The catalogue of the Vatican Library, however , includes descriptions of all the Hebrew MSS in the collections of the library including those described by Assemani in Latin. In all three catalogues, MSS are described very briefly in Hebrew.

Titles of the publications, all written in Hebrew, are listed here in English.

Hebrew Manuscripts in the libraries of Austria and Germany, by N. Allony and D.S. Loewinger, Jerusalem 1957.

Hebrew Manuscripts in the libraries of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, by N. Allony and E.(F.) Kupfer, Jerusalem 1964.

Hebrew Manuscripts in the Vatican, by N. Allony and D.S. Loewinger, Jerusalem 1968.

The Collective Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts and the Department of Manuscripts of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. User's Guide. Chadwyck-Healey, France- Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem 1989. In Hebrew and English. A guide to the use of the catalogues of the IMHM reproduced on microfiche. Includes a list of all collections microfilmed until 1989.

Catalogue of the Jack Mosseri Collection [of Genizah fragments], edited by the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts with the collaboration of numerous specialists, Jerusalem 1990.

Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library - Supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda to Volume I (A. Neubauer's Catalogue). Edited by R.A. May. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994. [General editor: M. Beit-Arie]. The greater part of the corrections and addenda were supplied by the staff of the IMHM and other experts.

From the Collections of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts written by the staff of the Institute and arranged, with detailed indexes by Dr. A. David, Jerusalem 1995. Articles on Hebrew manuscripts, most of them reprinted from the bibliographical journal Kiryat Sefer.

Hebrew Manuscripts in the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma : catalogue, edited by Benjamin Richler ; palaeographical and codicological descriptions by Malachi Beit-Arie. Jerusalem, 2001.

For further information about collections of Hebrew manuscripts refer to B. Richler Guide to Hebrew Manuscript Collections (Jerusalem 1994). Press here for a list of Additions and Corrections to the Guide.

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