The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) has accepted $500,000 from philanthropic leaders Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky to build a state-of-the-art digitization lab and make high-quality images of precious manuscripts available online.
For many scholars, profound connection with their subjects and essential moments of great insight occur when they study original manuscripts. The JTS Library, with its unparalleled collection of rare and significant Judaic materials—including nearly 11,000 Hebrew manuscripts—has offered this experience to thousands of researchers and students. But up until now, this has happened primarily on-site. Through the foresight of these donors and their important gift, the JTS Library will solidify its position as a globally accessible digital library. The Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky Digitization Project will create the Polonsky Digitization Lab in Memory of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum. The late Rabbi Tanenbaum, a graduate of JTS, was a visionary leader in human rights and interreligious affairs.
The new lab’s inaugural task will be to systematically digitize and make available online two important manuscript collections at the JTS Library: those presently without surrogate copies, and selected illuminated and decorated manuscripts. An example of a manuscript that will be digitized is a Judeo-Persian version of Abd al-Rahmam Jami’s Joseph and Zulaikha, which was handwritten between 1852 and 1853 by the scribe Eliyahu Ben Nissan ben Eliyah. This epic poem is a mystical Islamic adaptation of the biblical tale of Joseph and the wife of Potiphar. This is a richly decorated manuscript depicting the entire story with magnificent images. The manuscript is evidence of the richness of the culture of Jews living in the Muslim setting of 19th-century Iran.
The lab will be built to accommodate the safe digitization of bound works of paper and parchment. Expert lab personnel will make the new digital objects easily searchable online and accessible through the JTS Library’s digital site. Once it’s up and running, the lab will make possible the digitization of The Library’s remarkable collections far into the future. The entire project will be completed in less than two years.
“We are pleased to support JTS’s extraordinary efforts to make its Library treasures accessible to a large audience through digitization,” said Dr. Polonsky.
Dr. David Kraemer, the Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian of the JTS Library, said, “This grant is a gift to all those who care about Judaism. Thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors, The Library’s many valuable works—testifying to the richness and creativity of Jewish culture through the ages—will become available to anyone who is interested in exploring them. This will allow for unprecedented discovery of the genius of the Jewish past.”