Rare Hebrew Manuscripts from Vatican to go On View at the Jewish Museum

The new Jewish Museum London is to exhibit three rare Hebrew manuscripts from the collections of the Vatican Library that have never before been shown to the public in Britain. Open 25 June – 10 October 2010.

Illumination will tell the story of these carefully selected manuscripts which is also a story of cultural exchange, practical cooperation and religious tolerance between Jews and non-Jews in the Muslim and Christian worlds during the Middle Ages. The manuscripts, which are among the most important Jewish works of scholarship and learning, will be displayed together with exquisitely beautiful manuscripts from the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and the Lambeth Palace Library for the museum’s opening exhibition.

Among the works on display from the Vatican Library are a richly illuminated 15th century manuscript of the Mishneh Torah, compiled in the 12th century by Maimonides, the greatest medieval rabbinical figure, and a 9th century midrash (commentary) on the book of Leviticus, thought to be the earliest Hebrew document in codex (book) form.

Other highlights of the exhibition include the original petition of Manasseh ben Israel to Oliver Cromwell (London, 1655), requesting permission for the Jews to settle in England, which is on loan from the British Library, and the intricately illuminated Kennicott Bible (Spain, 1476) from the Bodleian Library.

Throughout history, many Hebrew manuscripts have been destroyed because they were considered heretical and dangerous. At other times, these manuscripts were collected, treasured and adorned by fervent bibliophiles. These collectors and scholars included non-Jewish students of the Hebrew Bible who had learnt Hebrew and Aramaic for the purpose. The Vatican Library acquired an extensive collection of Hebrew manuscripts for its own internal study and scholarship, but the documents were not displayed publicly. The use by Christians of Jewish tradition made accessible in Hebrew manuscripts reveal cultural and religious exchange.

The manuscripts and printed books in this exhibition date from the 9th to the 17th century and many are beautifully illuminated and decorated. The Jews who commissioned manuscripts frequently turned to highly skilled Christian artists for the illustration of the text and the decorative styles of the works exhibited reflect local cultures and design, whether in the Moorish style of medieval Spain, the Italianate style, or the Gothic style of Northern Europe. The works attest to a shared culture and display coexistence and social interaction between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours as well well as enhancing our understanding of the intellectual exchange and transmission of knowledge between Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Image: Tripartite Mahzor


Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published.