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Hebrew Collection

Collection Details

Hebrew Collection held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

Manuscripts : a collection of 3000 volumes (including Karaite and Samaritan MSS) mainly rabbinics and biblical texts and commentaries, but also liturgical, cabalistic, philosophic and secular works, and ca. 10.000 Genizah fragments.

Incunables : ca.100 copies of works printed before 1501. Representative of Hebrew book production by movable-type in the Iberian Peninsula and Italy.

Early and antiquarian books : ca. 23.000 book titles printed 1502-1930 . Representative of the entire range of Hebrew book production around the world including Central, Eastern and Western Europe, the USA, North Africa, the Middle East and India.

Modern printed books and periodicals : over 50.000 books printed 1930 to today and nearly 1000 periodical titles issued mostly during 19th and 20th C. Approximately a third of the periodicals held in the collection are current subscriptions.

History and development

The British Museum Foundation collections, particularly Sloane, Cotton and Harley contributed jointly nearly 150 important Hebrew manuscripts, of which some finely illuminated. In 1759, 180 very fine books and 3 manuscripts, were donated by Solomon Da Costa Attias. The books, printed between 1484-1659, are products of Hebrew printing presses that existed in Ferrara, Mantua, Venice and also Constantinople and Salonica. The year 1848 saw the accessions of 4420 books from Heimann Joseph Michael's library, a valuable addition encompassing all areas of Hebrew literature. Particular strength : 16th C imprints from Poland and Turkey and many imprints from the library of Jacob Emden containing his marginal annotations. 322 valuable manuscripts from Joseph Almanzi's estate were added to the collection in 1865. Between 1877-1882 nearly 300 Karaite manuscript were acquired from the dealer William Moses Shapira. Some 4000 Genizah fragments were purchased from W.S.Raffalovich in 1898. 1129 manuscripts (including 3000 Genizah Fragments) from Moses Gaster's estate were added to the collection in 1927.


The Hebrew manuscript collection is especially strong in rabbinic, biblical, liturgical and cabalistic texts. The illuminated items in the collection (about 150 manuscripts), are unique and priceless examples of medieval Hebrew manuscript art. Many schools of European Hebrew manuscript illumination are represented and a particular strength are the Haggadot from 14th C Spain.

By far the largest Hebrew printed book collection in the UK, the Library's collection is particularly strong in incunables and early printed works, as well as Anglo-Judaica, especially from the 19th C. Its subject scope is vast - from Rabbinic, biblical and liturgical works to modern Hebrew literature. It covers the entire time-span of Hebrew printing from 15th C to the latest monographs and serials, and is representative of Hebrew printing around the globe.

General arrangement and access regulations

The collection is organised into the following categories : manuscripts, rare, antiquarian and modern printed books, periodicals and some current official publications.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Near & Middle East and North Africa.



Languages of material

Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Ladino, Samaritan Aramaic, Yiddish.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Human rights, Industries, International relations, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Books, Manuscripts, Newspapers (includes microfilm editions), Official publications, Serials.

Total size of collection


Size of collection - vernacular

3000 manuscripts, 10.000 Genizah Fragments, ca. 73.000 monographs and monograph series ca. 950 periodical titles (including about 300 current academic journals and ca. 50 current official publications)

Size of collection - western

about 2000 monographs and monographs series, 50 periodical titles

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has fallen.

Annual intake

Approx. figures : 700 monographs; 300 serials titles

Content date range

900 to present

Collection Catalogue Information


Some earlier and more current Hebrew printed works are catalogued on BLPC. For the printed catalogues see our website.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

Mostly Library of Congress transliteration scheme for Hebrew and Yiddish.

Catalogue scripts

Searching by Hebrew script on the Reading Room OPAC - refer to Instructions Manual in the Oriental Reading Room.

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