The Oppenheimer Collection contains both the manuscripts and printed books from the library of Rabbi David Oppenheimer (1664-1736), the Chief Rabbi of Prague. This acquisition of over 5,000 manuscripts and printed books elevated the Bodleian Library to first rank among the Hebrew collections of the world. The manuscripts cover all areas of Hebrew learning studied at that time, from biblical commentary through Talmud, Liturgy, Kabbalah, grammar, mathematics and poetry. The printed books likewise cover all main areas of production, as Oppenheimer both in person and by proxy acquired as much as he could, even embracing editions printed on vellum or coloured papers. He regarded nothing as insignificant, and took particular care with collecting small and ephemeral items in Yiddish. He himself stopped collecting in 1732, and later items considered germane were acquired by various Bodleian curators and listed as "Opp.Adds.".
History and development
Rabbi David ben Abraham Oppenheimer (1664-1736) was a bibliophile from his early youth, and went on long journeys to obtain rare manuscripts with a view to subsidising their publication. He used his great wealth, inherited and received from his wives, to spend lavishly. He himself visited the fairs at Leipzig, and was in close touch with printers and dealers. After his death, however, the collection was the subject of litigation, being held in storage in 28 crates in a Hamburg warehouse. Such an unsatisfactory situation deeply concerned the scholars of the Science of Judaism in Germany, but no one could be found willing to purchase it and donate it to a library. There was by now a real danger that it would be dispersed at auction, but in 1829 it was finally sold in its totality to the Bodleian Library.
The manuscripts contain unique material in most of the subjects mentioned above. They are particularly strong in Responsa (most of them unpublished) including those of Oppenheimer himself. They would also have to be consulted by scholars in Liturgy, Kabbalah and Piyyut. The printed books, which are in good condition, contain unique editions of works which need to be consulted because copies elsewhere are either defective or variant. Moreover, some are printed from manuscripts that seem to have disappeared. The collection of Yiddish printed books has preserved unique items which make it the finest in the world for editions in Old Yiddish. Books in this language had a lower status than those in Hebrew, being intended for semi-literate males, women and children. For this reason (and also because they were often poorly printed in the first place) they were treated with contempt and usually discarded. In Oxford they survive.
General arrangement and access regulations
Because of its extreme rarity and value the collection is housed in closed access and items must be ordered individually to the Oriental Reading Room. To consult these items a full Bodleian Library reader's ticket is required, and in the case of manuscripts the need to consult these must be expressly stated on the letter or form of recommendation. All the items of whatever nature retain the shelfmark "MS.Opp." or "Opp." as the case may be, though it is vital to use the current number following these words and not the previous numbers, which are often prefixed "Ol.", a contraction of the Latin "olim", formerly.
Subjects of the Collection
Regions of Asia
Near & Middle East and North Africa.
Languages of material
Aramaic, Hebrew, Yiddish.
Education, History, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Philosophy, Religion, Science and technology.
Languages as linguistic focus
Names relevant to the collection:
- Oppenheimer, David ben Abraham, 1664-1736
Collection Material and Size
Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Books, Manuscripts.
Total size of collection
5,000 manuscripts and printed books
Size of collection - vernacular
780 manuscripts and 4,220 printed books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic
Collection printed catalogues
Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and in the college libraries of Oxford.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886.
Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library: Supplement of Addenda and Corrigenda to Vol. 1 (A. Neubauer's Catalogue).
Beit-Arie, M.; May, R.A. (ed.)
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
Catalogus Librorum Hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana.
Steinschneider to be used with extreme caution. Not strictly a catalogue but a bibliography. Does not give shelfmarks. For these consult Cowley.
A concise catalogue of the Hebrew printed books in the Bodleian Library.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929.