Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books

Nearly 800 fully-digitized Hebrew manuscripts and printed books from the medieval and early modern periods.

The Bodleian holds what is probably still regarded as the best collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, alongside an extraordinarily rich collection of early Hebrew and Yiddish printed books. All fields of traditional Hebrew scholarship are represented in the collection, and the digitized items reflect this diversity.

The earliest manuscript accessions in Hebrew were received in 1601 and in the first catalogue of the library (1605) there are 58 books with titles in Hebrew script. The Library’s founder, Thomas Bodley, took a personal interest in Hebrew manuscripts, and after his death, the Library continued to enrich the Hebrew collections. In 1692 it purchased the collections of Dr Robert Huntington and Professor Edward Pococke. Among the 212 manuscripts in the Huntington collection is the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (1155-1204) with the author’s signature.

The acquisition in 1817 of the manuscript collection which had belonged to the Venetian Jesuit, Matteo Luigi Canonici, represented the largest single purchase ever made by the Library. The collection contains over 110 valuable Hebrew manuscripts, chiefly on vellum. In 1829 the Bodleian bought the Oppenheim Library thought to be the most important and magnificent Hebraica collection ever accumulated. Rabbi David ben Abraham Oppenheim (1664-1736) was the Chief Rabbi of Prague and during his lifetime he had amassed 780 manuscripts and 4,220 printed books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic, many of which are the only surviving copies. Further significant collections of Hebrew manuscripts were added in 1848 and 1890.

The digitized items - most of which were digitized as part of the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project - include MS. Kennicott 1, ‘the Kennicott bible’ a magnificently decorated 15th century Hebrew bible donated to the library by Benjamin Kennicott; and MS. Kennicott 3, a rare example of a dated and lavishly illustrated Ashkenazi Pentateuch.

Up to date catalogue records for Hebrew manuscripts are maintained in the Hebrew Manuscripts catalogue.