One day conference - 9 June 2002

The magnificent Rylands Library on Deansgate opened its doors specially on Sunday June 9th for a conference on Jewish Heritage at the Rylands. An audience of over 70 enjoyed a specially mounted exhibition and illustrated lectures by Dr. Stella Butler, Head of the Special Collections Department at the Library, Professor Alexander Samely and Professor Philip Alexander of the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University, and - as special guest speaker - Professor Stefan Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit and Professor of Medieval Hebrew Studies at the University of Cambridge.

The conference heard about the circumstances of the acquisition of major Hebrew collections by the library, particularly the Gaster and Marmorstein collections. The Gaster collection includes some 10,000 manuscripts, often fragmentary, from the Cairo Geniza. The conference was shown draft pages of sections of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, written in his own handwriting, and indicating the changes which he made before the final draft. Professor Reif told the conference that the very next page had been recently been discovered in the Geniza collection at Cambridge. He emphasised the importance of collaboration between the different libraries holding Geniza material.

In introducing Professor Reif, Sir Martin Harris FBA, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, announced a new project designed to ensure the cataloguing of the Manchester Geniza fragments. The library has been offered a grant of at least $30,000, provided that matching funding can be raised locally, by the Friedberg Genizah Project (supported by Mr Albert D. Friedberg, of Toronto and organised by scholars at New York University). He thankedMr. Joe Dwek for initiating the drive for this marching funding with a personal pledge of $10,000. The project is anticipated to take three years to complete.

It is planned that the catalogue will be published on the internet, thus providing scholars worldwide with basic information about the Manchester collection. This will inevitably lead to scholarly publications related to many items, and consideration will be given in due course to digitisation and publication either on the internet or as a CD-ROM.

10.00 Registration
10.15 Dr. Stella Butler, Head of Special Collections, JRULM: Aristocrats, Academics and Philanthropists: the History of the Jewish Collections in the John Rylands Library
11.15 Break
11.30 Dr. Alex Samely, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Manchester, The Hebrew Manuscripts of the John Rylands Library: A Microcosm of Jewish Culture
12.30 Guided tours of the exhibition and the building. There will also be access to the Commonwealth Poets exhibition.
13.15 Lunch Break
14.00 Professor Philip Alexander, Professor of Post-Biblical Jewish Literature, University of Manchester: Gaster, Early Printed Books and Haskalah
15.00 Break
15.30 The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Martin Harris, will announce a new development project for the collection and will introduce: 
Professor Stefan Reif, Professor of Medieval Hebrew Studies and Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, University of Cambridge: Fragments of Jewish History and Literature in the Geniza: The Man/Cam Connection

The special collections of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, housed in the magnificent neo-gothic Deansgate building constructed in the 1890s, are rich in material relating to Jewish studies.

They include the lavishly illuminated early 14th-century Sephardi Haggadah (Hebrew MS 6) as well as Torah scrolls and marriage contracts from the 18th and 19th century. The printed book collections cover a wide range of Judaic literature from the 16th century onwards. Archive collections also contain important correspondence relating to the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

In 1901, Mrs Enriqueta Rylands purchased from the Earl of Crawford a large collection of manuscripts dating from the 21st BC onwards, which include some of the most spectacular medieval manuscripts ever produced. The Hebrew manuscripts assembled by Crawford in the mid-nineteenth century include examples of some of the finest Italian renaissance illumination.

Following Mrs Rylands death in 1908 the Library continued to collect widely including material relating to the history of Judaism. In 1954, the collection of Dr Moses Gaster, chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Communities of British Jews from 1886 until 1919 was purchased. This included 10,000 fragments in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic from the Genizah of the Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Cairo.

In 1970, the Haskalah Collection consisting of around 700 titles of 19th-century Hebrew literature was acquired. In 1973, the JRULM purchased the working library of Arthur Marmostein, a noted rabbinic scholar. The collection contains Hebraic and Talmudic literature from the 16th century onwards.

Fuller details of the Judaica holdings within the Rylands Library at the University of Manchester can be found at:

Further details of the Genizah Fragments project can be found at: