Washington DC: Russian Judaica Collections, Feb. 3

St. Petersburg, Russia, is the home of unique Hebrew manuscripts, which are the focus of a Library of Congress lecture at noon, Wednesday, February 3.

The city’s libraries, archives, institutes and museums hold many unique artifacts of Jewish culture, such as more than 15,000 items in The National Library of Russia, which holds the Abraham Firkovich collection. The Leib Friedland collection of manuscripts and rare books is at the Library of the Academy of Sciences, while the Museum of Ethnography houses S. An-sky’s Pale of Settlement ethnographic expeditions material.

The Russian Museum of Ethnography’s Judaica curator Shimon Iakerson PhD, will present this program at noon in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, Room LJ220 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; tickets not required.

The leading scholar in the field of Hebrew incunabula (books printed before the year 1501), and the author of several books on the subject, Iakerson is also senior researcher at the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In 2005, he received the first Honorable Medal presented at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in Jerusalem for his two-volume work, “Catalogue of Hebrew Incunabula from the Collection of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America” (New York and Jerusalem, 2004-2005).

In 2009, he won the Antsiferov Award, an international prize in honor of the historian N.P. Antsiferov, for his overall contributions to the field of St. Petersburg studies for his most recent work, “Jewish Treasures of Petersburg: Scrolls, Codices, Documents” (Evreiskie sokrovisha Peterburga), St. Petersburg 2008.

Iakerson’s book presents a selection of examples of 16th-17th century medieval manuscripts, incunabula and unique works such as richly illuminated manuscripts, individual pages of “lost” works, classic works and more. Unfortunately, the text of the 240-page text – with more than 140 color illustrations – is only in Russian. The cost is $299, through The Hermitage Museum online store.

See a newspaper article – Jewish Treasures Survive The Czars – about some of these treasures from the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, from April 15, 1995. The Jewish Heritage Society here offers more information, as does the Petersburg Judaica Center. Here are details on a book, “Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions,” by Eugene M. Avrutin, ed, which includes 170 photos from the Pale of Settlement.

Sephardic researchers should know that St. Petersburg was home to Sephardim from the Netherlands (who were invited by the Czar), that the Russian court physician was the Sephardic Ribeira Sanchez, and that Russian collections hold Sephardic manuscripts.

The Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division is the center for the study of some 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia. The division’s Hebraic Section is one of the world’s foremost centers for the study of Hebrew and Yiddish materials.
Tracing the Tribe has often found materials of interest for our family history among the many resources in the Hebraic Section.

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