Getting the Most out of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts Catalog

Arguably the most important room in Jerusalem

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series on how to use the various internet databases listed in our “Toolbox” section. Dr. Ezra Chwat of the IMHM helped me put together the instructions listed below.

Arguably the most important room in Jerusalem, the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) at the National Library of Israel only recently received the attention it deserves when it was featured prominently in Yossi Cedar’s film Footnote. Scenes of Professor Shkolink the father working studiously in the room’s dark lighting were more than enough to raise the excitement of philologists who for the first time truly experienced Lacan’s “mirror stage” through film. Yet so much of the information amassed by the Institute’s staff is accessible without having to deal with the odd lighting and clunky microfilm viewers. The catalog of manuscripts on its own holds a wealth of information, from the bibliographical to the codicological. The list allows you to find almost all of the textual witnesses available for the work you may be studying. For example, to find various manuscripts of Bavli Shabbat, all one has to do is click on “כותר המתחיל ב…”, and type in “תלמוד בבלי סדר מועד (שבת)”, and the catalogue immediately lists all of the complete and partial manuscripts of the tractate:

Even more importantly, the list already includes manuscripts reconstructed from various genizah fragments, with information about each part of the textual witness:

Through the advanced search (“חיפוש מתקדם”) one can even search directly for reconstructed genizah manuscripts. Within “מלים” type “מאותו כי”(make sure you don’t put a quotation mark and write כ”י), and then in the second field select “נושא כתב היד” and enter the tractate or other work that you’re trying to find genizah manuscripts for:

Clicking on the number that appears following the words “סך-הכול” will bring you to a list that also includes reconstructed manuscripts of commentators on the tractate you searched for:

Of course, the catalog is just a catalog, and except for textual witnesses available online (which will be hyperlinked from the results), one must get to a library with a microfilmed manuscript collection in order to make full use of the information obtained.

5 responses to “Getting the Most out of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts Catalog

  1. Nice post!
    To get even more out of the catalogue, it’s often worthwhile to search by keyword instead of relying only on the title or author fields. The catalogue holds a wealth of information (not a dearth) but sometimes you need to dig for it.

  2. As someone who works in the manuscript room on occasion and uses the catalog features awkwardly, I found this post very useful and informative. Thanks Yitz and Ezra.

  3. It’s important to note that the catalog, for all of its amazingness, still does not have full information for many (most) Talmud geniza MSS. The full information is held by Dr. Yoav Rosenthal and the Mishnah Project, soon to be published.

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