Hebrew Palaeography Project
Prof. Malachi Beit-Arié
The Israel Academy established the Hebrew Palaeography Project in 1965 in conjunction with the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris. The goals of the project are to describe and classify the graphic, technical and physical characteristics of medieval Hebrew manuscripts bearing notations of date, place and scribe, with the aim of providing Judaic Studies researchers with solid tools for identifying the provenance of manuscripts and estimating their dates, while offering a systematic typology of Hebrew books written by hand, their scribes and their craft, and shedding light on elements of society and literacy in the Jewish communities that produced them.
All of the known dated manuscripts in the world have been located, and nearly all have been analyzed and described using detailed questionnaires. Manuscripts kept in libraries in Israel, the U.S., France, England, Russia, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Egypt have been documented. In addition, hundreds of manuscripts bearing notations of their scribes and hundreds more date-bearing certificates have been documented, along with unstudied manuscripts documented on the basis of microfilms – about 6,700 manuscripts in total.
All of this documentation was transferred to a computerized database using a questionnaire containing about 700 fields, and a sophisticated and complex update and search system – SfarData – was developed. Thousands of pages of selected reproductions were acquired in actual size, and these were scanned and added to the database. Graphic designers created alphabet charts for each dated manuscript. Collections of photographed pages were also prepared, arranged in chronological order by the type and genre of the scripts.
The bilingual (Hebrew and English) SfarData website was integrated into the website of the National Library of Israel, where it serves hundreds of Judaic Studies scholars from different countries. To support, maintain and upgrade this unique codicological database, the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures partnered with the National Library in sponsoring and funding the website. The site’s address is: http://sfardata.nli.org.il/sfardatanew/home.aspx
The project has yielded the following works published by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities:
• Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes, Parts I–IV, by Malachi Beit-Arié, Colette Sirat and Mordechai Glatzer
• Manuscrits médiévaux en caractères hébraїques portant des indications de date jusqu’à 1540, Parts I–III, by Colette Sirat and Malachi Beit-Arié
• Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, Vols. I–II, edited by Malachi Beit-Arié and Edna Engel (Vol. III is in press)
History Discipline Committee
From time to time, the Israel Academy’s Division of Humanities may investigate selected disciplines and fields of research in Israel’s universities, with the aim of evaluating what is being done in these fields in comparison with other world-class universities and of identifying subfields that are missing or require further development in Israel.
The Division’s first such investigation focuses on the field of history in the broadest sense, including European and American history, Jewish history and Near-Eastern history, East-Asian and Latin-American history, Russian studies, art history, the history of science and economics, and historical geography.
the History Discipline Committee completed the first phase of this project, which examined emphases over the last 25 years in research - by way of a survey of all academic dissertations in history written in Israel since 1979 - and in university instruction.
Samples of the resulting database were recently presented to the Committee’s members, who include members of the Israel Academy and other distinguished historians.
In the second phase, additional data is being added to the database under the Committee’s direction, including data on the research and teaching staff of the universities since 1975, using the same array of categories as those used in the previous surveys. Comparative data has also been gathered from leading universities abroad.
In the third and final phase, a committee of foreign experts will assess the status of the history discipline in Israel and formulate conclusions and recommendations for presentation to the Israel Academy and to Israel’s universities. A summary will be made available to the general public. This project is directed by Professors Benjamin Z. Kedar (Committee Chair).
The Prayer Project
Project director: Prof. Uri Ehrlich
The Prayer Project was launched in 2003 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Its objective is to compile a database all of the textual witnesses of Jewish prayer and liturgical practices throughout the ages. The database provides a reliable textual platform for all branches of research on Jewish liturgy, which can be used to prepare critical editions of Jewish prayers.
Each segment of a siddur registered in the database is classified by two criteria: a physical description of the source and its liturgical content. This systematic registration and classification facilitates efficient retrieval of information for research. Important prayers are transcribed in full, thus enabling the analysis of sections of the siddur. Pertinent bibliographical information is attached to each segment listed in the catalogue, and a digital photograph of the segment can also be attached. Once the compilation of the textual witnesses is completed, it will be possible to provide a full synopsis for use by researchers.
Halakhic Literature in Judaeo-Arabic
Project Director: Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai
The goal of the project is to identify mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic compositions on halakha and talmudic commentary that survived among the manuscripts taken from the Cairo Geniza, to reconstruct them and to publish them in critical editions with annotated Hebrew translations.
Work on the project began in January 1999. So far, the work has been based on existing lists of Geniza fragments identified by scholars outside the framework of this project. In addition to reconstructing and critically analyzing the compositions, a systematic survey of all the Genizah collections was conducted in order to ensure that all of the relevant fragments will be addressed.
The object of the Israel Academy’s Liturgy Project, established in 2003 and located at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is to create a database of the textual evidence for the various stages, traditions, and versions of Jewish liturgy. The database, catalogued on the basis of scholarly criteria, will provide a reliable textual basis for all branches of research into Jewish liturgy.
National Projects Committee
In 2000, the Israel Academy established a committee for the purpose of identifying scholarly and scientific projects of national importance. The committee’s recommendations are passed on to the Planning and Budgeting Committee for the latter to examine the possibility of supporting these projects.
The committee submitted its first set of recommendations in 2001, focusing particularly on projects in the humanities and the social sciences that have sought recognition as being of national importance.
The projects chosen for recognition must meet the greater part of the following criteria: They must be of extraordinary scholarly importance; they must conform to a high academic standard; they must make a contribution to science, higher education, society, and culture; they must rest upon material of scholarly importance and must generate a body of information that will serve as the basis for further projects; they must be of such a nature as to require considerable time and staff resources to compile their informational base; they must serve a broad scholarly community; they must be accessible to researchers (and sometimes to the general public) irrespective of institutional affiliation, ethnic origin, religion, sex, or citizenship; and they must possess the necessary organizational resources to carry out the tasks they have undertaken within a reasonable period.
Concordance of the Talmud Yerushalmi
This 30-year project was initiated and conducted by Moshe Kosovsky, under the joint auspices of the Israel Academy and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Following the publication of the ninth and final volume in 2002, the Academy celebrated the completion of the project with an evening of lectures held in March 2003.
The deliberations of post-tannaitic Babylonian scholars on the Mishnah, the second-century collection of rabbinic dicta that forms the basis of post-biblical Jewish law, were redacted in the well-known Babylonian Talmud. The discussions of scholars in the Land of Israel in roughly the same period were codified in the less familiar and less approachable Jerusalem Talmud. The Concordance of the Talmud Yerushalmi provides scholars with a finely detailed key to the language and content of this difficult text.