The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 3)



by Gary A. Rendsburg
Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History
Department of Jewish Studies


see parts 1 and 2 here and here

At this point, it is worth recalling that virtually all of the texts in the Robison Collection always have been known to the Jewish tradition (Bible, etc.) – notwithstanding the occasional appearance of an interesting variant reading in our documents. Hence, their heuristic value lies more in revealing how a remote Jewish community transmitted the sacred texts for centuries in manuscript form – long after the vast majority of Jewish communities transitioned to the printed book (with the exception of the liturgical reading of handwritten Torah scrolls in the synagogue).

There is more, though, from the realm of popular knowledge (for lack of a better term). Almost all of these documents contain the jots and tittles of various users throughout the ages, as illustrated here, the start of MS 17 (dated to the 17th century), which contains the haftarot, or prophetic portions, read in the synagogue each Shabbat.

The liturgical text proper starts about one-third of the way down the left page (fol. 1r). Above that, framed in decorative squiggles, the original scribe wrote, “in the name of the Merciful One, I shall begin to write the haftarot for the entire year, with the help of the divine, beginning with Genesis” – a nice touch.

Near the top of the page, however, a later user of the text has doodled the alphabet and some random letters: can you imagine using a sacred text in such fashion?!?! But such was life in Yemen, with writing materials at a premium.

And then on the right side, which is actually the inside front cover, another later individual, with a less-than-professional hand, has written the blessings to be intoned before and after the recitation of the biblical text.

Below that appears in large letters, once again in a less-than-professional hand, the words “haftarah of Genesis” (on the first line) and “behold my servant, whom I uphold” (on the second line), the opening words of Isaiah 42:1 (though with the penultimate letter incorrectly formed and then the penultimate letter not actually part of the biblical text). One gains the impression that a lad, still in the process of learning how to write Hebrew, has inscribed these two lines.

Finally, at the far bottom of the page, is another set of lines, not part of Jewish liturgy, as far as I can determine – though I will leave for those more expert than I to decipher and explicate these words.

If we return to the actual biblical text on fol. 1r, for those who can read Hebrew and Aramaic, I would point out the following, very technical information. First, note that the Hebrew original is accompanied by the Aramaic translation (known as Targum Jonathan, in this case); and secondly, the vowels which accompany the consonants are the supralinear Babylonian ones (a system distinct from the better known Tiberian sublinear vowel markings). Re the first: note that in Yemenite synagogues, the biblical text was chanted both in Hebrew and in Aramaic translation, so that the reciter of the text could simply read straight through, using a manuscript such as ours. Re the second: the pronunciation of Hebrew amongst the Yemenite Jews is closer to the ancient system employed in Babylonia (than in the land of Israel), hence, their continued use of this less well known vocalization system.

So much to learn from our inspection of a single photograph! Once again, multiply this exercise by the hundreds, nay by the thousands, and one gets an idea of the true value of our precious Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts – now available to the world at-large through the Ktiv website!

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Sonia Yaco and the staff of SCUA for their ongoing assistance with this project, as well as my former research assistant, Annabelle (Nonnie) Sinoff (class of 2021), who provided all manner of both academic and logistical support throughout this process.

The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 2)


by Gary A. Rendsburg

Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History

Department of Jewish Studies

see part 1 here …

Two-plus years after we began the digital imaging process, we now are able to see the fruits of our labor. A search for ‘Rutgers’ at the Ktiv website yields the requisite number of hits: 63 in total (because some of the documents contain multiple compositions, and thus they have been sub-divided by the Ktiv cataloguers, in order to maximize search capacity). See here for the screen shot indicating the 63 hits, with details about the first two manuscripts (MS 4 and MS 17).



To illustrate how the Ktiv website works in greater detail, I have elected to use Robison MS 9, with the main catalogue entry seen here:

The Hebrew heading informs the user that this document contains the book of Leviticus – though there is more.

If one clicks on ‘Detailed Information’, one is directed to this screen:

where one learns that the text includes not only the Hebrew original, but also the Aramaic translation (known as Targum Onqelos) and the Judeo-Arabic translation (known as the Tafsir, produced by Sa‘adya Gaon).

If one returns to the main catalogue entry and clicks on the ‘View Manuscript’ link (see two images above), one reaches the digital images themselves, with page after page available for viewing, as exemplified here:

The various options in the bottom left include the zoom feature, which – given the high-resolution images – allows the user to see as much detail as one would like. For example, see here for the screen capture of the four lines in the upper right (= the beginning of folio 1v):

Though in fact one can zoom even further – see here, for example, for the last four words on the first line (recalling that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic are read from right to left):

Multiply this exercise by the hundreds, nay, by the thousands, and one can gain a sense of how our Hebrew manuscripts housed here in New Brunswick are now available to students, scholars, and researchers around the world.

to be continued …

The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 1)



by Gary A. Rendsburg

Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History

Department of Jewish Studies

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts entered the Rutgers University library holdings. Naturally, they were deposited in Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) in the then relatively recently opened Alexander Library. The c. 50 manuscripts were studied soon thereafter by Professor Leon Feldman (Hebraic Studies), in conjunction with Morris Lutzki, expert in Hebrew manuscripts at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The result of their collaboration was a 53-page typewritten catalogue, stored at SCUA along with the manuscripts themselves.

Cover page of the 1964 catalogue.

The manuscripts date to the 15th through 19th centuries and were all written in Yemen. Already in the late 15th century, within decades of the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg, printers (especially in northern Italy) developed Hebrew font for the printing of Hebrew books. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the printing of Hebrew books burgeoned, as the technology spread to main centers such as Salonika, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Prague. With the new technology readily available throughout Europe and the Mediterranean basin, manuscripts became rarer and rarer (not only in the Jewish world, of course, but throughout book culture more generally).

The one main exception among Jewish communities was Yemen: due to both the relative poverty of the community and the geographical remoteness of the country, the printing press did not arrive until the 20th century. Hence, Yemenite Jewish scribes continued to copy by hand classical Jewish texts such as the Bible, the prayer book, and the Passover Haggadah. Our Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts may constitute the best testimony to this practice in any library outside of Israel.

Enter the digital age, with more and more libraries digitizing their manuscript collections, with high-resolution images readily available for public inspection on the internet. Riding this wave, in 2014 the National Library of Israel (NLI) created “Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts,” in an effort to aggregate all Hebrew manuscripts at a single website. Eight years on, the project now has c. 600 partners (including Rutgers University), with c. 95,000 documents available in digital images.

Our involvement began in 2019, when Rutgers and the NLI signed an agreement, with the latter providing the funds for the digitalization of our Robison Collection. We moved quickly, hired Bruce White, photographer extraordinaire, arranged for library space to undertake the project, and completed the photographic record in January‒February 2020. The main result was c. 5000 images, using the best equipment possible – though note also the timing: we completed the project just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would cause the Rutgers campus to close in March 2020, with no further access to Alexander Library.

The pandemic caused some delay, but nonetheless work proceeded. Mr. White mailed an external hard drive containing all the images, all properly organized and labelled, to our colleagues in Jerusalem, and little by little they began to integrate the images into their database.

to be continued …

Updates to Services and Access to Materials


We’re happy to report good news from Special Collections and University Archives: Improved access to our resources and expanded researcher hours and capacity. The main phase of moving our collections has been completed so most of our manuscript collections are accessible to patrons. We retained frequently used collection​s in Alexander Library and ​can provide access to the majority of material​ stored offsite. Retrieval does take longer than usual so advanced notice is required for appointments.

We have expanded ​our reading room hours and are now open Tuesday, Wednesday​, and Thursday 10 am -12:30 pm and 1:30 pm – 4 pm, by appointment only. Likewise, we look forward to increasing our reading room capacity by June, when we move to a larger space on the first floor of Alexander.

Please see the SC/UA Migration Project: Seeking Higher Ground web page for regular updates on our move.

If you have questions about availability of specific material or would like to make an appointment, please contact us.

SC/UA’s Limited Reopening


Good news! On Tuesday, February 15th, Special Collections and University Archives will open a small Reading Room in Alexander Library. Initially the Reading Room will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10-12:30 , and 1:30-4. Advance appointments are required. Walk in patrons will not be admitted. Requests for material will take longer than usual and some material will not be available due to our ongoing collections move. Rare books, with the exception of 100 books, are inaccessible.

Up to two patrons–current Rutgers faculty, staff, and students only–can be accommodated at a time. These limits are based on the Return to Rutgers policies for visitor access and spacing and will be updated as Rutgers guidelines evolve. Please consult with an SC/UA faculty or staff member about scheduling an appointment.

Happy New Year from Special Collections & University Archives!

George Street, looking north toward Albany Street, New Brunswick, 1888. New Jersey Views Photograph Collection.

As we return from the holiday break, we continue our collections move and prepare for the semester ahead.

We’d like to take a moment to remind readers of digital resources we have available while our services remain limited during our move.

Our Digital Resources Guide brings together all currently available Special Collections and University Archives (SC/UA) digitized materials, as well as digital resources outside of Rutgers that are related to our work and that we frequently use. Two new additions to the Guide are:

  • Personal Correspondence of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau, a project led by Digital Humanities Librarian Francesca Giannetti that features selected correspondence from the War Service Bureau, established in August 1917 to keep Rutgers students in contact with the college as well as with one another during the Great War. The correspondence has been transcribed, edited, and encoded by students of Rutgers–New Brunswick and Rutgers Future Scholars.
  • Digital Scriptorium is a consortium of American libraries and museums that makes pre-modern manuscript materials freely available online. SC/UA’s contributions include manuscript fragments, leaves, and bound volumes spanning the 9th through 16th centuries, nine countries, and seven languages, primarily Latin.

SC/UA’s Primary Source Highlights is a growing collection of high-resolution images and selected PDF’s that represent our rich holdings across our collecting areas. 

We are always working to digitize more materials, so check the Digital Resources Guide and Primary Source Highlights periodically for new additions.

The Banned Books of Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives


Originally posted on the Books We Read blog.


Books have been banned, challenged, censored, or even burned by organizations, schools, and parent organizations for a number of reasons.  What defines a banned or a challenged book?  A banned book is one that has been removed from the shelves completely.  Books that have been challenged are an attempt by a person or group to remove or restrict materials to protect others.  Books have been challenged for being considered “sexually explicit,” for having “offensive language,” or for being “unsuited to any age group.”  At Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives, we have a collection of over 53,000 books, pamphlets, and broadside.  With that many books in our collections, we have a number of books that have been banned over the years.  Here are a few books from our collections and why they were banned.


BooksThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been a controversial book since its first printing in 1884.  The Concord Public Library banned the book in 1885 for its “coarse language” and today it continues to be challenged/banned for its use of racial stereotypes and slurs.

BookAnimal Farm by George Orwell

The book was completed in 1943 but could not find a publisher because of its criticism of the USSR, an important ally during WWII.  It was finally published, but was banned in the USSR and other communist countries.  The book is still banned today in North Korea, and censored in Vietnam.


Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England by John Milton

John Milton wrote Areopagitica in 1644 to argued for the freedom of speech and expression and opposing the licensing and censorship by the English Parlament.


BooksBrave New World by Aldous Huxley

 According to The GuardianBrave New World is among the top ten books Americans want banned for its contempt for religion, marriage and family, as well as its references to sex and drugs.


Open bookCandide by Voltaire

Candide was another book which was banned upon its release in 1759 by the Great Council of Geneva and the administrators of Paris.  It was later banned in the United States in 1930 for obscenity.


The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto was banned by many countries around the world to prevent the spread of communism.



Howl by Allen Ginsberg

The poem was part of a 1957 obscenity trial for the topics of illegal drugs and sexual practices.  A California State Superior Court ruled that the poem was of “social importance,” and dismissed the case.


open bookLeaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

This poetry collection was considered obscene upon its release in 1855. Libraries refused to buy the book, and the poem was legally banned in Boston in the 1880s and informally banned elsewhere.


The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle was banned in a number of counties around the world including Yugoslavia, South Korea and East Germany.  The Nazi party in Germany actually burning the book in 1933 because of the socialist views.


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is often found on the American Library Association’s list of banned books for its use of racial slurs, profanity, vulgarity, and offensive language.


pgae in a bookScary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

This series of children’s books based on folklore and urban legend is on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged series of books from 1990–1999 and is listed as the seventh most challenged from 2000–2009 for violence.


Tiger Eyes and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret both by Judy Blume

Tiger Eyes was challenged for its depiction of violence, alcoholism, and discussion of suicide.  Whereas, Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret was challenged for sexual references and alleged anti-Christian sentiment.  Judy Blume is the second most challenged author, only following Stephen King.  Her books are often challenged by parents and religious groups for her writings about puberty, masturbation, birth control, and teenage sexuality.


Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses was banned in the U.S. until 1934 because of obscenity.  That would be this 1924 fifth printing of the first edition of Ulysses owned by Selman Waksman.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was banned in the American south preceding the Civil War for holding pro-abolitionist views and arousing debates on slavery.


Teaching in the Archive: Rutgers First-Year Students and Popular Culture Collections, Part Three


By Christie Lutz, New Jersey Regional Studies Librarian and Head of Public Services

This is the third and last post in a short series featuring final projects from the Rutgers Byrne First-Year Seminar I taught in Fall 2020, “Examining Archives Through the Lens of Popular Culture.” You can read about the course and the final project, in which students envisioned their own pop culture archives, and check out other student projects, here.

This project, An Old Way to Listen to Music: Archiving a CD Collection, by Carmen Ore, Rutgers Class of 2024, wraps up the series with a consideration of how one’s connection to a particular type of music can extend to the media form.