“Merriment” Book Reading and Q&A with Marissa Paternoster and Joe Steinhardt



POSTPONED! New date will be announced soon.

Join the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, as we welcome Marissa Paternoster (Screaming Females, Noun) and Joe Steinhardt (Don Giovanni Records) to read from and discuss their new graphic novel, Merriment, at Alexander Library in New Brunswick on Thursday, May 23rd at 4pm. An exhibit of original artwork will also be on display, and copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

About Merriment: As many of us do, Mack is having a hard time coping with life in New Jersey. Watching her friends figure their lives out while she is stuck living at home, Mack is looking for any kind of lifeline out of her Mom’s house and into the City where she is convinced she will be happy. Then again, it’s hard for anyone to be happy these days, a fact her mother will not let her forget. And what’s worse: she thinks she might have committed a murder. And that maybe, just maybe, the FBI is spying on her? Merriment follows Mack on her quest for happiness and/or sanity, through the horrors of life, as she navigates existential dread, real life dread, and all the dread in between.

Joe Steinhardt owns and operates Don Giovanni Records, a label which remains committed to furthering alternative culture, independent values, and providing resources for artists who prefer to work outside of the mainstream music industry. He is a published author and an Assistant Professor at Drexel University in their Music Industry Program.

Marissa Paternoster is a visual artist, the lead singer and guitarist for Screaming Females, and was named the 77th best guitar player of all time by SPIN magazine and the 150th best of all time by Rolling Stone. Through her work with Screaming Females and her solo career, Marissa has released 11 studio albums and has been featured on MTV, Late Night TV, and NPR. She has toured extensively, supporting bands like Garbage, Dinosaur Jr. The Dead Weather, Arctic Monkeys, and The Breeders.

Contact: Christie Lutz: christie.lutz@rutgers.edu

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.