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Spanning across the centuries and the globe, they’re all part of a new exhibit, “Words Like Sapphires,'' which celebrates 100 years of Hebraica at the Library of Congress.

The exhibit features some 60 objects, religious and lighter fare, drawn from the Library of Congress’ more than 200,000-piece Hebraica collection. The collection includes works in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish), Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac and Amharic (from Ethiopia).

The collection was established in 1912 with a gift from New York financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff. His initial donation of nearly 10,000 books and pamphlets put the Library of Congress on par with national libraries in Europe, according to Peggy Pearlstein, head of the library’s Hebraic section.

As a result of the gift, scholars no longer had “to travel to Europe to study about the foundational works about Judaism and Jewish civilization,” she said.

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At the time, the library already had Russian and Japanese collections. The Hebraica addition fit in with then-Librarian of Congress Herbert Putman’s vision to amass “a universal collection of knowledge,” Pearlstein said.

“By creating an Hebraica/Judaica collection, the Library of Congress was granting recognition to America’s Jewish community,” which at the time was growing rapidly, “and likewise highlighting the importance of Jewish civilization in the shaping of our world,” said Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University, the dean of American Jewish historians.

Coinciding with the establishment of other significant Jewish library collections in the United States -- including at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York Public Library and the Hebrew Union College -- “it helped facilitate the transfer of Jewish culture and civilization from the old world to the new,” Sarna said.

The new exhibit title uses the word sapphire in tribute to the image that rabbis and poets used “in the medieval period to talk about clarity and brilliance of the written word,” said Pearlstein.

In creating the centennial exhibit, which runs through March 16, Pearlstein looked for objects with far-flung origins, then placed them among seven themes, including "People of the Book," the "Holy Land Tongue" and the "Power of the Tongue." The earliest work is a 7th century clay incantation bowl from Mesopotamia with Aramaic writing (a Semitic language that uses Hebrew letters).

Date: 2015-12-11; view: 975

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