The Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition of Hebrew and Judaica manuscripts, entitled The People in the Books: Judaica Manuscripts at Columbia University Libraries.

The exhibition draws from the extensive Hebrew manuscript collection at Columbia, which contains approximately 1,600 manuscripts dating from the 10th to the 20th centuries, and spans the globe from India to the Caribbean. The exhibit will focus on the individual stories represented in the manuscripts, such as a booklist for a private library, a tipped-in prayer for a pregnant princess, and an ancient Haggadah with wine stains on its pages.

The Columbia Judaica collection became truly significant through the generous donation of Temple Emanuel, the oldest Reform congregation in New York City. In 1862, Temple Emanuel purchased 2,500 rare books and 45 manuscripts from Fredrich Mueller, a rare book dealer in Amsterdam. This collection was made up of the libraries of important scholars, including Rabbi Yaakov Emden of Altona (1698-1776), a famous Talmudist and Kabbalist; and Guiseppe Almanzi of Padua (1801 – 1860), a bibliophile and poet. The Almanzi library included books from the library of Hayyim Joseph David Azulai (HIDA, 1724 – 1806), a rabbi and scholar who traveled the world collecting and researching Hebrew rare books and manuscripts. The Almanzi collection was also used by the great scholar and bibliographer Morris Steinschneider and Leopold Zunz. In 1892, the Temple Emanuel board made the decision to donate the library to Columbia.

In 1934, Columbia professor Salo Baron ensured that the manuscript collections at Columbia would be truly magnificent when he purchased a collection of approximately 700 important manuscripts from David Frankel, a book-dealer in Vienna.

Other donors throughout the 19th and 20th centuries included Jacob Schiff and Oscar Strauss, Richard Gottheil and Stephen S. Wise, and Columbia professor Yosef Yerushalmi. In 2008, the Norman E. Alexander Foundation donated four million dollars to create the Norman E. Alexander Library for Jewish Studies and support its rare and general Judaica collections, ensuring that the collection will maintain its prominence well into the future.

The exhibition runs through January 25, 2013.