Books within Books the Magazine

We are proud to launch today the “Books within Books Magazine”, the bulletin of the Books within Books project[1]. It will provide monthly reports on the most exciting recent discoveries on fragments of medieval Hebrew manuscripts found in book bindings, as well as news of the project and relevant activities.

Since 2009, a group of scholars from across Europe and beyond have joined their efforts to save from oblivion a particularly fragile and informative corpus of Hebrew manuscripts – those that have been preserved over the past centuries by sheer chance, simply because they had been reused by parsimonious book binders as cheap raw material to create or to strengthen the bindings of other books. Whether they serve as board covers, notarial wrappers or as lining of sounding boxes of old musical instruments, it soon became evident that these modest and poorly preserved fragments actually open a new window on medieval Jewish intellectual life. Besides shedding light on medieval bookmaking and readership practices, they are at times the sole vestiges of lost Jewish communities of the past.

It was not for the first time that such ‘fragments of memory’ have come under scientific scrutiny, but the creation of the “Books with Books” project has provided a unique and dedicated forum for the exchange of information on these fragments, as well as their comprehensive description and illustration, making use of a centralised and freely accessible database, at www.hebrewmanuscript.com

Today, as of February 2021, nearly fifty academic or patrimonial institutions in twenty-five different countries have researched nearly five hundred libraries and archival holdings, leading to the identification, description and recording of over twelve thousands of previously unknown fragments of Hebrew manuscripts. This corpus is increasing exponentially, adding each day new and missing pieces to the fragmented puzzle of the history of Jewish books and their makers in medieval Europe.

Among this growing corpus, it is clear that some manuscript fragments prove to be more exciting and indeed intriguing than others. A fragment of a previously unknown commentary, a rare form of decoration or marginal jotting, a particularly thorough reconstruction of the fragment’s vicissitudes, or indeed a new discovery made in an unexpected or unprecedented location – all are sources of excitement and a desire to share which cannot be curbed. It is primarily to such urgent, brief and focused presentations that the “Books within Books Magazine” is dedicated. The editorial committee is delighted to open the series with a fragment discovered in faraway Australia, and wish the readers many months of inspiring reading and discoveries.

Judith O. Schlanger


[1] The project “Books within Books” was founded in 2009. It has received a generous  support from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, PSL, SAPRAT, IRHT-CNRS, Equipex Biblissima, project Emergences of the Ville de Paris, University of Bologna, Gerda Henkel Stiftung and, last but not least, by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.


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