“Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic, and sometimes Latin:”

in conversation with Emile Schrijver, curator of the Braginsky Collection

How does one become a curator of a manuscript collection?

When I was a student—I studied Hebrew in Amsterdam—a lecturer took us to see the University of Leiden’s collection of medieval manuscripts. In the impressive vaults there, I had my first ever opportunity to see really ancient manuscripts: the only manuscript of the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), for instance, and one of the earliest Rashi manuscripts. To see these ancient sources, to have first-hand experience of this living history was overwhelming—historical books in general had this effect on me at the time . I subsequently studied a great deal at the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish library at the University of Amsterdam and later even began working there. Then, a few years ago, Mr. Braginsky was looking for a curator for his first exhibition in Europe. Mutual acquaintances from the international world of manuscripts put us in touch with each other and, as it happened, we got along very well and were soon able to establish a good working relationship based on trust.

What exactly do you do as a curator of the Braginsky Collection?

A man sits at a table and holding an open book in his hands

Emile Schrijver and the Harrison Miscellany © and photo: Darko Todorovic, Dornbirn (A)

I am responsible for the collection: for new acquisitions, whenever Mr. Braginsky buys something, as well as for existing stocks. Most new acquisitions are delivered with a short description. Others we describe and photograph ourselves, then add them to our inventory. I carefully examine the condition books are in and commission their restoration, if necessary. I’m also responsible for monitoring the climate in the storerooms. Inquiries concerning exhibitions and reproductions involve a lot of work for us. The process of digitizing our stock is ongoing. Occasionally, scholars wish to view specific works at length. We also organize presentations on our own premises, for example, on behalf of the European Association of Jewish Museums. Public relations for events such as the Jewish Book Week in London in 2013 likewise require a great deal of preparation.

What do you think makes the Braginsky Collection so special?  continue reading


Collecting as a way of life

an interview with René Braginsky

When did you start collecting and how many objects are there now in your collection?

René Braginsky: I started collecting books more than twenty years ago, after being unable to find an illustrated blessing for our son’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. We had to make do with a copy. For his wedding, however, we were able to reproduce a blessing from our own collection. As I slowly acquired a taste for collecting, I gradually bought more things, and of increasingly high quality, too, whenever possible. A good friend of mine, an elderly collector, encouraged me. The Judaica collection now comprises more than 700 pieces: books mainly, but also illustrated wedding contracts and Esther scrolls.

What motivates you to collect Hebrew manuscripts? Do you collect with a specific objective or mission in view?

Interior view of the special exhibition. A few book on blue painted slope wall

Interior view of the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Martin Adam

Of interest for me, first and foremost, is the direct connection with Jewish history, with my view of Jewish history. The sheer variety of the illustrations fascinates me, too, and the regional and national influences one can see in them. Jewish books in Germany are primarily German books, just as Jewish books from Spain are primarily Spanish and those from Morocco Moroccan. Jews lived in diverse worlds, in a diaspora, and the illustrations in the books reflect this. And these old books so full of erudition bring me peace and make me confident, too, that whatever is really importantwill always survive. The mission, if there is one at all, is my conviction that one shouldn’t hide such treasures from the world, but rather share them freely. That is why we set up our websites (braginskycollection.com und braginskycollection.ch) , put two iPad apps online (Braginsky Collection und Braginsky Collection Berlin) and chose to exhibit a part of our collection in Berlin, currently for the fifth time around. Over the years, the exhibitions and online sources have enabled many tens of thousands of citizens from all over the world—both Jewish and non-Jewish—to share our enjoyment of the collection.

Do you believe the market for collectors of Judaica and Hebrew manuscripts has changed over the last few decades? Have you come across any counterfeiters or crooked dealers?  continue reading


From the Theory to the Practice of Writing the Torah

An Interview with Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov

Miriam Goldmann: How do you train a Torah scribe, a sofer?

Reuven Yaacobov: A sofer must first spend a few years studying at an Orthodox school, a yeshiva, where it is established whether or not he is devout enough for this role. Then he learns how to write a Torah. First, he studies the theory. There are rules ordaining who is allowed to write the five books of Moses, the Sefer Torah. For example, only men, not women, are permitted to write the Torah. Furthermore, the person in question must be an Orthodox Jew and lead an Orthodox life. Then there are rules determining which support a Sefer Torah should be written on, and precisely how it should be written.


You can watch a short video with Torah scribe Reuven Yaacobov here.

Once the sofer knows the theory, he begins to learn the letters that are used to write the Torah. A certain sequence of strokes must be followed to write each letter correctly. After learning this calligraphy the sofer starts on a Megillat Esther (Hebrew: Scroll of Esther) because this is the easiest of all the holy texts to write. After completing the Megillat he writes the texts of mezuzah and tefillin. If by then his calligraphy has become highly accomplished, he begins to write a Sefer Torah. According to Jewish tradition, a Sefer Torah must be written in the most beautiful calligraphy possible and in the best and most aesthetic way.  continue reading