Friday, August 2, 2013

Giv'at Ram Cinematheque

Much of my last week has been spent in the Nehemia Allony Memorial Reading Room of the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts. The IMHM is a sort of combined triumph of Zionism and German philology — a repository of microfilmed copies of 90% of the Hebrew manuscripts that existed in the world in the 1950s, obtained sometimes only through great efforts to convince the custodian libraries to let their collections be filmed. If you want to do research on Hebrew manuscripts that are dispersed across many collections, this is the place to start.

Colloquially it's referred to as the "cinematheque" because everyone sits in front of screens with reels of film. (It also features in the film "Footnote.")

The readers are a really interesting mix of secular academics, religious academics and religious lay people who are there to study text.

To be sure, it drives home the problems inherent in reading manuscripts on microfilm, especially films that were created half a century ago with photographic technology that would be considered seriously substandard today. Any flaws in the page or in the script are magnified exponentially. Smudges you might be able to read through on a page obliterate text on film, and lighter marks disappear completely.

Even though some films contain exposures every scrap of paper tucked into the binding (relevant or not), in most cases, things like flyleaves and endpapers, which are really important in ownership studies since that's often where people write their names, are not filmed and so it's really hard to judge certain additional characteristics of the manuscript history.

It's great for a broad survey, but I'd never want to work like this in any kind of sustained way. Nevertheless, it's still a remarkable collection.

And of course, it's always on the last day that you find a page like this one:

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