The written word and the books that contain them are at the heart of Jewish culture. Wherever and whenever Jews have lived they have recorded, shared and created texts, painstakingly copying them by hand for centuries before embracing the revolutionary technology of movable type in the 15th century. Our Rare Books Collections include books and manuscripts produced over the last 500 years showing this remarkable heritage. Whether during golden ages of 16th century Venice or the chaos of wartime Whitechapel, Jewish books have been written, printed and read throughout the upheavals of Jewish history.
Every volume has a story to tell of its own journey and the life of its readers, writers, copyists, printers, binders, illustrators, censors, critics, commentators, librarians, thieves and saviours. We preserve these remarkable objects of Jewish history, not only for the profound texts they contain, but to provide a tangible experience of the chain of Jewish tradition: when you hold these books in your hands you too become part of their story; a moving and inspiring experience for our members and visitors engaging with contemporary Judaism.
176 books that were owned by the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin and rescued from Nazi Germany form the basis of the collection. These books came to Leo Baeck College via former lecturers and students of the Hochschule. In addition, the library received three books from the rare books collection of the Hochschule as a part of the Judaica Conservancy Foundation. View titles in the collection
The Judaica Conservancy Foundation
The Judaica Conservancy Foundation is a joint undertaking by the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati; the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; Leo Baeck College, London; the Leo Baeck Institute, New York; and Yeshiva University, New York . The intention is to share the ownership of and provide access to rare books and manuscripts once owned by the German Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. The rare books located in the Leo Baeck College Library include:
- Kol Bo. [Code of rites and ceremonials]. [Italy, unidentified printer, c. 1485(?)].
- Seder Haggadah Shel Pesach. Pressburg 1730. Ms., 20 leaves. Fully illuminated title page, eleven quarter page illustrations, 45 miniatures, most of the illustrations in pen and ink, however 22 of 45 miniatures are heightened with colour. Original binding of painted vellum gilt, with fragment of original slipcase.
- Luzzato, Samuel David of Trieste, Mavdil Nirdafim [Synonym Hebraica or Explanation of Hebrew Synonyms and various Obscure Biblical Verses]. Ms., Sephardic script, early 19th cent.
Manuscripts and books held by the other members of the Foundation can be accessed at the LBC Library on microfilm.
After WWII, Allied forces discovered millions of Jewish books, many in very bad condition. These books are ones that the Nazis looted from European Jewish homes, institutions, individuals, schools, synagogues and Jewish libraries with the intention of creating a research library about Judaism. The American military created a central collection point for these books, which was called the Archival Depot Offenbach (near Frankfurt/Main) and work began to distribute the books either to surviving members of the families and the countries from which they had originated or to new Jewish institutions. Some of these books came to LBC and were amongst the first to support the first generations of students in their study of Jewish texts. Some of the books are stamped with the words “Archival Depot Offenbach.” View titles in the collection
The London Bet Din Library
A collection of 110 Hebrew books from the library of the London Bet Din, mainly belonging to the first formally recognised Chief Rabbi of England Solomon Hirschel (1762-1845), were acquired after his death. These books were purchased on three separate occasions between 2001 and 2004.
Paris Sanhedrin Collection
This collection of books and pamphlets, mainly from 1806-1807, relate to the Paris Sanhedrin summoned by Napoleon. Other books relating to the Sanhedrin are located elsewhere in the library and can be found using the catalogue. View titles in the collection
The Sermon Collections owned by Chief Rabbi Dr Joseph H. Hertz [Long-Term Loan]
The library houses approximately 50 books containing sermons published by various German and Austrian rabbis for various occasions during the nineteenth century. View titles in the collection
Jacob Jacobson Collection
Dr. Jacob Jacobson and his only son Marcus Amram Israel Jacobson donated from their personal collection 344 books to Leo Baeck College in 2011. These books form an important collection of classic and rare works of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. Jacob Jacobson was an historian and archivist and was the Director of the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden from 1920 to 1939. In May 1943 he was deported to Theresienstadt. Following his liberation, he immigrated to Great Britain in 1945. View titles in the collection