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Hebrew & Jewish Studies

A subject guide for the Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies

Special Collections

UCL Library Special Collections is one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK. It includes fine collections of medieval manuscripts and early printed books, as well as significant holdings of 18th century works, and highly important 19th and 20th century collections of personal papers, archival material, and literature.

You can find further information below about the collections most relevant for Hebrew & Jewish Studies. A detailed subject guide is available.

Special Collections for Hebrew & Jewish Studies

Mishnah. Avot. Hebrew [c.1484]The Jewish Studies rare book collection contains around 10,000 volumes. It comprises the Mocatta, Gollancz, Wolf, Solomons and Myers libraries and dates mostly from the 16th-18th centuries. There are also eight incunabula (books printed before 1501). The subjects covered are chiefly liturgies, Bibles, commentaries, editions of the Mishnah, works on Cabala, sermons, polemical tracts, service books, grammars and dictionaries.

The majority of the collection is catalogued and can be searched via Explore. Select Special Collections from the left hand menu (under Library) to limit your search to items in the rare book collection.

Image: Pirke Avot, with commentary by Maimonides. 
Soncino: Joshua Solomon Soncino, c.1484 (INCUNABULA 11 a).

Advocacy of Jewish freedom by William ThornborrowThe Jewish pamphlets collection includes around 11,000 pamphlets on a wide range of subjects including Anglo-Jewish history, Zionism, British Mandate Palestine and the State of Israel as well as liturgy. The pamphlets date from 1601 onwards, and are in English, Hebrew and a number of other languages. There is also a substantial collection of Yiddish pamphlets.

The majority of the collection is catalogued and can be searched via Explore. Searching for “JEWISHPAMPHLETS” will retrieve all of the catalogued material that can then be browsed by applying various filters such as date range, author, topic, language, etc.

Image: frontispiece from Advocacy of Jewish freedom by "William Thornborrow". London: Effingham Wilson, 1847 (SR MOCATTA PAMPHLETS BOX 9).

14th century manuscript HaggadahThe Jewish manuscripts collection contains a mixture of religious and non-religious material including prayer books, fragments of the Hebrew bible and the Koran, letters, diaries, calendars and drawings.

The collection can be searched via UCL Archives.

Image: Manuscript Haggadah, early 14th century (MS MOCATTA/1).

Card for Jewish New YearThe Jewish archival material relates mostly to Anglo-Jewry from the 19th to 20th centuries. The largest archive (around 170, 000 items) originates from the Chief Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese community in England from 1887 to 1918, Moses Gaster. This vast personal archive covers almost every aspect of Jewish life and community affairs in England during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, from the personal to the political.  

Other archives include: 

  • The extensive personal archive of the leading scholar and founder of the Institute of Jewish Studies, Dr Alexander Altmann.
  • Manuscript notebooks and other papers of the writer Grace Aguilar.
  • Notes on genealogy and Anglo-Jewish history by the journalist Lucien Wolf, as well as his Peace Conference diary of 1919.
  • Correspondence between novelist Charles Dickens and a Jewish reader, Eliza Davis.
  • Letterbooks of financier Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid.
  • Letterbooks, diaries, account books and testimonials of the philanthropist Sir Moses Haim Montefiore and his nephew Nathaniel Montefiore (on loan from the Montefiore Endowment).
  • Diary, correspondence, printed articles and obituaries of Claude Montefiore, scholar and founder of Liberal Judaism in England, and his first wife Thérèse.
  • Archives of the Institute of Jewish Affairs, containing rare printed literature relating to the British Fascist movement.
  • Archives of the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor, Spitalfields.
  • Archives of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.
  • Archives of the Trades Advisory Council of British Jewry

This material can be searched via UCL Archives.

Image: New Year card sent to Moses Gaster (GASTER/1/A/1/1814).

Selected items from these collections have been digitised and are available in UCL Digital Collections:

Tribute to Sir Moses Montefiore

Visiting Special Collections

Anyone with a need to consult our collections is welcome to do so. UCL Special Collections is reference only. It is essential to book in advance to make sure of a reading room place and that the items requested are available. Please contact us at least two weeks before you intend to visit. Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate drop-in visits.