Recovering the Records of European Jewry:
The Pinkasim Project
The special forms of working with materials and approaches developing within the digital humanities have increasingly been adopted in recent years in the cultural and historical studies, and in future will doubtless gain in importance for research in the humanities. In this context, the Dubnow Institute was participating in a digitization agenda in the field of Jewish Studies. Since 2015, in cooperation with the National Library of Israel and internationally prominent specialists such as Israel Bartal (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Gershon D. Hundert (McGill University, Montreal) and Adam Teller (Brown University, Providence), the Project gathered together the Pinkasim – the minute books of Jewish communities – widespread in Ashkenazic Europe and northern Italy – as a central historical source for Jewish history and culture in Early Modern Era. Previously contained spread across archives and collections in Israel, Europe and the United States, the communal Pinkassim were successively digitalized and made accessible on the webpage »The Pinkasim Collection: The International Repository of Communal Ledgers«.
The handwritten minute books, in Hebrew or Yiddish, which were maintained both by large urban communities as well as smaller communities in the countryside, sometimes for several generations, provide significant insight into the urban and rural Jewish life worlds between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. They contain a rich store of information on the development of legislation and legal practice, as well as on nearly all aspects of social, economic and cultural history, along with the history of language and everyday life. As historical source materials still barely tapped in a systematic fashion, the minute books are thus in a position to further the better understanding of Jewish history and culture in premodern Europe to a special degree. On the one hand, on the basis of the Pinkassim, regional features and languages of Jewish culture extending over a longue duree can be researched. On the other hand, these source materials document the reticulation of interconnections the Ashkenazic communities had with the culture surrounding them.
Along with experienced scholars, younger academics in particular were closely integrated into the project, and there was ongoing promotion of intensive exchange between the disciplines. Regular international workshops and summer schools organized by the project served to train and network younger scholars in the field of Jewish history and culture of the Early Modern Period, facilitation a sustained, longer-termn involvement with Pinkasim as a Special genre of source materials.
Prof. Dr. Jörg Deventer, Dubnow Institute
Michal Gruenwald, National Library of Israel