Recovering the Records of European Jewry:
The Pinkassim 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 Simon Dubnow Institute is 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 being carried out seeks to gather together the Pinkassim – 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 are being successively digitalized in the framework of the project until April 2019 and made accessible on the webpage of the National Library of Israel.
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 are closely integrated into the project, and there is ongoing promotion of intensive exchange between the disciplines. Regular international workshops and summer schools organized by the project serve 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 Pinkassim as a Special genre of source materials.
Prof. Dr. Jörg Deventer, Simon-Dubnow-Institut
Michal Gruenwald, National Library of Israel