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Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books collection

Identifier: ubl110

Scope and Contents

In the latter half of the sixteenth century, the study of Hebrew was thoroughly linked with theological studies. Soon thereafter Hebrew studies obtained an independent status. This resulted in an active acquisition policy, whereby the first Hebrew books of the Leiden library were collected in a structural way. Scholars such as J.J. Scaliger (1540-1609) and L. Warner (1619-1665) laid the foundations of what is now the library's Hebrew manuscript collection. They acquired several hundred Hebrew printed books and manuscripts. To mention just a few noteworthy items:

Cod. Or. 4720, Talmud Yerushalmi
The unique complete manuscript of the Palestinian Talmud, completed in 5049/1289. The famous printed edition of Bomberg (Venice 1523) was based on this manuscript. The two volumes of this manuscript have been extensively restored in 1972. For this restoration and its report see Van der Heide & Van Koningsveld (1973). The manuscript was described by Steinschneider( 1858), pp. 341-345, Schiller-Szinessy (1878) and Van der Heide (1977), pp. 49-50.
Cod. Or. 4718, Commentary of Rashi on the Bible
This manuscript is very important because of its age (1240): only three other manuscripts in the Leiden collections are older. This manuscript was described by Steinschneider (1858), pp. 310-311, Van der Heide (1977), p. 48 and Janson (1986).
Cod. Or. 4763, one manuscript from a collection of Karaitic Manuscripts
This collection is notable because of the age of the manuscripts (all from the seventeenth century) and because of the size of the collection. The manuscripts were described by Steinschneider (1858), pp. 102-107, Van der Heide (1977), pp. 30-31. Some details concerning Cod. Or. 4763 are mentioned by Janson (1986).
Cod. Or. 4723, Moreh Nevukhim by Maimonides
One of the few illustrated Hebrew manuscripts. The manuscript was described by Steinschneider (1858), pp. 346-347, and Van der Heide (1977), p. 61.

Printed books

A few Hebrew incunabula came into possession of the library (see Ruys, 1925), but the main part of the older Hebrew collections consists of early sixteenth-century Italian prints. These Hebrew books, for the most part text editons and commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud have retained their importance during the past centuries in relation to the study of Judaism and the Hebrew language.

Not only the Italian prints are well represented in the Leiden Library, but Hebrew books which were printed in the Netherlands (in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) also form an important part of the collection. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Hebrew book acquisition declined somewhat. In the second half of the nineteenth century, new text-critical editions of important Hebrew works were published, in particular in Great Britain and Germany. Although most of these texts had already been printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, new scholarly insights demanded better text editions. Practically all these books were acquired by the Leiden library. At approximately the same time, the Hebrew language went through a process of revival and books in modern Hebrew were published on a large scale. Such books found their way to the Library only at random.

One of the most prominent and beautiful examples of Hebrew printed books is an illuminated and illustrated copy of the Hebrew Bible, printed by Gershom ben Moshe Soncino in Brescia (Italy) in 5254/1494, shelfmark 1368 G 8. For an illustration see Berckvens-Stevelinck (2004), pp. 26-27.


  • Creation: 1100-1900
  • Creation: Bulk 1500-1650


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Use

Some Hebrew manuscripts may be too fragile to handle. Please enquire at the desk of the Special Collections Reading Room.

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

For the biography of Josephus Justus Scaliger (1540-1609) see the Collection Guide of the Scaliger collection, with literature. For Levinus Warner (1619-1665), diplomatic representative of the Dutch Republic to the Ottoman Court, see Levinus Warner and his legacy (1970) and W.M.C. Juynboll, Zeventiende-eeuwsche beoefenaars van het Arabisch in Nederland (1931).


200 (circa) manuscripts and an unknown number of early printed books

Abstract in Dutch

Een collectie van ca. 200 Hebreeuwse handschriften en een onbekend aantal oude drukken van Europese oorsprong, voor het merendeel over religieuze onderwerpen. De kern van de collectie wordt gevormd door de nalatenschappen van J.J. Scaliger (gest. 1609) en Levinus Warner (gest. 1665).

Abstract in English

A collection of c. 200 Hebrew manuscripts and an unknown number of early printed books of European origin, mostly on religious subjects. The core of the collection consists of the legacies of J.J. Scaliger (d. 1609) and Levinus Warner (d. 1665).

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Access to the Hebrew manuscript collections is at present only possible through the printed catalogues of Steinschneider (1858) and Van der Heide (1977)

Hebrew printed books can be requested through the online catalogue.

Custodial History

According to Van der Heide (1977), pp. 3-10, Scaliger’s manuscripts in Hebrew came in part from the private collections of Cardinal Domenico Grimani (d. 1523) and Jean Hurault de Boistailler or Boistallerius (d. 1572 or 82). The provenance of the Hebrew manuscripts left to Leiden University by Levinus Warner is more difficult to ascertain, but Van der Heide (1977), pp. 12-13, assumes a link with the Karaite community of 17th-century Istanbul. The provenance of later Hebrew manuscripts is varied.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Both the Scaliger and the Warner collections were left to Leiden University under the terms of their respective wills. For of Scaliger manuscripts and printed books as listed in the two versions of Scaliger’s will see Van der Heide (1977), pp. 20-24.

A copy of Levinus Warner’s will is preserved in the National Archives, The Hague. The text of the will was edited by W.N. du Rieu (1883), pp. xi-xiii.

Later manuscripts and early printed books were acquired by gift or purchase.


Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books are acquired on a modest scale.

Related Materials

Van der Heide (1977), pp. 99-112, lists seven Hebrew manuscripts in the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences) collection of Oriental manuscripts, on permanent loan in the Leiden University Library. Most prominent among these is Acad. 214, a 14th-century Ashkenazi manuscript on Selihot and Qinot.

Furthermore, Van der Heide (1977), pp. 115-116, lists three Hebrew manuscripts in the Western manuscripts collection of Leiden University Library, section BPL.


  • Berckvens-Stevelinck, Chr., Magna Commoditas. A history of Leiden University Library 1575-2005. Leiden 2004.
  • Catalogus Bibliothecae Publicae Lugduno-Batavae noviter recognitus. Accessit incomparabilis thesaurus librorum orientalium, praecipue Mss. Lugd. Bat. 1674.
  • Heide, A. van der & P.Sj. van Koningsveld, Het Leidse handschrift van de Jeruzalemse Talmud. Een recente restauratie door Zr. Lucie M. Gimbrère O.S.B. te Oosterhout N.B, in: Studia Rosenthaliana 7 (1973), pp. 258-265.
  • Heide, A. van der, Hebrew manuscripts of Leiden University Library. Leiden 1977. (Codices manuscripti, 18).
  • Janson, A.G.P., Karaitic and Rashi manuscripts sold at Sotheby’s auction, June 26th 1984 as compared to the holdings of the Leiden University Library, in: Manuscripts of the Middle East 1 (1986), pp. 78-85.
  • Juynboll, W.M.C., Zeventiende-eeuwsche beoefenaars van het Arabisch in Nederland. Utrecht [1931].
  • Levinus Warner and his legacy. Three centuries Legatum Warnerianum in the Leiden University Library […]. Leiden 1970.
  • Rieu, W.N. du (ed.), Levini Warneri de rebus Turcicis. Lugd. Bat. 1883.
  • Ruys, H.J.A., Lijst van incunabelen in het bezit der Leidsche universiteitsbibliotheek, in: Het boek 14 (1925), pp. 281-302.
  • Schiller-Szinessy, S.M., Occasional notices of Hebrew manuscripts, I, description of the Leyden manuscript of the Palestinian Talmud. Cambridge 1878.
  • Steinschneider, M. Catalogus codicum Hebraeorum Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae. Lugd. Bat. 1858.


Hebrew manuscripts can be requested in the Special Collections Reading Room with the Or. classmarks as given in Van der Heide (1977). The reading room staff will be happy to help you find the correct classmark.

Hebrew printed books can be requested through the online catalogue. Pre-1900 publications are not available for exterior loan, please enquire at the Lending Desk on the ground floor level or at the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

The 1674 Catalogus Bibliothecae Publicae Lugduno-Batavae lists the following collections:

Impressi Legati Scaligeriani (‘Printed books from the Scaliger bequest’, mostly Hebrew) – pp. 252-258.

Excusi Legati Warneriani (‘Printed books from the Warner bequest,’ mostly Hebrew) – pp. 259-275.

M.S. Legati Scaligeriani, Hebraici, &c. (‘Manuscripts from the Scaliger bequest, Hebrew etc.,’ almost exclusively Hebrew) – pp. 276-278.

M.S.S. Legati Warneriani Hebraici, &c. (‘Manuscripts from the Warner bequest, Hebrew etc.,’ mostly Hebrew) – pp. 283-285, appendix pp. 286-289.

These lists should be used with care, and not all individual items can be traced in the modern catalogues.

In 1858 the Hebrew manuscripts collection was described in detail by Moritz Steinschneider in his Catalogus codicum Hebraeorum Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae (in Latin).

Albert van der Heide’s Hebrew manuscripts of Leiden University Library (1977) contains a supplement to Steinschneider’s catalogue and a full description of Hebrew manuscripts acquired between 1858 and 1977.

Collection guide of the Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books collection (1100-1900)
Collectie Hebreeuwse handschriften en oude drukken
Dr Arnoud Vrolijk – Dr R.M. Kerr
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
This finding aid has been written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857