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The John Rylands Research Institute

Moses Gaster Collection research

This collection focuses on Jewish history, folklore and religion, with special reference to eastern Europe and specifically Romania.

The collection was created by Lecturer, Chief Rabbi and distinguished scholar Dr Moses Gaster (1956-1939), who made a special study of the Samaritans and is a recognised authority on their language and literature. Much of the material is heavily annotated by Gaster.

The collection includes:

  • around 15,000 fragments in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic and Arabic from the Genizah of the Synagogue of Ben Ezra in Old Cairo (q.v)
  • some 350 Hebrew codices and scrolls, including prayer books of many Jewish communities
  • apocryphal writings, commentaries, treatises, letters, marriage contracts, piyyûtîm, and 13 scrolls of the law
  • some 350 Samaritan manuscripts, including manuscripts of Pentateuch, detailed census lists of the Samaritans and the manuscripts in their possession, and liturgical, historical, chronological and astronomical codices
  • almost 1,500 uncatalogued Arabic fragments on paper from the Synagogue of Ben Ezra.

Current research projects

Research Fellow Katharina Keim is working on a projected titled "The Samaritan correspondence of Moses Gaster: Texts, analysis and contexts", which analyses and contextualises about 500 letters in Samaritan Hebrew.

The letters, which passed between Jewish scholar Moses Gaster in London and the Samaritan community in Nablus between 1904 and 1933, offer insights into Gaster’s contribution to the field of Samaritan Studies. Katharina is working to clarify the motives and methods behind Gaster’s creation of one of the most important collections of “oriental” manuscripts assembled in the 20th century, against the backdrop of the desperate attempts of the small Samaritan community to preserve its cultural heritage while declining in number.

Research Fellow Maria Cioată is working on a project titled ‘Moses Gaster (1856-1939): eclectic collector’.  

The project aims to evaluate Gaster’s identity as a collector, and to assess his contribution to scholarship, focussing particularly on his work on Romanian folklore and medieval Hebrew and Slavonic Apocryphal narratives. Maria has been working on the Rylands Gaster collection since 2010, and has published a survey of the collection as a whole and a preliminary box list of a part of the Rylands Gaster archive, namely his work in various stages of progress.