Hebrew Manuscripts

The Polonsky Foundation logoAll the manuscripts in this remarkable collection are being made freely available online to researchers and to the general public. The initiative to digitize the Hebrew collection of manuscripts is a project in collaboration with the Bodleian Library and was made possible due to the geneous support of Christ Church Governing Body, alumni and The Polonsky Foundation.

The Hebrew library at Christ Church is an impressive and unique collection of over 3,000 early printed books and medieval and early modern Hebrew manuscripts. The printed books collection started as a bequest of John Morris (Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1626 to his death in 1648). Oriental books have been kept together, so the collection is valuable as a whole, offering a precious insight into Hebrew scholarship and preferences. The books cover a wide range of subjects: biblical and rabbinic literature, commentaries and super-commentaries, dictionaries, Jewish law, history, poetry, philosophy, science, Kabbalah, polemical literature and liturgy. The collection of manuscripts was started by a gift from John Fell (1625-1686), Bishop of Oxford and founder of the Oxford University Press. Its codices comprise mainly Sephardi manuscripts on topics ranging from Kabbalah to science and mathematics, by way of Biblical commentary, legal literature, rabbinic responsa and philosophy.

Research done so far has revealed that this is a very important collection. Work on it is in full swing at present. Studies on several works, both printed and in manuscript form, continue to appear in various publications. The first of the recent studies of the collection is The John Fell Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts, Christ Church Library, by Jeremy I. Pfeffer. Before Jeremy’s arrival a few years ago, the volumes had been sitting on the shelves, undisturbed for, perhaps, centuries. They were just listed in a general catalogue of manuscripts published in 1867: G.W. Kitchin’s Catalogus codicum mss qui in bibliotheca Ædis Christi apud Oxonienses adservantur. Both the manuscripts and the early printed Hebrew books are currently being catalogued and the library has started digitizing the collection. So far, more than 1,000 Christ Church early printed Hebrew books have been catalogued on SOLO by Dr Rahel Fronda. As regards the manuscripts, the Library is preparing a detailed descriptive catalogue. For this we are deeply grateful to Professor Malachi Beit-Arie and Dr Rahel Fronda. In order to make descriptions immediately accessible to a large public, we have also started processing them in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) format, suitable for online publication. As the Bodleian Library is currently developing a Hebrew and Judaica online manuscript catalogue, Christ Church has taken the opportunity to join in. For this and their work in TEI, thanks are due to Dr Rahel Fronda and Dr Sabine Arndt. To access the digitized version of the manuscripts, as they are being finalised, please click on the titles in the list below. Metadata for the Hebrew records in Digital Bodleian by Dr Rahel Fronda.

Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue (provisional entry)

The John Fell Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts by Jeremy I. Pfeffer


MS 187 - Collection of philosophical and theological texts

The codex (dated 1490-1510) contains commentaries to texts by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Some of these survived only in this manuscript. Translations were made between 1472 - 1473 in Monzón, Spain.

Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue entry by Dr Rahel Fronda


MS 188 - Collectanea Cabbalistica

The codex comprises a compilation of 16th century Kabbalistic and Maimonidean texts, the whole interspersed by a miscellany of arcane annotations and entries: Kabbalistic sketches, diagrams and tables of Hebrew letter permutations, astrological doodles, schemas and phonetically spelled Hebrew jottings, some possibly the work of a Christian Kabbalist. Strangest of all, are the orange coloured markings and letterings that deface every page in the codex. The inclusion of manuscripts from the contrasting Kabbalistic and Maimonidean schools of Jewish thought in the same volume is another of the intriguing features of this bewildering codex. There is also the question of who arranged to have this mélange bound in such an ornate, heavy and presumably expensive binding.

An introductory guide to MS 188 by Jeremy I. Pfeffer

MS 189 - Liber Arithmetices

A 15th century copy of the Hebrew translation prepared by Moses ibn Tibbon in 1271 of Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Ayyash al-Hassar's seminal 12th century Arabic treatise on arithmetic, Kitāb al Bayān wa-l-tadhkār.

Online Hebrew and Judaica Catalogue entry by Dr Sabine Arndt and Dr Rahel Fronda

An introductory exposition by Jeremy I. Pfeffer

"Moses ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew Translation of al-Hassar's Kitab al Bayan - Surviving Manuscripts", by Jeremy I. Pfeffer, published in the journal Convergence (2017) of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).


MS 190 - Philosophical Works

Three different philosophical works that have been later bound together. Ca. 1400 (first work); 1447/8 (second work); late 16th century (third work)
Levi ben Gershom’s commentary on Averroës’ paraphrase of De Anima (ff. 1r-34v)
Hebrew translation of Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (ff. 36r-116v)
Levi ben Gershom’s commentary on Averroës’ paraphrase of Meterologica (ff. 123r-175r)


MS 193 - Joshua di Viana, Fragment of an ethical treatise; Letters of Chasdai and the King of the Khazars

This codex comprises two small manuscripts: a fragment from an ethical treatise by Joshua di Viana and a copy of the letters exchanged by Chasdai ibn Shaprut, the head of the Jewish community in Cordova, Spain, and Joseph, the King of the Khazars. These letters were first published by Isaac Akrish in 1570 and were subsequently included by Buxtorf the Younger in the Latin translation of the Kuzari, the 12th century philosophical work by Yehuda Halevi, that he published in 1660.

Translation and notes on MS 193 by Brian Deutsch

MS 193: Two Unrelated Texts by Jeremy I. Pfeffer - to be published in Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol. 10/2, 2017-18.


MS 195 - Ṭaʻame ha-mitsṿot (טעמי המצות) (1511)

The codex comprises a kabbalistic treatise on commandments. Contents: Affirmative commandment, beginning with no. 62 in the middle and ending in the middle of commandment no. 94 (ff. 1a-80b). Colophon (f. 123b). חילוק קריאת המזמורים לדעת הזוהר (ff. 124r-127b). A short passage that terminates כתיבת ידי אינון די קואירפי החותם למטה מהשורות (f. 124a). Formulas of legal deeds (ff. 124a-127b).


MS 196 - Mordekhai HaKatan (The Little Mordekhai)

An early 15th century copy on parchment of the Mordekhai HaKatan (The Little Mordekhai), the abridgement composed c.1376 by R. Samuel ben Aaron Schlettstadt (ר' שמואל שליצסט), of the monumental compendium of Halakhah, Sefer HaMordekhai, compiled c.1280 by R. Mordekhai ben Hillel (c1240-1298).

A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer


MS 197 - Dover mesharim, by Rabbi Israel

An early 16th century codex containing homilies on the Pentateuch parashot with glosses and some additions.

A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer


MS 198 - R. Jacob Lagarto’s Collection of Kabbalah and Hekhalot Texts

The codex contains a collection of esoteric Hebrew texts transcribed by R. Jacob Lagarto in 1635 on the eve of his departure from Holland for the newly acquired Dutch settlement in Recife, Brazil.

An introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer


MS 199 - Three opinions on the status of the children of secret Jews

The codex comprises three distinct works, relating to a specific legal matter that arose in the Amsterdam Community in 1650, namely, the eligibility of a Ger (proselyte) who was the son of an Anuss (Cristiano Nuevo, Converso or Marrano) and a gentile woman, to a position of coercive authority. Each is apparently the opus of a different author, however, the names given for the authors of the first two pieces, supposedly a father and his son, have recently been shown to have been fictitious. The actual author of both pieces was the polymath Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591-1655) writing under a pseudonym. MS.199 contains two of Delmedigo’s last and hitherto lost works. By contrast, the named author of the third work, Rabbi [Issachar] Ber Jeiteless (d.1685), was an actual person and a pupil of Delmedigo.

Three studies on Manuscript 199 by Jeremy I.Pfeffer: Christ Church Library Newsletter, Vol.6/3, 2010 and Vol. 9/1-3, 2012-13 and in Hakirah, Vol.19 (Summer 2015).


MS 200 - Mebo Higgaion: Introduction to Logic

A 15th century copy of a supercommentary attributed to Eli Hạbillo (עלי בן יוסף חביליו) on Averroes’ Middle Commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories, De Interpretatione and Prior Analytics.

A short introductory note by Jeremy I. Pfeffer


MS 201a - Complete Torah scroll with two wooden rollers and embroidered velvet mantle

This item (a 35.5 m scroll of the first five Books of the Old Testament) has been first recorded in a handwritten entry of G.W.  Kitchin's Catalogus Codicum  Manuscriptorum qui in Bibliotheca Aedis Christi apud Oxonienses Adservantur, published in 1867. Added  on  page 59, this entry reads: “CCIa   Pentateuch – Roll of the Law (with Phylacteris)". In  terms  of  provenance, it appears that the manuscript arrived at Christ Church sometime between the 1930s and 1950s. This coincides with the period when the college was taking on German-Jewish professors who had been removed from  their posts by  the  Nazis. For details, see 'The Case of the Lost Torah', published in Christ Church Library Newsletter (Vol.4, Issue 3: 2008, pp.4-5).

Description of manuscript 201a


MS 201b - Dictionariolum Hebraicum et Chaldaicum

The manuscript, by David Durell (1728-1775) and Benjamin Blayney (1727/8-1801), comprises a Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, followed by a glossary that presents further etymological parallels with related Oriental languages. Its method of helping students to identify the root letters of Hebrew words, was first developed by German Orientalist, and Professor of Hebrew, at the University of Leipzig, Elias Hutter (ca. 1553-1609).