Manuscripts & Prints

The Museum collection includes some hundreds of documents and texts handwritten on parchment and paper, and many are gracefully illuminated and decorated. Among them are beautiful Haggadot, fine Scrolls of Esther and ketubbot (marriage contracts). The Museum’s largest collection is represented by ketubbot from all over Italy, most of them extraordinarily ornamented. Written on large pieces of parchment, these marriage contracts usually feature lavish decorations, dominated by an architectural motif combined with floral patterns framing the text. Additional figurative representations include biblical scenes, allegorical figures, the signs of the zodiac, the emblems of the two families concerned and images of the Temple implements. The depictions of biblical scenes sometimes feature figures whose names were borne by the bride and groom. This proves that the decoration was carried out under the close supervision of a Jewish patron.

The Museum is also an important repository of Jewish books and documents, many of them religious, relating to Italian Jewish communities from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. A few of these documents and books are finely written and decorated. However, most were penned by anonymous members of the different Jewish communities in Italy over a period of five hundred years, and their poor, simple execution is in some cases more moving than the opulence of the decorated works. Especially touching are private writings and wedding poems. Of outstanding importance are the documents written in Latin or Italian issued by Italian civil and academic institutions concerning individual Jews, attesting to the level of integration and importance which Jews attained in Italy, and to their prominence in the fields of medicine, art, law and business.

The Museum collection of printed books and documents attests to the foremost role of Italy in Hebrew printing, through the presence of the first and second editions of the VeniceHaggadah, published in 1609 and in 1629.

A group of printed documents of great relevance from an historical point of view concerns the rights and duties of Jews issued by various Italian states from the sixteenth until the nineteenth century recognition of the rights of Jews. The manuscripts reveal a story of alternating religious tolerance and intolerance towards the Jews, but also cultural exchange and practical cooperation between Jews and non-Jews in Italy over a period of five hundreds years.