This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series on how to use the various internet databases listed in our “Toolbox” section. Dr. Ezra Chwat of the IMHM helped me put together the instructions listed below.
Arguably the most important room in Jerusalem, the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) at the National Library of Israel only recently received the attention it deserves when it was featured prominently in Yossi Cedar’s film Footnote. Scenes of Professor Shkolink the father working studiously in the room’s dark lighting were more than enough to raise the excitement of philologists who for the first time truly experienced Lacan’s “mirror stage” through film. Yet so much of the information amassed by the Institute’s staff is accessible without having to deal with the odd lighting and clunky microfilm viewers. The catalog of manuscripts on its own holds a wealth of information, from the bibliographical to the codicological. The list allows you to find almost all of the textual witnesses available for the work you may be studying. For example, to find various manuscripts of Bavli Shabbat, all one has to do is click on “כותר המתחיל ב…”, and type in “תלמוד בבלי סדר מועד (שבת)”, and the catalogue immediately lists all of the complete and partial manuscripts of the tractate:
Even more importantly, the list already includes manuscripts reconstructed from various genizah fragments, with information about each part of the textual witness:
Through the advanced search (“חיפוש מתקדם”) one can even search directly for reconstructed genizah manuscripts. Within “מלים” type “מאותו כי”(make sure you don’t put a quotation mark and write כ”י), and then in the second field select “נושא כתב היד” and enter the tractate or other work that you’re trying to find genizah manuscripts for:
Clicking on the number that appears following the words “סך-הכול” will bring you to a list that also includes reconstructed manuscripts of commentators on the tractate you searched for:
Of course, the catalog is just a catalog, and except for textual witnesses available online (which will be hyperlinked from the results), one must get to a library with a microfilmed manuscript collection in order to make full use of the information obtained.