June 2007

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Chosen: Philadelphia's Great Hebraica
Rare and Never Before Seen Hebrew Texts.

-- Megan Wendell

Bringing together nearly 60 rare and important Hebrew books, scrolls, and objects that date from the 11th to the 18th century, the Rosenbach Museum & Library presents Chosen: Philadelphia’s Great Hebraica from March 29 through August 26, 2007. Never before presented in one exhibition, the artifacts are drawn from seven Philadelphia area institutions and the Rosenbach's own collection. A series of special events such as a gallery talk, house tours, a storytelling workshop, and a musical performance are also scheduled.

Chosen tells the stories of human experience, intellectual endeavors, religious tradition, and artistic innovation. Objects, some being exhibited for the first time, were selected for their literary and historic importance and their visual interest. By uniting them in a common space, Chosen reveals the untold stories buried within the objects, as well as those of their producers, owners, and the many different Jewish cultures and other influences that brought them into existence.

Visitors can see highly decorated, illustrated scrolls, observe scribal virtuosity in a selection of miniature books –-- some as small as a thimble –-- view writing in a diversity of languages from Chaldean to Yiddish, and learn how the form of Hebrew texts changed with the travels of Jewish populations across geography and time. Exhibition highlights include:

  • The first prayer book printed in Hebrew.
  • Illustrated texts such as the Scroll of Esther – including one miniature scroll never before seen by the public.
  • What may be the oldest Hebrew Bible in a North American collection
  • The first book published in what is now the United States.
  • The first known illustration depicting a bar mitzvah.
  • The first Hebrew prayer book written for popular use.
  • The oldest nearly complete Passover haggadah in existence.
  • A Torah scroll listing 'the Eleven Commandments'.
  • The first book written by a Muslim that was translated into Hebrew.
  • The first depiction of a map of the Exodus from Egypt.
  • The first scientific illustration of a liquid-in-glass thermometer
 Where: The Rosenbach Museum & Library 2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia


  • Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday: 10am-5pm
  • Wednesday: 10am-8pm
  • Saturday & Sunday: 10am-5pm
  • Closed Mondays and National Holidays

Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, free for children under 5 Free on Tuesdays, and free for kids 18 & under on Sundays

For Information: (215) 732-1600, www.rosenbach.org

The house dining room will be set for a Passover seder, featuring selections from the museum’s collections of silver, pewter, glass, and ceramic, including selections from the Rosenbach family haggadot (Passover prayer books). The library will look at the roles of humbler Hebrew books in the life of a 19th- century Jewish family, showcasing books owned and used by the Rosenbach brothers’ immediate and extended family.

Chosen is curated by Judith Guston, Curator and Director of Collections at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, with consulting curator David Stern, a Ruth Meltzer Professor of Classical Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia is an untapped resource for exceptional and significant Hebraica. Many local religious and educational institutions maintain extraordinary, if little-seen pieces that come from a diverse range of 19th- and 20th-century collectors. Taken as a whole, the objects can be discovered anew as Philadelphia’s collection.

Objects for the exhibition have been loaned by Bryn Mawr College Library; Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library, University of Pennsylvania; Congregation Mikveh Israel; Congregation Rodeph Shalom; The Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department and Education, Philosophy, and Religion Department; Haverford College Library, Special Collections; Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania; and Temple Judea Museum, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.

In conjunction with Chosen, the Rosenbach will also present a series of events including an introduction to Hebrew books for non-Hebrew readers and those interested in learning about book arts and religious and cultural history led by Judith Guston, an afternoon of music with mother and daughter Klezmer team Elaine Hoffman Watts and Susan Watts, poetry readings inspired by the exhibition led by Rosenbach Poet-in-Residence Nathalie Anderson, a storytelling workshop with renowned storyteller Peninnah Schram, and Jewish history house tours.

Chosen: Philadelphia’s Great Hebraica

Program & Events: March 29 – August 26, 2007

All events are free with museum admission.

  • Sunday, June 3, Rock with the Klezmer Ladies, 2:00pm Mother and daughter Klezmer team Elaine Hoffman Watts and Susan Watts and their ensemble perform a concert of Klezmer with a post-performance discussion of 20th century Jewish musical history in Philadelphia.
  • Sunday, June 24, From Menschen to Mezuzahs, Jewish History House Tour, 2:30pm

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