The Kaufmann Collection

Dávid Kaufmann (painting by Izidor Thein,
LHAS Kt 16)
The Hebraica collection of the professor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Hungary Dávid Kaufmann (1852–1899) is internationally renowned. Kaufmann was an eminent scholar of medieval Jewish philosophy, history and cultural history, and a systematic collector of Hebrew manuscriptsand old books. When he and his wife died, upon his mother-in-law Róza Gomperz'swill, the collection was donated to the Academy Library as the Foundation of Dávid Kaufmann and his wife, née Irma Gomperz. The catalogue of the library was published by Miksa Weisz in 1906, upon the request of the scholar's widow, and Ignác Goldziher introduced the collection to the Academy at the meeting on April 23 of the same year.

The collection divides into three groups: a) codices and manuscripts, b) genizah fragments, and c) printed books. "Manuscripts numbering 594 which touch on every branch and age of Hebrew literature," Goldziher announced. They include very rare and invaluable pieces such as the 11th century philosophical work, Kitab al-muhtavi by Yusuf al-Basir written in Hebrew script in Arabic (A. 280) or the Mishnah codex (A. 50). Goldziher pointed out a Hungaricum (A. 349) "which Kaufmann himself had published on the basis of the manuscript in 1895, … an account of an eye-witness of the recapture of Buda (1686) in Hebrew."

He gave separate mention of the richly embellished painted manuscripts belonging to the finest achievements of Jewish book art: "This collection has an art historical rather than literary value, including 25 richly illustrated codices, mostly of parchment mainly coming from Italy."

Letter from the 11th century (Kaufmann Gen. 170[129])
One is the Kaufmann Haggadah (A. 422) published facsimile twice so far, first edited by Sándor Scheiber (1957) and then by Gabrielle Sed-Rajna (1990). "A separate group of the manuscripts includes documents and fragments, partly in Arabic, partly in Hebrew, obtained from the Egyptian Genizahs. … which give account of every aspects of life." The printed books numbering some 2,000 "constitute a rich collection of incunabula and old prints," Ignác Goldziher noted.

It is most fortunate that the Cairo genizahs, some 700 fragments belonging to the Kaufmann collection, could have been restored recently by courtesy of the Getty Foundation of California. The proceedings of the Kaufmann Memorial Conference organised by the Oriental Collection in 1999 was published in 2002 under the title David Kaufmann Memorial Volume as vol. 10 of the series Keleti Tanulmányok – Oriental Studies.

The digital version of the Kaufmann collection was released in November 2008.