JTS Receives Grant to Digitize Materials on Non-Western Jewish Culture

Contact: Beth Mayerowitz, bemayerowitz@JTSA.EDU

November 6, 2018, New York, NY –The Council on Library Information Resources (CLIR) has awarded the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) $45,943 to digitize materials for the upcoming project “Disappearing Jewish Cultures and Traditions of the Non-Western World: Digitizing Film Footage and Audio Recordings from the Johanna L. Spector Papers and Audio-Visual Materials.”

The project focuses on the audio-visual materials of Dr. Johanna Spector (z”l), a former JTS professor, ethnomusicologist, and award-winning documentary filmmaker who documented the music and rituals of non-Western Jewish cultures. Dr. Spector died in 2008; her extensive collection of music recordings and documentary films remain with JTS.

Dr. Spector researched the native cantillation and prayers of Jewish communities around the world, including the Yemenite, Persian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Indian Jewish communities, as well as the Samaritan people. Her papers and audio-visual materials, collected from 1960–1989, are one of the most comprehensive collections of primary source materials of the close-to-extinct musical and cultural traditions of non-Western Jewish cultures. These scenes, pictures, sounds, and conversations have never been publicly viewed, and digitizing them will allow researchers to discover so much more about these communities.

“With the CLIR grant, JTS is given the special opportunity to digitize and make available the treasure trove of unused footage and audio recordings from unique Jewish cultures,” said Naomi Steinberger, Director of Library Services. “This will allow the general public to gain a greater understanding of historical Jewish communities’ religious ceremonies, culture, and musical traditions, which is a very rare opportunity for both JTS and the public. Dr. Spector was the first female full-time professor at JTS and this is a tremendous way to honor the legacy of her scholarly work.”

JTS first began to provide access to the papers and audio-visual collection in 2012 with a grant from CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. This new CLIR grant will enable digitization that will open up these disappearing Jewish traditions to scholars and the public.

This grant is a part of CLIR’s Recordings at Risk program, a national initiative supporting the preservation of audio and audiovisual content, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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