Join us for these monthly lunchtime presentations (noon – 1 pm) by Kislak curators, faculty, and students focusing on specific works or small archives/collections found among the holdings of the Kislak Center.
This talk is meant to spur discussion about the way in which digital technologies may help mediate between the competing claims of private property ownership rights and public interest in material cultural heritage. Judaica provides a fascinating test case for exploring these issues for both historical and methodological reasons. During the Holocaust, the Nazis engaged in the systematic looting of privately owned Jewish cultural property such as books, manuscripts, archives, and ritual objects. The fate of this looted property, especially heirless property, after the war was a subject of enormous legal and political wrangling.
Over the course of the last 25 years, roughly since the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, in 1998, there has been an explosion of publications that has sought to reconstruct this fraught history, rethink the symbolic meaning of Judaica, and has led to new efforts, including here at the Penn Libraries, to review our own institutional holdings in search of looted Judaica. In the Kislak Center, curators regularly grapple with questions of provenance, namely the chain of ownership that legitimizes the acquisition of a given object and when and under what conditions should holdings with “murky provenance” to invoke Yoel Finkelman’s evocative phrase, be deaccessioned and restituted. While the provenance of Nazi-looted Judaica has helped frame this discussion, the subject is of ongoing general interest for methodological reasons as well. Given a global diaspora of Judaica documents, including physically dispersed fragments owned by different institutions and private individuals yet intellectually and even intrinsically related to each other, how should one go about curating such material when no one can own all the related pieces. Drawing from the Kislak Center’s collections, we will move from theoretical and historical issues to practical questions about what to do and examples of what we have done.
Featured image: [Baraita de-melekhet ha-mishkan 6-10 (commentary on Exodus 25-40 concerning the construction of the tabernacle (mishkan) in the desert)] [Cairo? 12th-13th century?], Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania (Halper 83). View full image (via OPenn). Two matching fragments are independently held by Cambridge University Libraries (Taylor-Schechter K21.82) and the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC (ENA 2940). Identification of the matches by Robert Kirschner, Baraita de-melekehet ha-mishkan (Cincinnati : Hebrew Union College, 1992), p. 96.