The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization

More than ten years in the making, The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization is a landmark ten–volume series that collects 3,000 years of Jewish literature, artwork, and artifacts, presenting the best of Jewish culture in its historic and global entirety.

This ambitious undertaking is the result of an ongoing collaboration between Yale University Press and the Posen Foundation, which works internationally to support Jewish education. “Taken as a whole, the series will underscore the vitality and variety of Jewish culture–religious and secular, elite and popular,” says James E. Young, the project’s Editor in Chief. “It will provide future generations with a working legacy by which to recover and comprehend Jewish culture and civilization.”

“We hope that The Posen Library will open the world’s eyes to the extraordinary contributions that Jewish thinkers, writers, and artists have made as Jews to dozens of other national cultures around the globe,” Young says. “In the process, The Posen Library will demonstrate that like Jewish culture, all national cultures are composed of multiple, often competing cultures, formed through the constant give-and-take and frisson between and within themselves.”



TITLES IN THE POSEN LIBRARY
From Biblical Times to the Present

Volume 1: The Second Millennium B.C.E.–333 B.C.E., edited by Jeffrey H. Tigay and Adele Berlin
Volume 2: 333 B.C.E.–800 C.E., edited by Carol Bakhos
Volume 3: 800–1096, edited by Menahem Ben-Sasson
Volume 4: 1096–1500, edited by Ora Limor and Israel Yuval
Volume 5: 1500–1750, edited by Yosef Kaplan
Volume 6: 1750–1880, edited by Elisheva Carlebach
Volume 7: 1880–1918, edited by Israel Bartal and Kenneth Moss
Volume 8: 1918–1939, edited by Todd M. Endelman and Zvi Gitelman
Volume 9: 1939–1973, edited by Samuel D. Kassow and David G. Roskies
Volume 10: 1973–2005, edited by Deborah Dash Moore and Nurith Gertz
The Genesis of the Posen Library

The Posen Library grew out of Felix Posen’s personal quest for Jewish knowledge and his foundation’s commitment to education. The idea first began to take shape in the late 1990s, when Posen, who was born in Berlin but lived in London for decades, retired from business and decided to devote himself to foundation work, with an emphasis on Jewish history, culture, and ideas. Many Jews believe that apart from religious texts and observance, Judaism has little to offer, Posen says. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Raised Orthodox, Posen spent decades drifting from the Judaism he learned as a child and abandoned as a young adult. Having found his way back to Jewish life, he reasoned that others, given the chance, might do the same. The key was a different kind of education than he—and most Jewish students—received.

The main obstacle, he thought, was a lack of good literature about Jewish history and ideas. I was frustrated, Posen says. Even the renowned Encyclopaedia Judaica contained some serious gaps. To be an educated Jew, he believed, one needs good resources. There was no single source, he recalls, so I decided to create my own anthology.

As he conceived it, The Posen Library would include most of the important Jewish texts, artifacts, and works of art ever produced. With its enormous breadth, it would provide a panoramic view of Jewish culture, both religious and secular, through the ages. Posen consulted two senior Israeli scholars. The first step, they suggested, would be to assemble an elite advisory council, with scholars from Israel and the Diaspora. Posen helped select the members. I wanted a balance between men and women, Americans and Israelis, religious and seculars, Posen says.

In 2003, and again in 2005, members of the advisory group, the appointed volume editors, and representatives from Yale University Press convened in London. Among them was James Young, a respected scholar of the Holocaust and its memorialization. Despite being somewhat humbled by the audacity of the project, Young accepted the role of Editor in Chief. In time, over 120 academics would join the project as editors and advisors.

As Young saw it, the project’s main goal was to show the complexity, variety, and vibrancy of Jewish culture. He knew that the anthology would raise profound questions—what is Jewish culture? Who defines it? Who creates it? Those questions should be followed, Young suggested, by more questions: What is essential to Jewish culture? Does Jewish culture incorporate and reflect non-Jewish influences, or is it something separate and autonomous?

In 2008, when the editors and advisors reconvened again in London, an exciting new idea was presented: Yale University Press was prepared to begin scanning and digitizing the entire contents of The Posen Library so that everything, including paintings and illuminated manuscripts, would someday be available online. This would turn the hardcover volumes into a living anthology that could be updated, annotated, and accessed by people around the world. Music, theater, film and TV, impossible to include in book or codex form, could now be included.

At Posen’s suggestion, the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter, the historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, agreed to contribute a companion volume, Jews and Words. The pair’s first collaborative writing effort would be a fitting tribute to the project.

Fourteen years after Felix Posen conceived The Posen Library, Volume 10 is complete, and there are plans to publish nine additional volumes in the years ahead. The Posen Library was initiated as the solution to a problem: a lack of educational resources in Jewish history and civilization. But it has become something more: a catalogue of Jewish creativity, something that will reward a reader’s curiosity and offer a casual reader the thrill of discovery. It will be an incentive for Jews, as Posen once put it, To not abandon the very worthy age-old Jewish custom of learning.