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Our Story & Goals

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The Posen Library project was conceived in the late 1990s, when philanthropist Felix Posen and the Posen Foundation observed that the stories most often taught and circulated in the twentieth century represented only a small percentage of Jewish life and history. Jews have lived all over the world for centuries, from Austria to Morocco to Venezuela, and Jewish culture has been produced across religious, political, and gender spectrums. As the adage goes, “Two Jews, three opinions!” 

Drawing on paper of hills, water with boat, and buildings, with Hebrew text on top and border with vines and architectural elements.
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The Posen Foundation recognizes the importance of providing access to primary sources in Jewish history and of expanding access, in the belief that “education can facilitate and inspire meaningful change.” The Posen Library aims to ensure that thought leaders and scholars of Jewish history can represent Jewish life holistically and include in their work a multiplicity of voices, from a variety of religious perspectives, political persuasions, and genders using a plethora of media both written and visual. 

In 2003, a group of world-renowned scholars and representatives from Yale University Press met to officially launch the print version of the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization project, with the goal of publishing ten volumes—spanning more than 3,000 years of Jewish history, from the biblical period to the twenty-first century. 

As use of the internet exploded in the following decades, however, so did our understanding that this project had enormous potential beyond book jackets. In 2021, we began the process of creating a free, robust, interactive digital version of the Posen Library to make the materials more accessible to global audiences, to use cross-references and advanced searches so entries could speak to one another across time and geography. We began to draw on emerging technology that, upon free registration, will enable users to create their own mini collections and easily integrate these sources into their curricula (coming in spring 2024).

We’ve been releasing volumes as they’re completed. As of 2024, seven of the originally commissioned volumes are available and, by 2027, content from all ten volumes, from ancient Israel to the early twenty-first century, will be available in print and online

Because it would be impossible to include every piece of Jewish culture created, our approach relies on curated selections from distinguished scholars who have spent their careers with this material. Some of the editors and curators who have participated in this project opted for depth over breadth, and some vice versa. (Read more about our primary sources here.) But scholarship evolves, and this project is evolving alongside new approaches to the study of Jewish culture and civilization. We plan to continue to add to the digital version of the collection as new materials and scholarship emerge, to ensure voices often left out of history are included. 

Historical accuracy is of paramount importance to the Posen Library, and the variety of perspectives contained within the anthology may spark debate. Sometimes sources directly engage with one another, as in the case of topics such as slavery or abortion. (See our statement on sensitive content.) We take a position akin to those of museums and archives that are ever exploring ways to responsibly and thoughtfully present these documents. We encourage users to share suggestions for ways we can improve or to call any errors to our attention.