Past exhibition: Chosen

Philadelphia's Great Hebraica
From 03/29/2007 to 08/26/2007

Chosen brings together some 50 rare and important Hebrew books, scrolls, and objects that date from the 11th to the 18th century. Never before presented in one exhibition, the artifacts are drawn from nine Philadelphia area institutions and the Rosenbach’s own collection.

Chosen tells the stories of human experience, intellectual endeavors, religious tradition, and artistic innovation. Objects, some being exhibited for the first time, were selected for their literary and historic importance and their visual interest. By uniting them in a common space, Chosen reveals the untold stories buried within the objects, as well as those of their producers, owners, and the many different Jewish cultures and other influences that brought them into existence.

Visitors can see highly decorated, illustrated scrolls, observe scribal virtuosity in a selection of miniature books – some as small as a thimble – view writing in a diversity of languages from Chaldean to Yiddish, and learn how the form of Hebrew texts changed with the travels of Jewish populations across geography and time. Exhibit highlights include:

  • The first book printed in Hebrew
  • Illustrated texts such as the Scroll of Esther – including one miniature scroll never before seen by the public
  • What may be the oldest Hebrew Bible in a North American collection
  • The first book published in what is now the United States
  • The first known illustration depicting a bar mitzvah
  • The first Hebrew prayer book written for popular use
  • The oldest nearly complete Passover haggadah in existence
  • A Torah scroll listing ‘the Eleven Commandments’
  • The first book written by a Muslim that was translated into Hebrew
  • The first depiction of a map of the Exodus from Egypt
  • The first scientific illustration of a liquid-in-glass thermometer

Philadelphia is an untapped resource for exceptional and significant Hebraica. Many local religious and educational institutions maintain extraordinary, if little-seen pieces that come from a diverse range of 19th and 20th century collectors. Taken as a whole, the objects can be discovered anew as Philadelphia’s collection.

Objects for the exhibit have been loaned by Bryn Mawr College Library; Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library, University of Pennsylvania; Congregation Mikveh Israel; Congregation Rodeph Shalom; Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department and Education, Philosophy, and Religion Department; Haverford College Library, Special Collections; Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania; Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel; Temple Judea Museum; and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


Chosen is curated by Judith Guston, Curator and Director of Collections at The Rosenbach Museum & Library, with consulting curator David Stern, a Ruth Meltzer Professor of Classical Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania.

Chosen is generously supported by Scott and Karyn Ferber, Richard and Ann Frankel, Miriam Klein, Ronald and Saralee Messinger, Michael Moss and Ellen Chapman, Renée and David Rosenbach Sackey, Murray and Ann Spain, the Maxwell Strawbridge Charitable Trust, and an anonymous donor (list updated as of March 6, 2007). Programs have been funded by the Hirsig Family Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. We are grateful to the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library, University of Pennsylvania; Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania; Congregation Rodeph Shalom; Temple Judea Museum, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel; Congregation Mikveh Israel; Bryn Mawr College Library; Haverford College Library, Special Collections; The Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department and Education, Philosophy, and Religion Department for loans to the exhibition. We are also grateful to the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and to our community partner Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel for their support.