Jewish donor funds Cambridge digital library

The documents are considered as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls

The documents are considered as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls

Cambridge University has announced plans to digitise a collection of rare books including important ancient Jewish texts.

Thanks to a donation from British Jewish philanthropist Dr Leonard Polonsky, the university will be converting books from its faith collection into digital form.

Dr Polonsky, ranked at number 507 on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2009, has pledged £1.5 million for the project. The New York born businessman founded the Polonsky-Coexist Lectureship in Jewish Studies at Cambridge.

The digital library will include manuscripts from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, which comprises of 140,000 Hebrew and Arabic texts rescued from a synagogue in Cairo.

The documents, said to be as significant as the Dead Sea Scrolls, reveal detail about historical Jewish culture and religious life.

Other texts being converted to digital form include an eight century Qur'an and scientific works by Isaac Newton. The Cambridge University Library holds more than eight million books in its collection.

Dr Polonsky said: "As reading and research become increasingly electronic, my hope is that this grant will serve as a catalyst for the digitisation and linking of the great libraries of the world so that their riches can be enjoyed by a global public."

Cambridge university librarian Anne Jarvis said the project would make these documents accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

She said: "At the click of a mouse, students or scholars will be able to plunge into the worlds of Mediterranean Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities of the 11th Century, or into the minds of Isaac Newton and his contemporaries.

"Thanks to Dr Polonsky, we are at the start of what we believe will be an incredible journey into the digital future.”

Last updated: 2:24pm, November 2 2010