JERUSALEM — A Russian Muslim billionaire is funding an Israeli project to digitize a major collection of Jewish manuscripts seized by the Soviets a century ago and held by the Russian state library, Israeli officials said Tuesday.
On the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution, Israel’s National Library and the Russian State Library announced an agreement to digitize the Gunzburg collection’s 2,000 manuscripts.
The project was made possible by an undisclosed “generous donation” from Russian oligarch Ziyavudin Magomedov’s Peri Foundation.
The 49-year-old energy and shipping magnate is Russia’s 58th-wealthiest person with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes. His foundation has financed heritage projects across Russia, particularly in his native Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic. But it has never undertaken a project of Jewish interest.
The Russian State Library’s Gunzburg collection includes over 2,000 manuscripts and thousands of printed volumes, including biblical texts, Talmuds, rabbinic interpretations, and philosophical treatises by Aristotle, Averroes, Maimonides, Al-Ghazali and others.
Baron David Gunzburg, a Jewish-Russian aristocrat, amassed one of the largest and most important collections of Jewish manuscripts before his death in 1910.
His wife agreed to sell the books to the forerunner of Israel’s national library in Jerusalem in May 1917 for the princely sum of 500,000 rubles. The outbreak of the Russian Revolution prevented delivery of the books, which were seized by Soviet authorities and placed in Russia’s state library.
Since then, Soviet and Russian governments have refused to release the collection, despite diplomatic appeals by Zionist leaders and the Israeli government.
Once digitized, the Gunzburg collection’s books will be available online at the National Library of Israel’s digital manuscript archive, which was launched earlier this year.