By Jutta Seibert
Against considerable odds the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization has flourished since its launch in 1965. In an article published in 1982 in Jewish Historical Studies, Louis Littman, the series’ founder, recounted his goals for the series and the obstacles he faced in realizing them.
Littman, who grew up in Brighton in the thirties, blamed the relative ignorance of the Jewish intellectual tradition among British Jews on a lack of English translations of classical Hebrew scholarship. He hoped to change the status quo by commissioning translations and publishing Hebrew scholarship in English in a series dedicated to the memory of his father.
However, publishers showed little interest in his project as the series was not expected to be a commercial success and qualified translators were few and far between. It took considerable effort to get the project off the ground.
The first book in the series was a small volume of Hebrew poems from medieval Spain. On its jacket, Littman described the scope of his project:
“The aim of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization is to present to the English-speaking public a selection of some of the finest products of the Jewish religious and literary genius. It is hoped that this Library will help to encourage a revival of interest in a religious and literary Heritage, much of which has been virtually closed to those unfamiliar with the language in which it is enshrined.”
In 2017, the Littman Library entered a publishing partnership with Liverpool University Press and launched its first e-books. The Villanova community acquired electronic access to the series through JSTOR. A subset of books from the series is also available in print.
- Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (JSTOR)
- Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (selected print volumes)
- Littman, L.T.S. “The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.” Jewish Historical Studies 29 (1988): 311-325. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29779823.
- “Mr. Louis Littman.” Obituary. Times (London), December 21, 1987. The Times Digital Archive.
- Goldstein, David, ed. Hebrew Poems of Spain. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2007.
Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library.