After Hebrew paleography
We have now the tools to produce the second kind of historical study, the one which describes the manuscript as a concrete object. However, dated manuscripts account for only a fraction of all surviving manuscripts. Moreover, our paleographical notices indicate only the general category of the text copied, but say nothing about the text itself or its author.
With a few exceptions, undated manuscripts have not received the benefit of paleographical description. In almost all cases, however, their texts have been catalogued, often briefly, though sometimes in great detail, by scholars of earlier generations. But even in the best catalogues, many details are overlooked: the first and last words of texts, the structure and number of chapters etc. although these informations are relevant for a complete physical and textual description.
One solution proposed was to update these catalogues by adding short paleographical descriptions. Beit-Arié did just this for the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He and B. Richler and the staff of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem provided new textual and paleographical descriptions for the Palatine Library in Parma and the Vatican Library in Rome. These projects have proved invaluable to scholars. No doubt this approach is the only way to deal with a relatively large number of manuscripts in a relatively short time.
In France, the “new catalogue” (which succeeds Zotenberg's 1866 one) has taken shape with the assistance of the French Hebrew Paleography Committee. It is being published in a new series, Manuscrits en caractères hébreux conservés dans les bibliothèques de France, edited by Philippe Bobichon (IRHT) and Laurent Héricher (BnF). It is the most detailed and complete catalogue ever published for Hebrew Manuscripts. For every manuscript, there are photographs, the physical description and then a description of the text or texts (including their first and last words, their structure etc…) and the description of the history of the volume. A volume has more than 200 pages and treats 10 to 40 manuscripts. It takes time (one or two years of work by a paleographer already acquainted with the textual domain, without taking into account the help of his colleagues). In spite of the financial difficulties, five volumes have appeared to date, two will appear in 2015 and more are being prepared.