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Past Projects

Past Projects

The Middle Persian Dictionary Project

The dictionary project is a collaborative effort of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris and the Union Académique Internationale. The project’s director and associate director are, respectively, late Prof. Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew University, a member of the Academy, and Prof. Carlo Cereti of Sapienza University of Rome. Since Prof. Cereti has been serving as Italy’s cultural attaché in Tehran in recent years, he is not currently active in the dictionary project. The project coordinator is Dr. Domenico Agostini, who has resided in Israel for about six years.
During the first stage of the project, all of the relevant texts in Middle Persian were uploaded to a dedicated Internet site, including, as far as possible, the entire corpus of Zoroastrian literature in Middle Persian; a selection of texts in Pazend (a late script used by Zoroastrian writers); the Manichaean texts in Middle Persian discovered at Turfan, written in one of the scripts of the Syriac language (courtesy of Prof. Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, composer of the Dictionary of Manichean Middle Persian and Parthian); and the epigraphic inscriptions in Middle Persian on slabs and seals, as well as other archeological findings, such as papyri and parchment documents.
The plan is to also document words in Middle Persian that appear as borrowed words in texts in neighboring languages, such as the various dialects of Aramaic, Armenian and Arabic.

Ms. DS (first page of the Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg 16 in Pahlavi Middle Persian) belonging to the Meherjirana Library of Navsari (India):
Ms. RJ (first page of the Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg 1 in Pāzand Middle Persian) belonging to the Meherjirana Library of Navsari (India):

The texts are uploaded to the site in critical editions, transcribed in Latin letters, after rigorous proofreading, with translations into one of the principal languages of research. These texts are intended to serve as the basis for a comprehensive dictionary of the language.
A small team of research assistants, some of them volunteers, is working in Israel, Italy and the U.S. to prepare a database for the dictionary, which will be the first of its kind. One of the team members this year is Dr. Miguel Angel Andres Toledo of the University of Salamanca. The team includes assistants who are collecting material pertaining to the etymologies of the Middle Persian lexicon, as well as an expert computer programmer, Mr. Yuval Kaplan, who is developing and maintaining the software. The team meets periodically to conduct scholarly discussions and exchange ideas. The Hebrew University Computation Authority (HUCA) provides server and support services for the project, and other services are purchased in the private sector.
Prominent among the volunteers working in other parts of the world to provide material for the dictionary’s database are Prof. P. Oktor Skjaervo of Harvard University and Dr. Judith Josephson of University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who contributed their philological research to the dictionary project.
In the project’s second stage, which is just beginning, the dictionary team will be working on the dictionary entries. This stage will continue for two to three years.
The Academy does not provide financial support for the project, but it receives funding from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). The group working in Rome previously received financial support on an individual basis in the framework of Middle Persian Studies at Sapienza University. Recently, however, Italian involvement in the project has been severely curtailed due to budget constraints. Today, the ISF provides the only financial support, allocated for the years 2014–2018.
A first edition of the dictionary is expected to appear around 2020. The plan is to first publish the dictionary in a print edition, while continuing to maintain and improve the digital version.

 The Most common symbol of Zoroastrianism. Bearded man within winged ring
(Persepolis, Iran):

An ancient Zoroastrian prayer book in Avestan:

Hebrew Palaeography Project
Prof. Malachi Beit-Arié
The Israel Academy established the Hebrew Palaeography Project in 1965 in conjunction with the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Paris. The goals of the project are to describe and classify the graphic, technical and physical characteristics of medieval Hebrew manuscripts bearing notations of date, place and scribe, with the aim of providing Judaic Studies researchers with solid tools for identifying the provenance of manuscripts and estimating their dates, while offering a systematic typology of Hebrew books written by hand, their scribes and their craft, and shedding light on elements of society and literacy in the Jewish communities that produced them.
All of the known dated manuscripts in the world have been located, and nearly all have been analyzed and described using detailed questionnaires. Manuscripts kept in libraries in Israel, the U.S., France, England, Russia, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Egypt have been documented. In addition, hundreds of manuscripts bearing notations of their scribes and hundreds more date-bearing certificates have been documented, along with unstudied manuscripts documented on the basis of microfilms – about 6,700 manuscripts in total.
All of this documentation was transferred to a computerized database using a questionnaire containing about 700 fields, and a sophisticated and complex update and search system – SfarData – was developed. Thousands of pages of selected reproductions were acquired in actual size, and these were scanned and added to the database. Graphic designers created alphabet charts for each dated manuscript. Collections of photographed pages were also prepared, arranged in chronological order by the type and genre of the scripts.
The bilingual (Hebrew and English) SfarData website was integrated into the website of the National Library of Israel, where it serves hundreds of Judaic Studies scholars from different countries. To support, maintain and upgrade this unique codicological database, the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures partnered with the National Library in sponsoring and funding the website. The site’s address is:

The project has yielded the following works published by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities:
Codices hebraicis litteris exarati quo tempore scripti fuerint exhibentes, Parts I–IV, by Malachi Beit-Arié, Colette Sirat and Mordechai Glatzer
Manuscrits médiévaux en caractères hébraїques portant des indications de date jusqu’à 1540, Parts I–III, by Colette Sirat and Malachi Beit-Arié
Specimens of Mediaeval Hebrew Scripts, Vols. I–II, edited by Malachi Beit-Arié and Edna Engel (Vol. III is in press)


Committee on Religious Studies at Universities in Israel

Chaired by Prof. Guy G. Stroumsa. 


The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities formed a committee in 2015 to examine the field of Religious Studies at universities in Israel. The committee published a report summarizing its work: The State of Religious Studies at Research Universities in Israel (2017) [Hebrew]. 


Committee on the State of Archaeology in Israel

Chaired by the late Prof. Yoram Tsafrir.

A committee was established in 2010 to study the state of archeology in Israel. The committee published its findings in its Report on the State of Archaeology in Israel (2015) [Hebrew].


Master Classes

In 2015, the Humanities Division launched its Master Class program for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The program’s objective was to bring young scholars together with senior academics at two-day workshops, exposing them to cutting-edge issues. The first workshop took place in Acre (Akko) in June 2015, led by Professor Denys Pringle of Cardiff University, a leading archaeologist of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the second Master Class, initiated by Academy member David Shulman and conducted in January 2017, the Academy hosted T.M. Krishna, a leading contemporary musician working in the classical Carnatic musical tradition of southern India. Following the Master Class, Krishan gave a concert at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem, introduced by India’s ambassador to Israel, Mr. Pavan Kapoor.


Humanities Week

In 2012, pursuant to the recommendation of the Academy’s report on the “Future of the Humanities in Research Universities in Israel” that the Academy act to raise public awareness of the humanities, the Division organized a series of Humanities Week events in the cities of Karmiel, Rishon LeZion and Jerusalem. Over 20 Academy members participated in the events, along with young scholars, artists and media figures. This activity exposed the Israeli public to the wide-ranging research taking place in humanities fields and its contributions to individuals and to society. 


History Discipline Committee

From time to time, the Israel Academy’s Division of Humanities may investigate selected disciplines and fields of research in Israel’s universities, with the aim of evaluating what is being done in these fields in comparison with other world-class universities and of identifying subfields that are missing or require further development in Israel.
The Division’s first such investigation focuses on the field of history in the broadest sense, including European and American history, Jewish history and Near-Eastern history, East-Asian and Latin-American history, Russian studies, art history, the history of science and economics, and historical geography.
the History Discipline Committee completed the first phase of this project, which examined emphases over the last 25 years in research - by way of a survey of all academic dissertations in history written in Israel since 1979 - and in university instruction.
Samples of the resulting database were recently presented to the Committee’s members, who include members of the Israel Academy and other distinguished historians.
In the second phase, additional data is being added to the database under the Committee’s direction, including data on the research and teaching staff of the universities since 1975, using the same array of categories as those used in the previous surveys. Comparative data has also been gathered from leading universities abroad.
In the third and final phase, a committee of foreign experts will assess the status of the history discipline in Israel and formulate conclusions and recommendations for presentation to the Israel Academy and to Israel’s universities. A summary will be made available to the general public. This project is directed by Professors Benjamin Z. Kedar (Committee Chair).

The Prayer Project

Project director: Prof. Uri Ehrlich
The Prayer Project was launched in 2003 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Its objective is to compile a database all of the textual witnesses of Jewish prayer and liturgical practices throughout the ages. The database provides a reliable textual platform for all branches of research on Jewish liturgy, which can be used to prepare critical editions of Jewish prayers.
Each segment of a siddur registered in the database is classified by two criteria: a physical description of the source and its liturgical content. This systematic registration and classification facilitates efficient retrieval of information for research. Important prayers are transcribed in full, thus enabling the analysis of sections of the siddur. Pertinent bibliographical information is attached to each segment listed in the catalogue, and a digital photograph of the segment can also be attached. Once the compilation of the textual witnesses is completed, it will be possible to provide a full synopsis for use by researchers.

Halakhic Literature in Judaeo-Arabic

Project Director: Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai
The goal of the project is to identify mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic compositions on halakha and talmudic commentary that survived among the manuscripts taken from the Cairo Geniza, to reconstruct them and to publish them in critical editions with annotated Hebrew translations.
Work on the project began in January 1999. So far, the work has been based on existing lists of Geniza fragments identified by scholars outside the framework of this project. In addition to reconstructing and critically analyzing the compositions, a systematic survey of all the Genizah collections was conducted in order to ensure that all of the relevant fragments will be addressed.

Jewish Liturgy

The object of the Israel Academy’s Liturgy Project, established in 2003 and located at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is to create a database of the textual evidence for the various stages, traditions, and versions of Jewish liturgy. The database, catalogued on the basis of scholarly criteria, will provide a reliable textual basis for all branches of research into Jewish liturgy.

National Projects Committee

In 2000, the Israel Academy established a committee for the purpose of identifying scholarly and scientific projects of national importance. The committee’s recommendations are passed on to the Planning and Budgeting Committee for the latter to examine the possibility of supporting these projects.
The committee submitted its first set of recommendations in 2001, focusing particularly on projects in the humanities and the social sciences that have sought recognition as being of national importance.
The projects chosen for recognition must meet the greater part of the following criteria: They must be of extraordinary scholarly importance; they must conform to a high academic standard; they must make a contribution to science, higher education, society, and culture; they must rest upon material of scholarly importance and must generate a body of information that will serve as the basis for further projects; they must be of such a nature as to require considerable time and staff resources to compile their informational base; they must serve a broad scholarly community; they must be accessible to researchers (and sometimes to the general public) irrespective of institutional affiliation, ethnic origin, religion, sex, or citizenship; and they must possess the necessary organizational resources to carry out the tasks they have undertaken within a reasonable period.

Concordance of the Talmud Yerushalmi

This 30-year project was initiated and conducted by Moshe Kosovsky, under the joint auspices of the Israel Academy and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Following the publication of the ninth and final volume in 2002, the Academy celebrated the completion of the project with an evening of lectures held in March 2003.
The deliberations of post-tannaitic Babylonian scholars on the Mishnah, the second-century collection of rabbinic dicta that forms the basis of post-biblical Jewish law, were redacted in the well-known Babylonian Talmud. The discussions of scholars in the Land of Israel in roughly the same period were codified in the less familiar and less approachable Jerusalem Talmud. The Concordance of the Talmud Yerushalmi provides scholars with a finely detailed key to the language and content of this difficult text.