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Gaster Papers

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0103 GASTER
Held at: University College London
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Library/special-coll ›
Full title: Gaster Papers
Date(s): 1794-1981
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: c170,000 items
Name of creator(s): Gaster | Moses | 1856-1939 | scholar and Chief Rabbi (Haham) of the Sephardic community in England

Context

Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in Bucharest, eldest son of Abraham Emanuel Gaster, who was attached to the Netherlands legation in Bucharest, and his wife Phina Judith Rubinstein, 1856; Bachelier dès lettres et sciences, University of Bucharest, 1873; PhD, Leipzig, 1877; returned to Rumania, 1880; Rabbinical Diploma, Theological Seminary, Breslau, 1881; lecturer on Rumanian language and literature and comparative mythology, University of Bucharest, 1881-1885; a versatile scholar, his publications included the first translation of the Jewish liturgy into Rumanian, 1883, and his seminal work on the study of Rumanian language and literature ('Chrestomatie Românk'), 1891; his agitation on behalf of persecuted Jews in Rumania led the government to expel him, and Gaster became domiciled in England; Ilchester Lecturer on Slavonic and Byzantine literature at Oxford, 1886, 1891; appointed Chief Rabbi (Haham) of the Sephardic community in England, 1887; married Leah Lucy, only child of Dr Michael Friedlander (d 1910; Principal of Jews' College, London, 1865-1907), 1890; chosen Principal of the Judith Lady Montefiore College at Ramsgate, 1890; naturalized, 1893; a prominent member of Anglo-Jewry and active in many of its principal institutions; serious differences of opinion over the management of the College at Ramsgate led him to resign as Principal, 1896; for a time after his arrival in England he continued to support the Choveve Zion movement in which he had been active in Rumania, but later supported Theodor Herzl's Zionist movement, and was a founder and President of the English Zionist Federation and Vice-President of Zionist congresses in Basel and London, 1898-1900; his house was the venue for talks between prominent Zionists and the Foreign Office before the issue of the Balfour declaration, 1917; failing eyesight compelled him to retire his rabbinate, 1919; honorary member of the Rumanian Academy, 1929; Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, 1930; Vice-President of the Royal Asiatic Society, Anglo-Jewish Association, and Jewish Historical Society of England; Vice-President and President of the English Folk Lore Society; holder of Rumanian Orders "Bene merenti" 1st class, for literary achievements, and Commander of Rumanian Crown; an outspoken leader in public causes, often involved in controversy, and an arresting orator; as an eminent Jewish linguist, literary historian, folklorist, and pioneer of the study of Rumanian literature, accumulated a large library of printed and manuscript material in his fields of interest, namely Hebraica and Judaica, Samaritana, and Rumanian and related studies; died, 1939. Publications include: 'Literatura Populara Romana' (1883), on Rumanian popular literature; 'Ilchester Lectures on Greeko-Slavonic literature' (1887); 'Chrestomatie Românk' (2 volumes, 1891); reports of the Montefiore College (1891-1896); 'The Sword of Moses' (1896); 'The Chronicles of Jerahmeel' (1899); 'Geschichte der rumanischen Literatur', in 'Grundriss der Romanischen Philologie', vol ii (1900); 'Hebrew Illuminated Bibles of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries and a Samaritan Scroll of the Pentateuch' (1901); 'History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the cathedral synagogue of the Jews in England, situate in Bevis Marks ... 1701-1901' (privately printed, 1901); edited 'The Book of Prayer and Order of Service according to the custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' (6 volumes, 1901-1907), a new edition of the Sephardic service books with revised English translation; 'The Hebrew Version of the "Secretum Secretorum"' (1907-1908); 'Das Buch Josua' (1908), on the Samaritan Book of Joshua; 'Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories' (1915); 'Children's Stories from Roumanian Legends and Fairy Tales' [1923]; 'The Exempla of the Rabbis' (1924); 'The Samaritans' (Schweich lectures, 1925); 'The Asatir: the Samaritan Book of the Secrets of Moses' (1927); 'The Story of Chanucah' (1928); 'The Tittled Bible' (1929); 'The Story of Passover' (1929); 'The Story of Purim' (1929); 'The Story of Shavuoth' (1930); 'The Story of the High Festivals and the Feast of Tabernacles' (1931); 'Ma'aseh Book' (1934), translated from the Judeo-German; various Biblical Apocrypha in 'Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archæology'; contributions to the 'Encyclopædia Britannica', 'Hastings' Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics', and other journals and reviews. 'Gaster Centenary Publication' (1936) provides a 'List of Publications of Dr M Gaster', by Bruno Schindler.

Content

Scope and content/abstract:

Correspondence and papers of Dr Moses Gaster, his family, and the family of his wife Lucy (née Friedlander), 1796-1973, dating largely from the 1870s to the 1930s, also including some material on Gaster's life and work which post-dates his death. Many papers relate to Gaster's activities in his official posts, notably as Haham, to his interests in Jewish affairs and Zionism, and as a scholar, but the collection touches upon a wide range of topics in late 19th and early 20th century history, including the history of Rumanian Jewry and Anglo-Jewry. The bulk of the collection comprises Gaster's correspondence, which includes letters from Jewish and Zionist organisations in Britain, Europe and Jerusalem, from newpapers, periodicals and publishers, and from a large number of individuals outside Gaster's family, including eminent British, European and American Jewish scholars, rabbis and public figures, such as members of the Adler, Gollancz, Mocatta, Montefiore and Rothschild families, and with non-Jewish public figures, but it also includes a wide range of other material. The main series mostly cover much or all of Gaster's adult life. Some material of the same type or on the same subject is separated between different sections of this large collection.


Correspondence series include letters from organisations and individuals outside Gaster's family, one sequence sorted alphabetically by correspondent; one sequence sorted chronologically, 1874-1939, with a few other items, the earliest dating from 1854; a sequence of undated letters, sorted alphabetically; letters received by Gaster on the emigration of Rumanian Jewry, including to England, 1900; Gaster's out-letters and copies of letters written by him, 1887-1939; copies of letters from Gaster to the Zionist Chaim Weizmann dating from the 1900s and 1910s; letters not written by or addressed to Gaster, 1870-1939 and undated.


A series of bound volumes contains press cuttings and other items, largely printed, including circulars and pamphlets, with some letters received and written by Gaster, and relates to various subjects, although much of the material was apparently bound haphazardly; the contents, overall dating largely from 1879-1939 but with items of 1796, 1838-1849, and 1867, include persecution of Jews in Rumania and elsewhere; emigration; Anglo-Jewish matters and the Anglo-Jewish Association; hospitals and schools; lectures, weddings, and other functions; the Board of Deputies of British Jews; Shechita; the Slaughter Bill, 1911; the Spanish-Portuguese congregation, including Bevis Marks Synagogue and Gaster's 25th anniversary as Haham, 1912; Independent Order of B'nai B'rith; letters congratulating Gaster on his engagement, marriage and birth of his children, and on the 'Gaster Anniversary Volume' ; Zionism, including the Jewish Colonial Trust, and Zionist Congresses in 1905, 1907 and 1913; Palestine; the Royal Asiatic Society; the Folklore Society.


Printed ephemera, dating from the 1870s to the 1930s, includes invitations to lectures, weddings and other events; visiting and greeting cards and condolences.


Papers, 1890-1896, on the Ramsgate affair relate to Gaster's association with the College there, the controversy over his management, and events leading up to his departure in 1896.


Papers relating to Zionism include copies of letters between Gaster and Theodor Herzl at the turn of the 20th century and other Zionist correspondence and papers up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917; file of letters and telegrams, some copies, from Winston (Leonard Spencer) Churchill, 1906-1908; volume of minutes of Council meetings of the London Zionist League, 1904-1910; microfilms of Zionist sources, among them Herzl letters held elsewhere.


Pamphlets, 1944-1950, relate to the Anglo-Jewish Association, a London conference of Jewish organisations, Palestine, the Jews in Britain, and Jewish Relief Units in Germany.


Working papers include notebooks, many undated, relating to Gaster's studies (from the 1870s) and later research; typescript and some manuscript reviews, sermons, letters to the press, obituary articles or notices, speeches and articles by Gaster; loose press cuttings of Gaster's reviews and articles, and cuttings on Gaster himself and his areas of interest; reproductions of texts and manuscripts and working notes by Gaster on his scholarly research.


Papers on Gaster's life, work and estate include a photostat manuscript catalogue of Gaster's Hebrew, Samaritan and other manuscripts and printed books, with annotations postdating Gaster's death in 1939; papers relating to Gaster's manuscripts which passed to the British Library, John Rylands Library and Rumanian Academy, including manuscript and typescript descriptions of manuscripts, and correspondence, 1925-1926, 1941, 1961-1962, on their disposal; papers dating from the 1940s to the 1960s on the estate of Gaster's wife (d 1940) and disposal of her books and on Gaster's will, estate and the disposal of his books and manuscripts including his Judaica, the sale of his Rumanian library to the School of Slavonic Studies, the disposal of Samaritan and Hebrew manuscripts to the John Rylands Library, his papers at University College London; material, including press cuttings and papers to 1971, on Gaster's publications, including a copy of his 'History of the Ancient Synagogue ... in Bevis Marks ... 1701-190' (published in 1901); papers to 1961 on the 'Gaster Centenary Publication' (first published in 1936), the centenary of Gaster's birth in 1956, and his publications; papers on Gaster's life and work following his death in 1939, including a file of Vivian Gaster's correspondence on his father to 1973.


Personal papers include Gaster's appointment diaries; congratulations on Gaster's engagement (1889); various rolled or printed addresses to Gaster as Haham, from Jewish communities; certificates, including one for Gaster's election as Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, 1930; letters of congratulation and cuttings on Gaster's 80th birthday (1936); typescript autobiographical notes and reminiscences by Gaster; papers on Gaster's death, 1939, including a scrapbook of cuttings.


Family papers include a genealogical roll of the Gaster family; two photograph albums, largely undated but apparently dating from the latter 19th century, many items unlabelled but some taken in Bucharest, Breslau and London and some identified as members of the Friedlander and Gaster families; correspondence, comprising letters from Gaster's family in Rumania, 1873-1939 and undated; Gaster's original letters to his family in Rumania, from 1874; letters from Gaster to his wife and children, 1885-1939 and undated, and a diary of Gaster on a journey to Palestine, 1907; letters to Moses Gaster from his wife Lucy, between Moses and Lucy and their children, and from the Friedlander family to Moses and Lucy Gaster, 1888-1939; letters from Lucy to her parents, Michael and Bertha Friedlander, before and after her marriage, 1880-1922; Friedlander family correspondence including letters from Michael Friedlander to his wife Bertha, from 1866, and to the Friedlanders from the Gasters; other letters received by the Friedlanders from their family and others, largely 1870-1927 and undated. Other Friedlander papers comprise papers of Michael Friedlander, including notes, and working papers and correspondence relating to Jews' College, including its administration and courses; and the diary of Bertha Friedlander (wife of Michael Friedlander and mother of Lucy Gaster, née Friedlander), 1893-1898.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, Hebrew, Rumanian, German, French

System of arrangement:

There are plans to integrate the multiple correspondence series to create a single series arranged by personal name of correspondent.

Conditions governing access:

Open.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Finding aids:

Trude M Levi, The Gaster Papers (The Library, University College London, Occasional Publication no 2, 1976) offers guidance on the overall content of the collection, including biographical information on Gaster's correspondents, and gives a very summary listing of the bound volumes (in Appendix 6). A card index at University College London Special Collections gives the names of Gaster's correspondents. However, the collection is not fully catalogued or indexed and some correspondence and papers remain unsorted. Readers are advised to give advance notice of their visit to enable staff to identify material relevant to their enquiry.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Deposited on permanent loan by the Trustees (members of the Gaster family) and in 1974 given to University College London and held with other Jewish collections in the Mocatta Library.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Mocatta Library (subsequently the Jewish Studies Library) of University College London.

Allied Materials

Related material:

University College London Special Collections holds a letter from Gaster to the Rev Nathan Adler, 4 Mar 1886, and Gaster's application for the Chair of Hebrew, including a list of his publications, 22 Sep 1898 (Ref: COLLEGE CORRESPONDENCE). University College London Library holds a small 'Gaster Collection', of books by and about Gaster.


British Library of Political and Economic Science holds miscellaneous correspondence of Gaster, 1937 (Ref: Seligman Papers/11/1/2). Southampton University Library holds papers relating to Abraham Mocatta and the Sephardi community in London, including reports of an address by Gaster on Mocatta from the Jewish Chronicle, 4 Jan 1901, and the Jewish World, 4 Jan 1961 (Ref: MS 116/48); and an undated copy of an appeal letter for additional subscribers for the Jewish Encyclopaedia signed by prominent members of Anglo-Jewry, including Gaster (Ref: MS 116/80). British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections, holds the bulk of the Hebrew manuscripts collected by Gaster (Ref: Or 9879 - Or 12379); see Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts in the Gaster Collection, The British Library, London (Hebrew Section, Oriental and India Office Collections, London, 1996), which reproduces manuscript and typescript slips to the collection, and a concordance of Gaster and British Library manuscript numbers. Manchester University, John Rylands Library, holds a large collection of material assembled by Gaster, comprising the rump of his Hebrew manuscripts, the major portion of his Samaritan manuscripts, and material in other scripts; Gaster's substantial correspondence with the Samaritan community in Nablus (Nabulus, Palestine), largely with English translations; and publications, largely written by Gaster, heavily annotated by him, and relating to Jewish history, folklore and religion, with special reference to eastern Europe, particularly Rumania. Gaster's collection of Rumanian and related manuscripts was sold to the Rumanian Academy in Bucharest, and his Rumanian and related printed books, touching upon language, literature, folklore and history of Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania and Bukovina, and upon Rumanian Jewry, and including texts from the 16th to 18th century, were divided between the Academy and the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (SSEES), University College London; see Dennis Deletant, 'A survey of the Gaster books in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies Library', Solanus, no 10, 1974, pp 14-23, and The Gaster Collection of Rumanian Printed Books held in the Library of The School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, University College London (London, 1995), which reproduces the original typescript card catalogue of the collection at SSEES and a typescript catalogue of Rumanian manuscripts sold as 'The Gaster Collection' to the Rumanian Academy, 1936 (a copy of an original at University College London). Although some of Gaster's Hebrew printed books were lost in the bombing of London during World War Two, printed Judaica passed ultimately to the library of the University of California at Los Angeles.

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Publication note:

Victor Eskenasy, 'Moses Gaster and his Memoirs - the Path to Zionism', Shvut 16 (Diaspora Research Institute, the Goldstein-Goren Center for the History of the Jews in Romania, The Society for Jewish Historical Research, Tel Aviv University, 1993), cites memoirs written by Gaster, 1930-1939, at University College London, and includes information on Gaster's life in Rumania.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Trude M Levi, The Gaster Papers (The Library, University College London, Occasional Publication no 2, 1976); Dictionary of National Biography; Who's Who; Moses Gaster, 'The Story of My Library', The British Library Journal, vol 21, no 1 (Spring 1995), pp 16-22; The Gaster Collection of Rumanian Printed Books held in the Library of The School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, University College London (London, 1995); National Register of Archives; Archives Hub; websites of John Rylands University Library of Manchester and the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies; British Library OPAC. Compiled by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Apr 2001

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