Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

October 19, 2007 11:53 ET

Library and Archives Canada Celebrates 30 Years of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Oct. 19, 2007) - On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, Library and Archives Canada presents a variety of activities in celebration of the important collection of Hebraica and Judaica donated to the Government of Canada by this noted Jewish collector. Some of the activities include a lecture by Dr. Emile G.L. Schrijver on Wednesday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Library and Archives Canada. The lecture entitled, "Uncovering the Lowy Haggadah Manuscript" is presented in partnership with the Council of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

The lecture is part of a colloquium held in collaboration with the Canadian Society for Jewish Studies, Carleton University's Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, and the University of Ottawa's Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program. Some examples of the Lowy Collection will also be on display during the colloquium. The lecture and colloquium are open to the public, free of charge.

The Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which is housed on the second floor of Library and Archives Canada at 395 Wellington Street, consists of rare and old Hebraica and Judaica comprising 3,000 volumes from the 15th to the 20th century. Library and Archives Canada "is proud to house such an important cultural and historical collection that Jews and non-Jews alike from around the world can appreciate," said Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Ian E. Wilson.

Dr. Emile Schrijver is a specialist in Hebrew manuscripts and curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Judaic and Hebraic special collection at Amsterdam University Library ( He has published extensively on Jewish manuscripts and printed books. A Haggadah is a liturgical book recited on Passover that tells the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The Lowy Haggadah is a handwritten manuscript, copied and illuminated in Altona, Germany, in 1763, during the 18th-century revival of Hebrew manuscript production.

In the past five years, new acquisitions to the Collection include the first book of the Hebrew Bible to be printed in North America, Liber Psalmorium Hebraice, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1809. As well, a large, finely hand-coloured, copper-engraved map of the Eastern Mediterranean region delineating the travels of Paul in the 1st century was donated, among many other acquired items.

The lecture and colloquium will be at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.


Jacob M. Lowy

Jacob Max Lowy was born in the town of Bardejov, Slovakia, in 1908. Displaying the prescience that would distinguish him throughout his life, he left continental Europe in 1938 with his wife and children. The family lived in England for 13 years, until they moved to Montreal in 1951. Jacob Lowy was an industrialist and real estate developer, community leader and bibliophile. His investiture as a Member of the Order of Canada took place in October 1983. He died in December 1990 at the age of 82. His second wife, Clara Lowy, resides in Montreal.

1977 presentation of Lowy gift and dedication of Lowy Room (Refer to booklet The Jacob M. Lowy Collection, c. 1977, revised and reprinted in 1997 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary)

On October 12, 1977, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection was formally presented to Library and Archives Canada. The Honourable John Roberts, Secretary of State, accepted on behalf of the people and the Government of Canada. Among many distinguished guests were the Honourable Herb Gray, M.P., Rabbi Gunther Plaut, then President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Dr. Guy Sylvestre, then National Librarian, and Jacob and Clara Lowy with his two daughters.

Jacob M. Lowy Collection (3,000 rare volumes and 2,500 reference volumes)

The Jacob M. Lowy Collection consists of rare and old Hebraica and Judaica comprising 3,000 volumes from the 15th to the 20th century. The intellectual scope of the Collection spans religious, scientific, historical and philological thought emanating from presses in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Collection is rich in printing examples of Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish and other Jewish languages, as well as Latin, Greek and numerous European languages. At the heart of the Collection are the first and early editions of Talmud, codes of law, responsa, legal and biblical commentaries and mystical texts. There are 34 Hebrew, Latin and Italian incunables and fragments thereof, over 120 editions of bibles in many languages, and important editions of the works of the first-century historian, Josephus.

A specialized reference collection holds 2,500 monographs focusing on the origin, spread and collecting of printed and manuscript Hebraica and Judaica, as well as institutional, exhibition and auction catalogues, bibliographical journals and classic and new Judaic encyclopedias.

Why did Jacob Lowy give the Collection to Library and Archives Canada?

By 1977, Lowy had lived in Canada for 26 years. He had flourished as a Jew in his community, as a bibliophile and collector, and in his business. In giving his private collection as a gift to the Crown and to the people of Canada, he expressed a citizen's pride in Canada as a nation of promise, and an immigrant's gratitude for the fulfilling of that promise. Indeed, he was following in the steps of donors who enriched national and research institutions abroad with rare Hebraica and Judaica in the past. The Bible is the literary and religious cornerstone of our shared western heritage, and the great libraries of the western world have traditionally sought rare Hebraic and Judaic collections.

Who visits the Collection and why?

The Lowy Collection is multi-faceted and speaks to the disparate interests of wide groups of visitors. For some it is a first glimpse of antiquity in a world of reproductions and an intimate connection to past owners, collectors and readers; for others, it is an opportunity to read the handwritten marginalia of old books in the search to find the new. For all, it is a reminder of an unbroken link to the past and our dependence on that past to yield a complete picture of ourselves.

Clients have included religious school classes from all branches of Judaism; church groups and professional and cultural associations; rabbinic and academic scholars; researchers; university students (individuals and groups); tourists; VIPs (most recently, in March, Tzipi Livni, then Vice Prime Minister and still Foreign Minister of Israel; artists and students of the physical book (old print fonts, illuminations, decorations, paper, bindings).

Dr. Emile G.L. Schrijver

Curator of Amsterdam University's Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Special Collections, Dr. Schrijver is a specialist in Hebrew manuscripts. He will lecture on the Lowy Haggadah, a manuscript copied and illuminated in Altona, Germany, in 1763. Also, Dr. Schrijver is a freelance consultant for Christie's London, Christie's New York; Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York; Judisches Museum Hohenems, Austria; Judisches Museum Mittelfranken, Furth-Schnaittach, Jewish Museum Vienna; Judaica Consultancy Services, Amstelveen, the Netherlands; private collectors and book and art dealers.

Naming the Haggadah (the book recited on Passover celebrating the Exodus from Egypt)

In naming the 1763 Haggadah manuscript the "Lowy Haggadah," it receives a unique name. There are other Haggadahs that were copied in Altona, Germany, in the second half of the 18th century. This distinguished name honours Jacob M. Lowy and emphasizes the bond between the Collection and its home for the last 30 years at Library and Archives Canada.

The Haggadah Display

A selection of nine Haggadahs chosen for their illustrations and commentaries will be displayed in the auditorioum foyer. The Lowy Haggadah manuscript is in the cube.

Selected acquisitions from 2002 to 2007

A. Donations from three private collections

1. On July 14, 2006, the last 16 books were received from Clara Lowy at her Montreal home. These include first and early editions of liturgies and textbooks for youth, all printed in Leghorn (Livorno, Italy) in the 18th and 19th centuries; a book on Talmudic hermeneutics printed in Shklov (Belarus, 1803); a work on the Hebrew calendar in Hebrew and Italian, printed in Vienna, 1827; and a book of prayers and amulets for the sick, printed in Jerusalem, ca. 1890, among others.


2. A donation from Montreal Yiddish author and bibliophile Yehuda Elberg. It includes signed and limited editions by artists E.M. Lilien, Joseph Budko, Arthur Szyk and Abel Pann; monographs and reference works on Yiddish language and literature, and Jewish history in Poland; memorial books and early Yiddish writings on the Holocaust; 25 items of Canadiana including missing works by Elberg himself; exhibition and collection catalogues; genealogical material and dictionaries.

3. A donation of rare, popular 20th-century Judaica and Hebraica from Montreal archivist and collector, Eiran Harris. Among the highlights are its Canadiana; two printed works by artist El Lissitzky; children's literature and primers.

B. Canadiana


1. The growing collection of first and early editions of works by Rabbi Yehudah Yudl Rozenberg (1859-1935) of Montreal now comprises over 40 items. As rabbi and communal leader, he recognized that his greatest challenge was to fight the erosion of Orthodox Judaism in the New World. The most recent item acquired is A brivele fun di zise mame Shabes Malketa (Montreal, 1924), a pamphlet written in the form of a letter from the Sabbath Queen to the Jewish people exhorting them to keep the Sabbath and resist the temptations offered by the surrounding culture and the demands of business.


2. A deluxe edition in 19 volumes of the first complete Talmud to be printed in North America, by Hirsch Wolofsky of the Eagle Publishing Co., Montreal, 1919. It became known as the Keneder Shas, the Canadian Talmud. The donor is Jack Wolofsky, the grandson of the printer.

C. 2004-2005

The Pentateuch in Hebrew printed by the Soncino-Gesellschaft der Freunde des Judischen Buches (the Soncino Society of the Friends of the Jewish Book) in Berlin, 1933. A limited edition, it is beautifully printed in black letters except for two verses, Deuteronomy 33:1 and 33:29, which are printed in red letters. These red printed verses were intended as a message of hope to the Jews of Germany in the current perilous times. The Pentateuch resonated deeply with Tzipi Livni during her visit to the Lowy Collection in March 2007.

D. 2005-2006

A large, finely hand-coloured, copper-engraved map of the Eastern Mediterranean region delineating the travels of Paul in the 1st century, from the French edition of Abraham Ortelius's world atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, printed in Antwerp by Plantin in 1598. It was donated by Lowy Council member, Dr. George Marcus.

E. 2002-2003

The first book of the Hebrew Bible to be printed in North America, Sefer Tehilim, Liber Psalmorium Hebraice, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1809.

Contact Information

  • Library and Archives Canada
    Pauline M. Portelance
    Senior Media Relations Officer
    Cell: 613-293-4298