Digitizing Film Footage of Non-Western Jewish Cultures from the Johanna L. Spector Papers and Audio-Visual Materials

Material Description

The films and related audio within the Johanna L. Spector Papers and Audio-Visual Materials consist of archival raw footage shot by Dr. Spector, a world-renowned ethnomusicologist and professor at what is now the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at The Jewish Theological Seminary (1954-1985). Dr. Spector’s lifelong research focus was the documentation of vanishing non-Western Jewish cultures that have survived over the last 2,000 years in India, Yemen, Central Asia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. In the late 1960s, she began to make documentaries to further disseminate information about the cultures she studied, a pursuit that she continued through the early 1990s. She created a total of seven films, which shed light on the special traditions, customs, ceremonies, art, and music of unique Jewish cultures before dispersal from their native lands. Shot over 30 years, the unpublished hidden camera originals, dailies, trims, outtakes, scratch narration, and individual sync sound pieces we seek to digitize have not been viewed or heard by anyone except Dr. Spector and her team during production. The archival footage is possibly the world’s most comprehensive documentation of these cultures, which include the Karaite Jews, a sect that adheres to Biblical rather than Rabbinic law; the Jews of Cochin, India, who claim their roots date to the time of King Solomon; the Samaritans, a group which numbered fewer than 450 individuals at the time of filming in 1970; and the Yemenite Jews, who were cut off from other Jews until 1949. Today only a handful remains in Yemen. Creating access to this footage will share scenes, pictures, sounds, and conversations that will build understanding of disappearing Jewish traditions throughout the world, and will offer valuable primary source materials to scholars of Jewish cultural history, ethnomusicology, and ethnology.

Year Added:



The Jewish Theological Seminary


Ms. Naomi Steinberger
The Jewish Theological Seminary

Collaborating Institution(s)


Date Range

1960 - 1990

Geographic Scope

The film and audio recordings were shot in various regions in the Middle East, with a strong emphasis on India, Israel, and Yemen.


  • 398 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 274 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 274 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 2 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 13 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 4 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 4 Audiovisual Recordings
  • 5 Audio Recordings
  • 30 Audio Recordings