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Shot over 30 years, the unpublished hidden camera originals, dailies, trims, outtakes, scratch narration, and individual sync sound pieces we seek to digitize have not been viewed or heard by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.
The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary ("The Library") seeks to digitize the raw film footage and related audio recordings from its Johanna L. Spector Papers and Audio-Visual Materials, a collection that documents the nearly extinct musical and communal traditions of several non-Western Jewish cultures that have survived over the last 2,000 years in India, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Armenia, and other regions in the Middle East. The footage is a window into the lives of these vanishing cultures before dispersal from their native lands. Once digitized, the recordings in their entirety will be made available at no cost to users via The Library's Digital Collections. The footage will help to build understanding of disappearing Jewish traditions throughout the world, and will attract scholars of ethnography, ethnomusicology, history, and anthropology.
The Jewish Theological Seminary
1960 - 1990
The film and audio recordings were shot in various regions in the Middle East, with a strong emphasis on India, Israel, and Yemen.