The diversity of Jewish experience has encompassed many currents and tendencies and many ways of being Jewish in the world. For instance, the large cultural difference between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews underscores the heterogeneous nature of Jewish history. Other significant dividing lines within that history are: between secular and religious notions of Jewish identity, between assimilation and separatism, and between tradition and modernity.
Jews have always viewed themselves as the "people of the Book,” specifically referring to the Torah, and to Talmudic study, but also more generally to the importance of literacy and recorded memory in Jewish culture. As a consequence, Jews have produced an enormous intellectual output, constituting an extensive account of themselves and their history. Jewish scholarship has had an impact on many fields, not least on the subject of how Jewish identities have been constructed, both historically and in the modern era.
In recent years, American universities, including Stanford, have established departments and programs of Jewish studies to acknowledge that an identifiably Jewish culture and history can be the subject of both scholarly investigation and an academic curriculum. Despite the ancient roots of many Jewish traditions, the field of Jewish studies is relatively new, and its parameters have yet to be precisely defined. Undoubtedly, the materials found in the Hoover Institution Library and Archives will provide some of the necessary documentation for research in this field.
With Jewish diversity has come a variety of approaches to understanding that history, ranging from chronological accounts of communities within the Jewish diaspora to broad comparative studies of major events in Jewish history. Recently, for example, the Holocaust has been analyzed by historians in relation to other examples of genocide and mass political violence, from the Stalinist gulag to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Such comparisons have not diminished the Holocaust's horror as an event of unparalleled and systematic violence against the Jewish people, but have helped to deepen an understanding of the roots and impact of this tragedy.
Archival records can be used for many purposes, including the ones outlined above. What is important is that they are maintained, and augmented, in a continuing process of collecting original writings, artifacts, images, and fugitive materials that may otherwise disappear from the historical record. Acquiring such documents and making them available for research are the primary missions of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, which depend primarily on the generosity of donors to increase their holdings, including materials on modern Jewish culture and history.
Comments on this survey of Judaica-related holdings in the archives may be addressed to David Jacobs.