Moses Gaster (1856-1939) was a Jewish scholar as well as a Jewish communal leader. He assembled his collection of manuscripts as an aid to his own research. Unlike Enriqueta Rylands he was not wealthy, but he assiduously combed the book-dealers’ catalogues and because of his profound scholarship he picked up important items the significance of which had passed others by. The items were often nondescript and in poor condition and so less likely to attract other collectors. He also persuaded people to give him manuscripts. Gaster was a pioneer with an interest in aspects of Judaism, which were unfashionable in scholarship at the time – Jewish magic and mysticism, Jewish folklore, and marginal movements and marginal communities within Judaism. These interests are strongly reflected in the manuscripts that he collected.
Gaster sold some manuscripts from his collection to the British Library in the 1920s (manuscripts which he had finished researching). The bulk remained in the family’s possession after his death and were put up for sale in 1954. Gaster’s daughter Phina Emily had married into the Jewish community in Manchester, where his name was revered. Thanks to the generosity of this local Jewish community, these Gaster manuscripts joined the Rylands collection.
The following are typical of the Gaster manuscripts: