The Leo Baeck Institute is an international research institute with centres in New York City, London and Jerusalem that are devoted to the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry.
The Leo Baeck Institute is made up of three independent international institutes, two Berlin centres, and two Berlin working groups that are governed by the Leo Baeck Institute International board:
In the beginning of the 1950s some of the most influential Jewish scholars from Germany met in Jerusalem to discuss what form the Leo Baeck Institute would take. The founding conference took place from May 25–31, 1955; Martin Buber, Ernst Simon and Gershom Scholem were some of the intellectual heavyweights present.
Most attendees as well as the personalities steering the institute had known each other before their flight from Germany through organizations like the Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens and the Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland. Others had held positions with the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (formed under Leo Baeck's direction and later renamed the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland). It was initially assumed that this project would take the form of a long-term historical project, preparing a comprehensive work on the history of German Jewry. With the expectation that this would not last more than a decade, institute members concentrated entirely on research projects and filling in the history of German Jewry from the Enlightenment to the Nazi seizure of power.
The Leo Baeck Institute was created in 1955 at a conference in Jerusalem. It was founded as a board that was made up of two governing bodies, a research and publication board, and an administrative board. It is now a central umbrella organization focused on the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry. It was founded internationally, with multiple locations made up of three independent branches. The Leo Baeck Institute International board coordinates the activities of all three branches, and each branch reports at annual international board meetings about their research and publication projects. It is named in honor of its international president, Leo Baeck, the senior Rabbi of Berlin in Germany's Weimar Republic and the last leader of the Jewish Community under the Nazis. The Leo Baeck Institute, New York, was founded in 1955, at the same time as the parent organization, and is the United States branch of the organization.
Presidents of Leo Baeck Institute International, the umbrella organization of the institute:
The Leo Baeck Institute, New York in Manhattan includes a library, an archive, an art collection, and an exhibition centre. Its offices and collections are housed in the Center for Jewish History, a centralized partnership with other Jewish organizations that share one location, with separate governing bodies and finances, but collocate resources. in New York City.
Additionally, Leo Baeck Institute, New York also administers several fellowships for scholars working in the field of German-Jewish history, produces exhibitions and public programming related to German-Jewish history, and awards the Leo Baeck Medal annually for special achievements related to German-Jewish history and Culture.
As the second generation took over, the LBI Jerusalem transformed from a memorial community to a research centre. Almost all members of the LBI Jerusalem’s second generation were professional historians; most had left Germany as children or adolescents and had either little of no share at all in the founders memories. For this reason the “memorial function” of the historiography now lost significance. In its place came more strictly scholarly aspirations.
Through their publications, scholarly seminars, academic and cultural events, alongside an archive, the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem has been the leading venue for German-Jewish historiography and documentation in Israel. Its archives consist of a microfilm collection of Jewish newspapers from the 19th and 20th centuries as well as a collection of family papers, genealogical materials and community histories.
The Leo Baeck Institute London, founded in 1955, researches the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry from the 17th century to the present day. The Institute aims both to facilitate academic exchange and to use the German and Central European Jewish experience from the 17th to the 21st centuries to help understand contemporary socio-political debates concerning immigration, minorities, integration, and civil rights, in particular in the UK. Its teaching and research capacity expanded significantly with the Institute’s move from its historic home in central London to Queen Mary, University of London, in 2011. Since then the LBI London has established European Jewish History as a teaching and research field at the School of History at Queen Mary. The LBI London remains an independent institute. It is a registered charity under English law.
The Institute’s flagship publication, the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book (since 1956) is the leading international publication in the field of the history and culture of German-speaking Jews. Published by Oxford University Press with a circulation of over 2,000 copies, it publishes original research on the cultural, economic, political, social and religious history of German-speaking Jews. The Leo Baeck Institute Year Book Essay Prize is awarded annually to an early-career researcher writing on the history or culture of German-speaking Jewry. In addition to its Year Book, the LBI London publishes monographs and edited volumes in German and English. Its two series, Schriftenreihe wissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen des Leo Baeck Instituts, in German, and German Jewish Cultures, in English, cover the period from the Enlightenment to the contemporary era with a special focus on European Jewish history.
The Institute organises a range of events, such as international conferences and a public programme of lectures and workshops, often in collaboration with other UK or international organizations. Events are aimed at a broad audience. A Leo Baeck Fellowship Programme (in collaboration with the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) was created in 2005 to support doctoral candidates in German-Jewish studies. The programme includes bi-annual seminars during which Fellows discuss their research with senior academics in the field. Up to 12 fellowships are awarded each year. In collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London, the Institute offers the Leo Baeck Institute MA in European Jewish History, currently the only postgraduate programme in the UK focusing on the field of European Jewish history. Among other topics, the programme explores the question of emancipation, equal rights, identities, the role of antisemitism, and Jewish intellectual history. The Institute also offers MA and PhD bursaries to support students on this course.
In 2012, Leo Baeck Institute, New York announced that it had digitized the majority of its archival holdings as well as large segments of its art and library collections. Among the over 3.5 million digital images available through the online catalog, known as DigiBaeck, include:
Of note, Leo Baeck Institute, New York partnered with the Internet Archive, non-profit digital library that offers permanent storage of and free public access to digitized materials to complete the project.
The Freimann Collection of books related to the Wissenschaft des Judentums (in English: Science of Judaism) is another important digitization project. Working in coordination with Frankfurt University Library, the Leo Baeck Institute library located about 2,000 volumes in its collections that were missing from the Frankfurt Library’s collection of Judaica created by curator Aron Freimann in the 1920s and were able to reconstruct the collection. The project was funded by a joint grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG).