Israeli Judaica Librarians' Meeting

Posted: 11/11/2009 8:49:00 PM
Author: Reported by Ya'akov Aronson
Source: This article was originally posted on Hasafran, the Listserv of the AJL.


Over fifty librarians from 14 institutions gathered at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, at the beginning of November for the first study day of the rejuvenated Judaica Librarians' Group sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Geographically the institutions ranged from Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit Shean Valley to Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. Types of institutions
represented were the National Library, universities, teachers' colleges, research institutes, yeshivot, high schools, and private firms Also present were nonaffiliated individuals who were interested in the day's program. The Judaica Librarians' Group was active about 15 years ago but lapsed into "hibernation" after 4-5 years of activity. The core of the day's activities was a series of four lectures presented by academics and librarians.

Opening the day was a lecture on the Cultural Significance of Jewish Names given by Prof. Aaron Demsky of the Jewish History Department of Bar Ilan. He stressed that through the ages names given by Jews always had special significance and many times reflected knowledge of sources indicating that the Jews were a literate people. One interesting example mentioned was the name Moshe Mordechai. At first glance the there doesn't seem to be any intrinsic relationship between the names of two historical figures separated by so many years. But such is not the case according to Prof. Demsky's research. Moshe was born (and died) on the 7th day of the Hebrew month Adar. His brit milah was eight days later on the 15th day of the month which is Purim, thus the combination of the names.

Two of the presentations dealt with the new National Library of Israel (NLI). Shmuel Har Noy, Director General of NLI, talked about the Challenges facing the Reorganized National Library of Israel. By law, the former Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) has been divided into two separate institutions, giving the National Library much more freedom of operation. Part of the arrangement will see Yad haNadiv, a Rothschild charitable foundation, underwriting a
new building for NLI. The presently proposed site is opposite the Knesset. Shmuel outlined plans for the future that will put the library in a better position to fulfill its "national" function.

One area in which NLI is working to make its unique holdings
available to a broader public has been under way for the past
decade: digitizing items in the library's holdings and providing access through the Internet. Prof. Elhanan Adler, Deputy Director of the Library for Information Technology, spoke about Ten Years of Digitization Projects at the National Library. All of these projects were completed under his direction. Some of the areas in which material has been digitized are manuscripts, recordings, maps, newspapers, Ketubot, and placards. Elhanan emphasized that while many institutions concentrate in their digitization projects on one type of material NLI decided to undertake small projects in many fields in order to gain experience as each type of material requires different techniques. This experience will make it possible in the future when funding makes more projects possible for the library to move ahead simultaneously in a number of areas. Another unique aspect
of the NLI digitization program relates to subjects such as Ketubot and Talmudic mss. Many of these items are held by other institutions throughout the world.

It was decided in order to broaden the project's coverage to approach these institutions for permission to include their holdings in NLI projects and generally permission was
granted. All of the Talmud mss in the project are held by
institutions other than NLI.

Elhanan will be retiring at the end of the year and it was announced by Shmuel Har Noy that and the National Library feels that his contribution to putting NLI in the forefront of digitization has been so significant that it nominated him for the Israel Prize, the Israeli equivalent of a Pulitzer in the US, to be given next Independence Day.

The final lecture of the day entitled Hebrew Discoveries in Christian Depositories was given by Moshe Rosenfeld. It's hard to describe Moshe. An appropriate term might be "detective" He and Yeshayahu Vinograd, author of the work Otzar haSefer haIvri, a listing of works printed using Hebrew characters from the beginning of printing until 1863, have transferred the material in the Vinograd book to a computer database and have expanded the number of original listings and updated the coverage until 1948. But another aspect of Moshe's activities is searching out objects of Jewish importance throughout the world, be they books or artifacts such as a horse drawn Jewish burial wagon he once located in Hungary. His latest project is seeking Hebrew materials in monasteries around the world and he presented a fascinating description of his experiences. When the present project is completed Moshe plans to present his experiences to the public in book form.

During the day attendees were able to see a demonstration of the database built based on Otzar haSefer haIvri and also register to receive the publications of Bar Ilan's Institute for Research on the History of Religious Zionism.

At a short "business meeting" seven librarians from five institutions volunteered for a Steering Committee to oversee future activities of the group. Also Shmuel Har Noy pledged the complete support of the National Library for the group and extended an invitation to hold the next meeting there.

Included in the program was a brief memorial to Dr. Sara Fraenkel, for many years the Curator of the Rare Book and Manuscript Collection at Bar Ilan. Dr. Fraenkel passed away at the end of October and Shlomo Rothenberg, retired Chairman of the Hebrew Cataloging and Classification Department at Bar Ilan gave a brief summary of her career highlighting the significant contribution she made to the Hebrew rare book and manuscript field worldwide.

The day was chaired by Ya'akov Aronson, retired Chief Librarian of Bar Ilan.