National Library of Israel

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National Library of Israel
הספרייה הלאומית
Logo of The National Library of Israel.jpg
NLI building2.jpg
Country Israel
Established1892;128 years ago (1892)
Reference to legal mandateThe Legal Deposit of generally available documents
Location Jerusalem
Coordinates 31°46′34.2″N35°11′48.5″E / 31.776167°N 35.196806°E / 31.776167; 35.196806 Coordinates: 31°46′34.2″N35°11′48.5″E / 31.776167°N 35.196806°E / 31.776167; 35.196806
Items collectedUnique collections of manuscripts, special collections of books, music, radio and TV programmes, film, theatre, maps, posters, pictures, photographs, electronic documents and newspapers.
Size5 million volumes
Other information
BudgetApproximately 100 million NIS (₪)
DirectorOren Weinberg
National Library of Israel

The National Library of Israel (NLI; Hebrew : הספרייה הלאומית, romanized: HaSifria HaLeumit; Arabic : المكتبة الوطنية في إسرائيل), formerly Jewish National and University Library (JNUL; Hebrew : בית הספרים הלאומי והאוניברסיטאי, romanized: Beit Ha-Sfarim Ha-Le'umi ve-Ha-Universita'i), is the library dedicated to collecting the cultural treasures of Israel and of Jewish heritage. The library holds more than 5 million books, and is located on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


The National Library owns the world's largest collections of Hebraica and Judaica, and is the repository of many rare and unique manuscripts, books and artifacts.

As of August 2020, it is closing due to the financial and national government crisis.


B'nai Brith library (1892-1925)

B'nai Brith library, Jerusalem B'nai B'rith library.jpg
B'nai Brith library, Jerusalem

The establishment of a Jewish National Library in Jerusalem was the brainchild of Joseph Chazanovitz (1844-1919). His idea was creating a "home for all works in all languages and literatures which have Jewish authors, even though they create in foreign cultures." Chazanovitz collected some 15,000 volumes which later became the core of the library. [1]

The B'nai Brith library, founded in Jerusalem in 1892, was the first public library in Palestine to serve the Jewish community. The library was located on B'nai Brith street, between the Meah Shearim neighborhood and the Russian Compound. [2] Ten years later, the Bet Midrash Abrabanel library, as it was then known, moved to Ethiopia Street. [3]

Hebrew University library (1925-2007)

In 1920, when plans were drawn up for the Hebrew University, the B'nai Brith collection became the basis for a university library. The books were moved to Mount Scopus when the university opened five years later. [2]

In 1948, when access to the university campus on Mount Scopus was blocked, most of the books were moved to the university's temporary quarters in the Terra Sancta building in Rehavia. By that time, the university collection included over one million books. For lack of space, some of the books were placed in storerooms around the city. In 1960, they were moved to the new JNUL building in Givat Ram. [2]

In the late 1970s, when the new university complex on Mount Scopus was inaugurated and the faculties of Law, Humanities and Social Science returned there, departmental libraries opened on that campus and the number of visitors to the Givat Ram library dropped. In the 1990s, the building suffered from maintenance problems such as rainwater leaks and insect infestation. [2]

National Library status (2007)

In 2007 the library was officially recognized as The National Library of the State of Israel after the passage of the National Library Law. [2] The law, which came into effect on 23 July 2008, changed the library's name to "National Library of Israel" and turned it temporarily to a subsidiary company of the University, later to become a fully independent community interest company, jointly owned by the Government of Israel (50%), the Hebrew University (25%) and other organizations.

Online library (2011)

In 2011, the library launched a website granting public access to books, periodicals, maps, photos and music from its collections. [4]

New building

In 2014, the project for a new home of the Library in Jerusalem was unveiled. [5] The 34,000 square meters building, designed by the Basel-based architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, is scheduled for full completion in 2021. [6] [7]

Closure (2020)

As of August, 2020, the National Library is about to be closed down "until further notice" due to the ongoing financial and government crisis. [8] [9]

Goals and objectives

Ardon windows in the library lobby Ardon Windows JNUL.jpg
Ardon windows in the library lobby

The library's mission is to secure copies of all material published in Israel, in any language; all publications on the subject of Israel, the Land of Israel, Judaism and the Jewish people, published in any language, in any country in the world; and all material published in Hebrew or any of the languages spoken in the Jewish Diaspora (such as Yiddish and Ladino).

By law, two copies of all printed matter published in Israel must be deposited in the National Library. In 2001, the law was amended to include audio and video recordings, and other non-print media. [10] Many manuscripts, including some of the library's unique volumes such the 13th century Worms Mahzor, have been scanned and are now available on the Internet.

Special collections

Reading room Reading room of the National Library of Israel 2.jpg
Reading room

Among the library's special collections are the personal papers of hundreds of outstanding Jewish figures, the National Sound Archives, the Laor Map Collection and numerous other collections of Hebraica and Judaica. The library also possesses some of Isaac Newton's manuscripts dealing with theological subjects. [11] The collection, donated by the family of the collector Abraham Yahuda, includes many works by Newton about mysticism, analyses of holy books, predictions about the end of days and the appearance of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. It also contains maps that Newton sketched about mythical events to assist him in his end of days calculations. [12] The library houses the personal archives of Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem. [13]

Following the occupation of West Jerusalem by Haganah forces in May 1948, the libraries of a number Palestinians who fled the country as well as of other well-to-do Palestinians were transferred to the National Library. [14] These collections included those of Henry Cattan, Khalil Beidas, Khalil al-Sakakini and Aref Hikmet Nashashibi. [15] About 30,000 books were removed from homes in West Jerusalem, with another 40,000 taken from other cities in Mandatory Palestine. It is unclear whether the books were being kept and protected or if they were looted from the abandoned houses of their owners. [16] About 6,000 of these books are in the library today indexed with the label AP – "Abandoned Property". [17] The books are cataloged, can be viewed from the Library's general catalog and are regularly consulted by the public, including Arab scholars from all over the world.

The National Library of Israel completed its collection of the Max Brod archive in August 2019. [18]

See also

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  1. Melancholy Pride: Nation, Race and Gender in the German Literature of Cultural Zionism, Mark Gelber
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Aryeh Dayan. "New chapter in a sad saga". Haaretz . Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  3. "Hebrew University Hails 'Landmark Legislation' for the Establishment of the National Library". Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. 27 November 2007. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
  4. Israel's National Library puts collection online
  5. Herzog & de Meuron to Design the National Library of Israel, ArchDaily, 29 April 2013
  6. "herzog & de meuron reveals designs for national library of israel". Designboom . Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  7. Herzog & de Meuron Share New Images of the National Library of Israel, ArchDaily, 14 April 2016
  8. Hen, Yitzhak, Israel's National Library Is Closing Down. How Much Do You Care?, Haaretz, 18 August 2020
  9. Oster, Marcy, National Library of Israel to suspend services, put 300 workers on unpaid leave, Times of Israel, 6 August 2020
  10. Jewish National & University Library History Archived 21 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine (in English)
  11. Newton Collection Archived 24 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine (in English)
  12. Israeli National Library uploads trove of Newton's theological tracts
  13. National Library, Germany partner to put papers online
  14. The Looting of the Palestinian Books Archived 13 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine Mitaam: a Review for radical thought 8 (December 2006), pp. 12-22, by Gish Amit
  15. Israel State Archive, Jerusalem, 1429/3
  16. Preserving or looting Palestinian books in Jerusalem
  17. Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s “Abandoned Property” of 1948 by Hannah Mermelstein, Jerusalem Quarterly, Autumn 2011
  18. "Israel Gets Missing Kafka Papers, Ending Long Legal Battle".