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Rare Books Collection
The National Library of Israel, photo: Hanan Cohen

Rare Books Collection

The Rare Books Department houses the Library's most unique and expensive treasures, which have been gathered over decades  – collections from various donors, books from the Diaspora discovered in Europe following the Holocaust, and special items that the Library has acquired over the years.

About the Collection

The collection includes many manuscripts generously donated to the Library by Abraham Shalom Judah (including Newton's writings, a substantial Arabic collection and more), Incunabula from the Schocken Collection, rare Hebrew prints from the Hellman Collection, medical and scientific books from the Friedenwald Collection, and many others.

The Rare Books Department keeps all of the Library's manuscripts, antique prints from the 15th -17th centuries, special publications of which only limited examples remain, editions that were published in small quantities, and so forth. There are thousands of periodicals in Hebrew and Arabic, a more modest collection of Latin writings, and a few, albeit very important, other writings in various languages including Samaritan, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian, Cyrillic and more.

Rare Books Collection Topics

In the area of print, the collection consists primarily of the Hebrew book. Most of the Hebrew Incunabula books that we currently know of are represented here at the Library. Some of the copies are the only ones to have been preserved to this day. Later periods in Hebrew print are represented by materials from the whole of the Diaspora, in the different languages using the Hebrew letter – Arabic, Yiddish, Ladino, Persian, Tatar and more. Important Latin materials have also been collected, from the period of the Incunabula to unique modern books. Among these are quite a few publications dealing with Jewish studies, history, art, and more.

Among the rare books are special copies of books containing the handwritten remarks of important figures, as well as hundreds of books with autographs or dedications, mostly by friends.

Services

The Rare Books Department works in cooperation with the Catalogue Department on print publications. Although manuscripts are kept at the department, most of their care is the responsibility of the Department of Manuscripts. The subject of preservation conditions is the responsibility of the Conservation and Restoration Lab. 

Researchers studying rare items receive and view them in Special Collections Reading Room

The process of scanning and making rare books accessible online is already under way today. The challenge is to have the entire collection scanned and accessible in a few years, in keeping with copyright limitations.