Literature is the whole of written work, of which words and language are the main means of expression. Today, many tend to reduce the definition of literature to “belles-lettres,” that is, to works that have artistic merit. Literature has greatly influenced the development of human society, its history and cultures. Books have the capacity to shape worldviews, ignite revolutions, incite wars but also bring cultures closer together.
In the personal realm, literature provides its readers with a deep and enjoyable experience that enriches their language, inner world and general knowledge, develops their imagination, invites deep thinking, introduces diverse characters, periods and cultures and allows a temporary respite from real life. In his work A Simple Story, the Nobel Prize-winning author S.Y. Agnon described it thus: “No matter how black your life may be, you can always find a better one in books.”
Between Poetry and Prose
Poetry and prose are among the main branches of literature, from which various genres have developed over time. Poetry is a lyrical work infused with emotion and imagination, usually characterized by adherence to rhythm, meter, rhyme, brevity of line, and other artistic means. Poetry is an ancient art form whose character has changed significantly through time, and added many new genres along the way, including, lyrical poetry, epic poetry, romantic poetry, the ballad, modern poetry and liturgical poetry (piyyut).
Prose is not subject to the same conventions as poetry, and is usually written in wording similar to speech. The most prominent prose style is fiction—a work that narrates a fictional plot or that combines reality and imagination. It is customary to classify a piece of prose by its length—the short story, novella, and novel. Depending on the target audience or other features, it can also be classified by genre, such as science fiction, suspense, adventure, fairy tale and so on.
The rich Hebrew literature written in antiquity and during the Middle Ages laid the foundation for the diverse works of modern Hebrew literature and poetry. The historical circumstances and unique composition of Israeli society brought cultures closer together, and enabled encounters between Russian and Middle Eastern poetry, Arabic and Hebrew literature, and much more.
The National Library of Israel preserves millions of books from a variety of fields, many of them having endured long journeys around the world before coming to rest on the Library's shelves. In addition to being the largest repository of Israeli books, the Library houses the personal archives of important writers and poets, including S.Y. Agnon, Hannah Senesh, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, among many others. In addition, on the Library's website, you can browse through tens of thousands of books that have been made accessible for remote viewing, as well as an abundance of documents related to the history of Hebrew and Jewish literature.