Monday, July 16, 2007

Gershom Scholem Library

I’m just sitting here and staring out the window of the Gershom Scholem library at the trees on the Givat Ram campus – an assortment of Mediterranean (palm trees) as well as some evergreens that I don’t think are native here. You enter this part of the campus by getting off the bus right after a small parking lot. The entire campus is enclosed by a fence (as are all the other universities in Israel, for security reasons). You have to show some form of identification to the first guard, who is toting a submachine gun. To get in, you must go through the security checkpoint – guards go through purses and briefcases with computers in them, and you have to walk through a metal detector as well. Then, you walk across a broad swathe of green lawn which runs down between university buildings to the National and University Library. There is a winding path that goes across the grass, where in the last year a delightful four-part sculptural exhibit has been added showing the common birds of Israel, both migratory and resident. Israel, since it is between Africa, Asia, and Europe, is a wonderful place to observe the migrating birds in spring and fall – the Huleh valley is especially good. Unfortunately, since this is summer, you just see the resident birds.

Inside the library building there are several sub-collections, including the reading rooms on the second floor – including the general reading room and the Judaica reading room, which is the other place where I hang out. I’ve been coming to this library probably since 1988, when I was writing a big paper for a course I was taking on the Hekhalot literature, which eventually became the topic of my dissertation. I spent 1992-93 here (mostly in the Scholem library) working on the research for my dissertation, and I was here again 1998-99 on a fellowship. I don’t know if this is absolutely the best library in the world for Jewish studies research, but it is certainly among the best. You can’t go into the stacks of the National Library – you have to order books using little slips of paper, which are whisked downstairs where the books are. The books then come up to one of the reading rooms or the circulation desk on the first floor – carried by a dumbwaiter from the basement. The system certainly hasn’t been changed since I first started coming here, and I would guess it’s the same one they’ve been using since the library was built, sometime in the 1960s, I think. Most books that I need, however, are in the Judaica Reading Room or the Scholem Library. The basis of the Scholem Library is Gershom Scholem’s personal collection, mostly centering on Jewish mysticism, magic, and philosophy, but including a great deal else in Jewish studies (for example, a set of the Talmud). The collection has been added to – both by purchase and because the scholars who work in here give copies of their books and articles to the library (for example, I gave the library a copy of my dissertation and also to the published book that came out of the dissertation). It is definitely a great place to work.

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