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Hebraic Section

Cover of Hebraic Collections: An Illustrated Guide
Hebraic Collections: An Illustrated Guide

About the Hebraic Collections

The Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress has long been recognized as one of the world's foremost centers for the study of Hebrew and Yiddish materials. Established in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitica and Oriental Literature, its beginnings can be traced to Jacob H. Schiff's gift in 1912 of nearly 10,000 books and pamphlets from the private collection of Ephraim Deinard, a well-known bibliographer and bookseller.

In the years that followed this initial gift, the Library has developed and expanded its Hebraic holdings to include all materials of research value in Hebrew and related languages. Today, the section houses works in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, and Amharic. The section's holdings are especially strong in the areas of the Bible and rabbinics, liturgy, Hebrew language and literature, responsa, and Jewish history. Extensive collections of printed editions of Passover Haggadot have been assembled, as well as a comprehensive collection of Holocaust memorial volumes.

The Hebraic Section received a second major boost as a result of the enactment of Public Law 480 in 1958, through which 25 American research libraries (including the Library of Congress) were supplied with a copy of virtually every book and journal of research value published in Israel. The PL-480 program for Israeli imprints, coordinated by the Library of Congress, lasted nine years, from 1964 to 1973, and provided each of the participating institutions with an average of 65,000 items over the course of the program.

Since 1973, substantial efforts and resources have been expended to maintain this high level of acquisitions from Israel--efforts reflected in the overall comprehensiveness of the Library's current collection of Hebrew language materials. Almost 150,000 items are housed in a stack area adjacent to the section and are available for examination by researchers and scholars. The collection includes an extensive range of monographs; a broad selection of Hebrew periodicals, current and retrospective, popular as well as scholarly; and a variety of Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers reflecting all shades of opinion, from the religious to the secular and from the far right to the extreme left. Of particular interest to genealogists is the Library's comprehensive collection of Holocaust memorial volumes documenting Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Second World War, as well as a large collection of rabbinic bio-bibliographical works in Hebrew. The section's treasures include examples from among the first books printed in Portugal, Turkey, and on the African continent. With 24 Hebrew incunables housed in the section--including works from the major 15th-century Hebrew presses--and an additional 15 in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, the Library of Congress ranks as one of the world's most important public collections of Hebrew incunables--books printed before the year 1501. Unique to its collections are more than 1,000 original Yiddish plays, in manuscript or typescript form written between the end of the 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries, that were submitted for copyright registration to the Library of Congress, and intended for the American Yiddish theater.

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  August 27, 2020
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