Israeli library's manuscripts tell unique stories

These are treasures that Israel doesn't allow anyone to check out of its national library.

PTI| Last Updated: Oct 08, 2014, 21:00 PM IST

Jerusalem: These are treasures that Israel doesn't allow anyone to check out of its national library.

Kafka's Hebrew vocabulary notebook. The first written evidence of the Yiddish language.

And the Crowns of Damascus, Bibles smuggled out of Syria 20 years ago in a Mossad spy operation so classified that their very existence in Israel was kept secret for years.

Many nations maintain official libraries of their countries' most prized historical manuscripts. Israel's is unique: It seeks manuscripts from every country in the world where Jews have ever lived.

Now the National Library of Israel is dusting the cobwebs off some of the most prized jewels of its collection as it seeks to draw attention to a new effort to preserve and publicise these treasures.

It's pioneering a worldwide initiative to digitize every Hebrew manuscript in existence. It's building a new home next to the Israeli parliament.

On Sunday, it sent a prized manuscript handwritten by medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides to France accompanied by bodyguards for a first-ever display at the Louvre Museum.

Later this month, the library is convening what it calls a Global Forum of luminaries philanthropist Lord Rothschild, former U.S. Diplomat Elliot Abrams, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and others to raise the profile of the collection. This week, the library in Jerusalem opened its vaults and gave

The Associated Press a rare glimpse at its most prized treasures. Some had not been made public in years. Others have never had public viewings.

"Though these items are unique, what makes them even more unique is the stories behind them," said Aviad Stollman, the library's head of collections.