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About the Library

The Music Department

The Jewish National and University Library was founded before the State of Israel in 1892 as the Central Library of the Jewish People. Today it is also the National Library of the State of Israel and the central academic library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It collects Israeli publications on all subjects with no distinction as to format, language, quality etc. It also collects publications on Jewish themes and of Jewish authors, composers etc. from al over the world.

The building that hosted the collection changed, until it moved to its permanent building in 1964 at the Edmond Safra (Givat Ram) campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since its relocation in this building, the music department that had mainly books, prints and some manuscripts, opened also a sound archives (or in its French name Phonoteque) to collect and preserve the voice of the Jewish people and other communities in Israel. The sound archive holds multiple formats from variety of sources: research material recorded by scholars in the field, broadcasting material from Kol Israel and popular material recorded commercially.

As a national library the library benefits from a depository law that brings all books printed in Israel as well as since the year 2000 all multimedia publications to the library. The music department is active in collecting material in particular personal archives of composers, cantors, scholars and music institutions. Today the music department holds 225 archives, and the NSA holds over 20,000 hours of recorded music as well as speech and interviews.

The national library and the music department are the largest and the richest in the world in the field of Judaica and Israeli culture.

The music department has been developing five main collections:
  • Jewish music (music notes mainly for Jewish functions by Jewish composers)
    The Jacob Michael collection holds about 7000 items covering the work of composers, cantors, and folk music collectors from the 16th century until today, such as Salomon de Rossi.
  • Research on Jewish and Israeli music (books, articles, periodicals, dissertations)
    Since the 19th century, Jewish music received special research as separate discipline and several scholars dealt with the questions of the origins and stile of Jewish music. The pioneers in this field were A. Z. Idelsohn, Robert Lachmann and today musicologist who study in musicology department in Israel, America and ells where.
  • Jewish and Israeli songs, mainly Yiddish, Hebrew and Ladino songs.
    The library collect this material threw the book depository law, as well as by donations and purchasing. In addition to that, the Meir Noy collection of Hebrew and Yiddish songs has enriched the collection with thousands of songs that he collected from oral sources or broadcasted music that he transcribe and cataloged.
  • Music by Israeli and Jewish composers, not for Jewish functions and for Jewish themes.
    Many Jewish and Israeli composers created music for the concert hall in the western tradition and thus compose music for opera, orchestra, and chamber music such as Kurt wail, Arnold Schoenberg, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Ben-Haim, Joseh Tal, Marc Lavry and more.
  • Personal and institutional archives (manuscripts, articles, letters, etc.)
    The most important and unique collection of the department is its manuscript collection. This reflects the work of individual composers, performers (especially cantors) and music institutions. To date the manuscript collection has 225 archives that can tell the story of Jewish and Israeli music in the last 100 years. This material is the most important source for research as well as performance.

The National Sound Archives (NSA) was established in 1965 as a section of the Music department of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) in Jerusalem. The National Library as a general university library was founded in 1920. Field recordings of Jewish and other Middle Eastern also traditions began in the 1920s. (See below Ziegler and Lechleitner). Therefore, the founder of the NSA wanted to build a home for these recordings as well as produce new ones.

The founder of the National Sound Archives was Prof. Israel Adler. In 1963 he returned from Paris in order to build a recorded music collection like the one he knew from Paris and therefore gave the unit a French name. The National Phonotheque was part of the National Library and its mission was to collect Jewish oral traditions. Parallel to that Adler also established the Jewish Music Research Center, and envisioned the NSA as a laboratory for research of Jewish music.

The first historical collections to enter the new NSA were:

Johanna Specter collection – about 60 hours – call number Y1-Y126.
Prof. Johanna Spector, a Jewish musicologist who came to Palestine after the Holocaust, recorded Jewish immigrants just arriving to the new State of Israel. She began her recordings in the late 1940’s and continued during the early 1950’s. She recorded mainly Jewish musical traditions from Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Iraq as well as the Samaritans of Israel.

Leo Levi collection – about 70 hours – call number Y 127-265.
Dr. Leo Levi recorded mainly Italian Jews in Italy and Greek Jews. He was also interested in musical traditions from Holland, Ethiopian Jews from Israel, Georgian Jews, Czechoslovakia, and others. His main collection was recorded during the late 1950s and the 1960s. During the 1960s he also recorded Christians living in Israel and in Italy.

Only in the 1980s, two important collections were actually accessed by the NSA.

Robert Lachmann collection – 300 vax cylinders (call number Lachmann C), 960 ethnographic records and 167 early commercial records of oriental music (call number Lachmann D and E). Robert Lachmann (1892-1939) recorded in North Africa and in Palestine. His interest was Oriental Music. Lachmann’s vax cylinders are copies of the galvano negatives held at the Phonogram Archive in Berlin. His ethnographic records, most of which are made of tin, were cut and recorded after his arrival in Jerusalem where he established his Center for Oriental Music. Robert Lachmann arrived in Palestine in April 1935 after he was dismissed from his position at the Berlin National Library, following the rise of power of the Nazis. He came to Palestine at the invitation of J.L.Magnes, president of the Hebrew University. Until his last day he recorded Arabic music, Jewish oriental traditions and the music of the Samaritans. He also presented lectures on the Palestine Broadcasting Service in which he explained and demonstrated his analysis of that music. The lectures and the musical demonstrations survived and kept at the NSA and at the Music Department (Mus. 26). (See also Katz Ruth).

Jacob Michael Collection
Jacob Michael from New York donated his collection of Jewish Music. It includes books and manuscripts that came at the early stages of the Music Department in 1965. In 1968 the recorded part of the collection was sent from New York to Jerusalem. This includes commercial records of Jewish music and tapes of rare recordings as well as Jewish broadcasting material. The Jacob Michael collection contains 3000 records, (JMR 1-3000) 480 tapes especially of Yiddish radio material from the 1950’s and 1960s (Y 2220-Y2699).

“Renanot”-The Institute for Religious Jewish Music – (Y3301-Y3765) - this collection was transferred to the NSA only during the 1980s. It concentrated on Jewish musical traditions recorded from the 1950s on. Avigdor Herzog and his followers recorded experts in Jewish musical performance, especially Hazanim of different traditions and their liturgical repertoire.

Edith Gerson-Kiwi collection – 700 records and 240 RR tapes. (Identified by her name, soon to be accessed to the digital collection of the NSA) Edith Gerson -Kiwi was Robert Lachmann’s student and continued his work especially during the 1950’s. She recorded new immigrants especially of oriental traditions until the 1970s. She transferred the collection in the 1980s to the NSA including her papers and recordings diaries.

Since 1965 the NSA has continuously expanded its collections by promoting new recordings through fieldwork trips and recordings at the NSA studio. Most of the Jewish liturgical recordings are made in studio recordings or other locations but not in function since it is forbidden to use any electrical or other equipment on Shabbat and holidays. Most of the non-Jewish material is recorded on location, in churches, ceremonies etc.

The Archive has also been enriched by purchases and donations of tapes and records from private and public resources. Some of the scholars who enriched the collection are: Susanna Weich-Shahak – music of the Ladino speaking people, especially non-liturgical material; Yaakov Mazor - music of the Chassidim, Georgian Jews, Israeli early folk song; Uri Sharvit – Yemenite Jews; Avigdor Herzog – Samaritans; Jehoash Hirshberg – Karaites; Shoshana Ben-Dor- Ethiopian Jews; Simha Arom – Ethiopian and Yemenite Jews and more.

In addition, the NSA holds a large collection of commercial recordings. A main part of it came with the Jacob Michael collection, the rest through donations of archives and private collections as well as purchases. Since the 1990’s the purchasing of commercial CDs increased as the scope of the NSA changed. Under my direction (since 1994) as an ethnomusicologist, I believe that popular music and other folk music in Israel are as important for research and understanding of a culture as traditional religious music. Popular music influenced traditional music and in order to understand one part one needs the other. Since the compact cassette was introduced and later the CD the recording of music became easier and a lot of music was introduced to the public through the media, and commercial entities. Therefore, the NSA began to acquire and purchase music recorded on cassettes and CD’s of variety of producers and genres.

Since 2000, the depository law of books and prints in Israel was expanded to include media and other magnetic formats. Thus, all CD’s and videotapes for example must be deposited at the National Library. Thus the collection of commercial CD’s includes about 5000 CDs.

Another source of recordings is Kol Israel – Israel Broadcasting Authority. During the late 1970’s a large collection of 78rpm records, mainly broadcasting records were donated to the NSA. This includes Israeli folksongs, Israeli art music and other musical material. Call number K 1-6000. The information was catalogued, however, the sound for its main part was not digitized yet.

In the mid 1990’s Kol – Israel, donated another collection. This collection is of Israeli songs recorded by Kol -Israel in their studios and locations. This collection was recorded on RR and was transferred to CD’s by the NSA. (Call number MCD 1-330).

For the last four years, the NSA is cooperating with Kol Israel in digitizing their collection of Israeli art music, Ladino and Yiddish music and other rare recordings, and thus enriches the NSA collection and assisting in preserving Jewish and Israeli musical heritage. Up to 1995, the NSA received more than 500 hours of material from Kol Israel. Since August 2000, the NSA began a digitization program to preserve its collection. Thus for the first time, most of the original recordings receive a digital copy. The copies are made to WAV. Up to this time, the NSA had transferred 3000 hours.

The NSA catalogues its collections on the ALEPH system of the JNUL. The NSA as all Sound Archives in the world is in constant change of formats, equipment and even cataloguing systems.

The NSA has the largest collection of Jewish traditional music. Its main focus is on the musical heritage of Jewish communities. It also holds music of non-Jewish communities (Muslims, Druses, Bedouin, Samaritans, etc.) residing in Israel and the neighborhood.

The National Sound Archives has about 20,000 hours of recorded material in variety of formats. It serves a wide and varied audience of scholars, educators, performers, film and TV producers and composers from Israel and around the globe.


Katz, Ruth
“The Lachmann Problem” – An Unsung Chapter in Comparative Musicology”,
Jerusalem, Magnes press, 2003

Simon, Arthur Ed.
Das Berliner Phonogramm – Archiv 1900-2000,
VWB Verlag fur Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 2000