The manuscripts and the books we have chosen to exhibit in "Vessel to Vessel" have a shared essence: their authors move between cultures. In this context, the title of the exhibition has a double meaning – "vessel" as a receptacle and "vessel" as a form. The authors are therefore partners in the process of pouring the essence from one vessel to another. Some of them, such as Kafka and Ahad Ha'Am, are captured at the very moment of transition, as they deepen their observation by learning an old /new language. Others come to explore the exotic and the marvelous, and like Claude Conder, report back in word and illustration (both to the academic community and to their own mothers).
Some of this movement is subtle and complex, somewhat indiscernible, like the Syriac script of the 'Peshitta' which confounds the lay reader and excites the linguist, delighting the eyes of both thanks to its special typographical beauty.
Sometimes the movement is especially intricate, such as that of 'Hug ha-Aretz' by Rabbi Shlomo of Chelm: movement of the writer as well as the written matter. Here the writer moves from Chelm to Smyrna, from Tiberias to plague-ridden Thessaloniki. His book connects physical places to their biblical names in what seems to be a desperate attempt to reconcile a distant dream with present reality. His maps are a charming graphic expression of the integration of his contemplations put on paper and a contemporary Christian map. The book itself is, in addition, an object, having passed through changing hands from Poland of the early 18th century, and survived the Holocaust, until arriving at its permanent home at the National Library of Israel.
The exhibition creates a series of unusual encounters: the destroyed papers of "22" interlaced with the torn papers which S.Y. Agnon threw into his oven, both refusing to be burnt; the passionate love of "Layla and Majnun" with its wonderful illustrations with its simple touching ״Meshal Ha-Qadmoni״ coupled with the subtle humor of "The Form of the Desirable Woman" from illustrations – together telling the story of the passage from handwriting to print. Every individual item in the exhibition is moving, and together they echo contexts and weave a web of meanings.
This catalog showcases a miniature exhibition with an assortment of unique items. With the assistance of those who have accompanied the treasures of the National Library for many years, an attempt has been made not to show a representative sample in subject or in content but to allow a glimpse through a well-polished lens, to give a taste of the riches awaiting those who visit the National Library.
We hope that the excitement and pleasure that we experienced in choosing the items will be reflected in the viewer's encounter and acquaintance with the stories of these books and objects.