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First Forum Recap

 The Book, the Library and the People of the Book

The Inaugural Gathering of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel convened in Jerusalem on October 21–22, 2014. Eighty thinkers, scholars and leaders from Israel and abroad participated in discussions on “The Book, the Library, and the People of the Book,” presenting an extraordinary assemblage of wisdom, historical knowledge, cultural sensitivity and love for the book, gathered around one table.

The Forum is an integral part of the National Library's current comprehensive renewal process, which seeks to offer new iterations of its role as guardian of the cultural treasures of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, encompassing over three thousand years of creativity, thought, and debate, and embodying a moral compass steeped in wisdom. Global Forum members enjoyed a reception hosted by President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence, during which he spoke about the Global Forum’s critical role in the success of the National Library’s mission.

The National Library seeks to strengthen the connection of the People of the Book with its books, as it transforms into a vibrant and influential center in the cultural, social, and spiritual life of Israel and the Jewish people. The National Library aspires to be a meeting place for scholars and thinkers, the site of collaborative research and the exchange of diverse views and ideas. The National Library will thereby give vital and creative expression to the Jewish people's characterization as the “People of the Book,” and to the deeper meaning of “the Book” as the central foundation of Jewish identity.

“When we think about the future of the National Library and the complexities it will face in the years ahead, we see clearly the need for the assistance, guidance, and advice of the members of this important forum - a forum that will define the policies of preservation and memory in the digital age.”

- President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin

The opening session of the Global Forum in the National Library’s Ardon Hall.
Photo Credit: Caron Sethill, The National Library of Israel
Session I
The Iterations of the Book: the Medium and the Message
Honorary Global Forum Chairman Mr. Shimon Peres, Ninth President of the State of Israel, examines treasures from the NLI collections.
Photo Credit: Hanan Cohen, The National Library of Israel
Participants traced the dialectical process of the “iterations of the book,” and the articulation of this fascinating process in the world in general and in the Jewish world, in particular. Speakers discussed the drive to give written expression to human knowledge and thought that has accompanied the iterations of the book from letters chiseled into stone and wood to those being typed into the virtual “cloud”. The dialogue between humankind and books was discussed in depth, how it has constantly shifted forms in accordance with ever-changing circumstances and technologies, as well as the marvelous process that takes place when an individual expresses thoughts in a book, which then has the power to shape society and influence the lives of others.

Chairperson: Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson

“Literature is the human spirit's primary defense, it is therefore of the utmost importance to renew the National Library.”

- Prof. Rachel Elior

“Work with educators, curriculum designers to make the Jewish book part of Jewish education from middle school through the university level and adult education. The Jewish book is the most underutilized resource in Jewish education.”

- Prof. David Stern

Session II
Authority of the Book: Canonization, Censorship and Interpretation
NLI Islam and Middle East Collection Curator Dr. Raquel Ukeles welcomes Global Forum attendees with blessings from an ancient Islamic manuscript.
Photo Credit: Hanan Cohen, The National Library of Israel

The discussion focused on the phenomenon whereby amid the wide range of written works, certain books have acquired a status above all others either because of the holiness attributed to them or because of their recognition as the most important, influential works in the shaping of cultures.

The participants discussed how these books are chosen, who grants them their authority, who is appointed to interpret them, the implications of this phenomenon, what issues it entails, and whether it will continue in the age of new media. In the Jewish context, the speakers discussed the impact of secularization and the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state on the status of the texts, as well as whether a diminished prominence of these texts might weaken the connection among people with a shared culture



"Maimonides warns against man's tendency to believe that all that which is written is also true. The status of the book is problematic if it is not accompanied by discussion. Therefore, a library also needs a place of study alongside it — a place where critical discussion of books, their contents, and of the library itself may take place.”

- Prof. Moshe Halbertal


Session III
Libraries of Yesterday and Libraries of Tomorrow: Between the Book and the Cloud

An exchange of gifts at the President’s Residence. Left to right: Lord Alliance, Lord Rothschild, President Reuven Rivlin, NLI Board Chairman David Blumberg.
Photo Credit: Hanan Cohen, The National Library of Israel


Participants discussed the main impetuses behind the establishment of the first ancient libraries: the desire to preserve sacred written documents, the drive to deepen human knowledge, and of course, the desire of rulers to enhance their stature. Discussion centered around the preservation of books and libraries as subject to religious preference, ideological controversy, and destructive forces such as fire - both intentional and accidental. The manner in which  ibraries operated throughout the ages and how they influenced the shaping of human knowledge was also discussed.

The ways in which libraries enabled or limited accessibility to their collections were examined, as were the possible  mpacts of digitization and new media on the function of modern libraries: Are we approaching an era in which the principles of "Open Access" will render the whole of human knowledge available to all, or will copyright and digital rights limitations present barriers to the democratization of knowledge? The session speakers also addressed questions related to how the National Library of Israel should function and which concrete steps it should take in order to most comprehensively fulfill its mission.

Chairperson: Ms. Annette Hochstein

Speakers: Prof. Peter Baldwin, Prof. Yochai Benkler, Prof. Peter N. Miller, Mr. Oren Weinberg.



“The Library, a center of learning, knowledge and humanity, will encourage and nurture the best parts of Israel’s democratic society. It will provide a fertile seedbed to help grow many more generations of great thinkers.”

- Lord Rothschild


“Imagine the National Library of Israel became the most important digital resource in the Middle East, not just for Israel and its multifarious citizens, not just for Jews around the world, but for the entire region.”

- Prof. Peter Baldwin


“The library is the laboratory of the humanist. We build enormous and expensive structures for the natural and physical sciences. The library is the equivalent for humanists.”


- Prof. Peter N. Miller


Session IV
The People of the Book: Between Values and Power

Prof. Daniel C. Kurtzer, who has served as U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, draws on ancient texts in discussing contemporary moral dilemmas.
Photo Credit: Hadrien Daudet

​The Jewish state's emergence from a history marked by slavery, destruction, exile, and the Holocaust, served as the background for this complex discussion. Speakers related to the dilemmas that have arisen as a result of the remarkable rebirth and establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to the international community of nations and the global geopolitical arena. The speakers addressed the question of how, in the face of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, the challenge is even greater to reconcile the prophetic teachings and values of the People of the Book with realpolitik driven by dispassionate interests. The nature of the moral compass and principles which must guide Israel in its relations with other nations was examined, as was the question of whether Israel must adhere to moral-ethical foreign and security policies, and how to reconcile the values of the People of the Book with the exigence to exercise force.

Chairperson: Prof. Ruth Arnon
Speakers: Mr. Elliot Abrams, Prof. Shlomo Avineri, Prof. Ruth Gavison, Prof, Daniel C. Kurtzer.


“How does a leader know what values should inform the exercise of the state's power? One of my favorite quotations from Psalms is: 'Selfless acts of kindness and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other' (Psalms 85:11). The psalmist is not simply listing four ethical values, but apparently responding to a practical political problem.”

- Prof. Daniel C. Kurtzer


“The National Library, like the Parliament, must be a shared space that gives citizens the feeling that there is indeed solidarity and representation.”


- Adv. Ali Haider


Session V
To What Extent are Books Significant in the Life of the People of the Book

Mr. Leon Wieseltier provides opening remarks at the fifth and final session.
Photo Credit: Hadrien Daudet


Renowned scholar of Jewish mysticism and legendary National Library librarian Gershom Scholem described the  relationship between the book and the People of the Book as follows: “The Jewish People, whose existence did not merit any more attention than other ancient Near Eastern peoples who have long since ceased to exist, appeared in the historical arena accompanied with their Book. The people were inexorably intertwined with their Book in their own and in the world’s perception”. As "the Book" is, in its deepest sense, the central foundation of Jewish identity and continuity, speakers examined whether prevailing trends show that this will remain the case, and how the wisdom and values embodied in "the Book" should influence the contemporary reality of the People of the Book.

Chairperson: Prof. Anita Shapira
Opening remarks: Mr. Leon Wieseltier
Speakers: Prof. Meir Buzaglo, Prof, Fania Oz-Salzberger, Mr. Meir Shalev.


“The survival of Jewish civilization will not be secured by merely material means. Physical institutions are vulnerable to physical force… A book can be burned, but a word cannot be burned and neither can a concept.”
- Mr. Leon Wieseltier


Special Closing Event: In Praise of the Book

Dance performance at the closing event, “In Praise of the Book”
Photo Credit: Hadrien Daudet

Various creative thinkers and leaders discussed their love of books and the place of books in their lives as writers and as readers.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yair Cohen spoke with former President Shimon Peres about his love of books and his thoughts about the “People of the Book.”
Other participants included poet Agi Mishol, Prof. Moshe Halbertal, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, and musician Yoni Rechter.


“I am hopeful that the convening in Jerusalem of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel will become a regular event in the life of our nation. The shared contemplation of books and their connection to the pressing issues of our day is critical to our identity and to our common future.”

- Mr. Shimon Peres, the Ninth President of the State of Israel

“At our house we almost never asked each other, 'How are you?', we asked, 'What are you reading now?' And we didn't ask, 'What are you doing tomorrow?', we asked, 'What will you read tomorrow?' My sweetest childhood memories involve books.”


- Ms. Zeruya Shalev

“Writing is the most twisted road to be loved.”


- Read by Ms. Agi Mishol from her poem "Lichtov"

Key Recommendations Raised in the Course of the Forum's Deliberations

Participants of the Inaugural Gathering of the Global Forum in the National Library courtyard.
Photograph: Hadrien Daudet

The National Library of Israel must strive to become a vibrant meeting place and center of activity for broad and diverse publics in Israel and throughout the world, including:

  •   The Jewish community in Israel and internationally
  •   All citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs, members of all religious and ethnic groups, speakers of all languages
  •   Men, women, youth and adults

The National Library of Israel must be a key and active partner in all things related to the world of the book, thus  ontributing to the formulation of a Jewish identity with the book at its core.

The National Library of Israel must consider establishing centers for learning and research and actively support them:
  •   A center for the Jewish book

  •   A national center for the Humanities
  •   An educational framework that will enable students and creative non-academics to study and work in the Library,
bringing its contents to life and making them accessible and relevant in new and creative ways
  •   A cultural center facilitating encounters among lovers of literature and culture
  •   A framework for the discussion of new books

The National Library of Israel must act to foster reading among the public.
The National Library of Israel must actively advocate for the democratization of knowledge and the advancement of public discourse.
The National Library of Israel must become a leader in promoting these recommendations in the world of new media,
digital books, and digital content.


“The Library, which we are working diligently to renew, is not a museum. It is a living bridge connecting the wisdom of past generations with our world. The Library will become a vibrant intellectual center and will play a significant role in the cultural, social and spiritual life of Israel and the Jewish People.”


– Mr. David Blumberg, Chairman of the Board of the National Library of Israel