About the Exhibit
The city of Amsterdam boasts two of the most important Jewish libraries in the world, Ets Haim and the Biblioteca Rosenthaliana. This exhibition, presented by the Jewish Historical Museum, highlighted some of the most important and beautiful Jewish books from both collections. This was the first in a series of exhibitions created exclusively for Museum of the Bible and curated by these two Amsterdam institutions. The exhibition concentrated on the unique multilingual and multimedia book tradition of the city of Amsterdam, once the center of Jewish book production in the world.
A little over a hundred years after the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century, groups of their descendants and conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity) who remained found their way to Amsterdam. To help them return to Judaism, educational programs were developed, with a strong emphasis on biblical studies and partly modeled after Christian educational programs. In 1616, a school was established called Talmud Torah ("Torah Study"), along with a library, Ets Haim ("Tree of Life"). The library, still in existence, is now the oldest active Jewish library in the world and the jewel in the crown of Amsterdam's Jewish Cultural Quarter.
The Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, now housed in the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam, is generally considered to be the largest Jewish library on the European continent. It was founded by a German rabbinic scholar, Leeser Rosenthal (1794–1868) of Hanover, whose private library of approximately 6,000 volumes was donated to the city of Amsterdam by his heirs in 1880. Since then, the library's collection has grown to more than 120,000 printed and manuscript volumes, in all languages used in the Jewish diaspora.