The Homeland of the People of the Book

December 23, 2014 | Anne Roiphe
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Jews have a reputation for taking books seriously, so it should come as no surprise that Israel is an interesting place for librarians. Where else can you find a national monument called “The Shrine of the Book”? The novelist Anne Roiphe reflects on her visit to Israel with a group sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary:

We were shown into a small room where under glass there was a brown-lined notebook with Kafka’s writing. He was learning Hebrew verbs. Nearby was a page of text from an S.Y. Agnon novel, a poem in his own handwriting by Yehuda Amichai, an original page from a Maimonides tract, and a page of notes from the novelist Ka-Tzetnik (whose testimony at the Eichmann trial was so crucial). The room was dark, the display cases lit with soft light, and I felt like a simple peasant girl viewing a saint’s bones. I had come close to some sacred place where writers write and the thoughts of man fall onto paper and we can reach each other over the centuries. Our story becomes communal through the work of individual minds. In the National Library I see the link between the prayer and the poem, through the codex, the historian, the map maker, the novelist, the holy and the profane united in an attempt to understand the fall of man.

To see the original pages is to believe in the existence of the writer as a biological fact. Be careful, I remind myself, don’t worship writers as if they were golden calves. Don’t worship golden calves as if they were writers. In the National Library of Israel I am tempted to worship everything I saw, including wooden chairs and research rooms.

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