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Ets Haim Amsterdam

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Our History

Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos, Amsterdam:
More than 400 Years Old.

The Sephardic library Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos in Amsterdam, is the oldest active Jewish library in the world.

In the year 1616 the first Portuguese Congregation in Amsterdam, Beth Jacob founded a school, called Talmud Torah, for the conversos who settled in Amsterdam, in order to provide Jewish education. Part of this school was the library Ets Haim (Tree of Life). Over the years the school and library were called Ets Haim. In 1675 the Portuguese Synagogue was inaugurated and the congregation as well as Ets Haim moved to its present location.

The Ets Haim school was unique as the curriculum was aimed at learning the Torah first. The curriculum also included poetry and translating texts into Spanish, the community’s literary language. Teachers also adapted the classic medieval trivium(grammar, logic and rhetoric) to traditional Jewish scholarship. In the seventeenth century the application of Jewish law (Halachah) was introduced into the curriculum. This led to the publication of 952 responsa that were published under the title Peri Ets Haim between 1728-1808 in Amsterdam. Famous pupils and teachers of the school include Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605-1693), Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657), Saul Levi Morteira (c. 1596-1660), Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698) and David Franco Mendes (1713-1792).

David Montezinos

The most influential librarian of Ets Haim was David Montezinos (1828-1916), who served at the library from 1866 to 1916. He was also a book collector and in 1889 he decided to give his valuable collection to the library. The library was renovated then and reopened in 1891 with the new name Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos.

In 1998 the library was accorded the status of protected cultural heritage and in October 2003 the collection was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.The collection now holds 23.000 printed works and about 600 manuscripts. These works provide a valuable historical insight into the converso community that settled in Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Video Tour and Presentations

The Library Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos in Amsterdam: History and Collections
Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos is in the heart of the Jewish Cultural Quarter in Amsterdam on the premises of the Portuguese Synagogue. It has been internationally renowned since the Dutch Golden Age. Ets Haim was founded by the first Portuguese Jewish congregation in Amsterdam and the library’s collections reflect the congregation’s interests in a wide range of subjects in addition to specific religious education. This video tells you more about the history and background.

One for the Books (1): Passion for Books
A parchment document from the year 1715, signed by the Emperor of Austria, used as wrapping paper in the 20th century? Find out more in this story about David Montezinos who was librarian at Ets Haim for 50 years.

One for the Books (2): Murder He Wrote
Screaming, bloodshed and theft. This is what Amsterdam woke up to one morning at the beginning of the 17th century. Do you want to know what happened next? See for yourself in this story about the murder attempt on David Curiel.

One for the Books (3): The First Woman in Hebrew Printing
This must have been a very special woman who stood at the cradle of Hebrew printing in 1474. And a very special husband who let her have a prominent place in his printing house.

Want to learn more about one of the first printed Hebrew books? Watch this video about the cradle of Hebrew printing.

Highlights of Our Collection

Manuscripts:
Mishneh Torah
[EH 47 A 1]
[EH 47 A 2]

Books 8-14 of Moses Maimonides halakhic codex Mishneh Torah in two volumes. Copied by Barzilai ben Jacob Halevi in Narbonne, Southern France, in 1282. The Mishneh Torah is the oldest dated Hebrew manuscript in the Netherlands and contains censorship by the Catholic Church.

Ketubbah (marriage contract) between Isaac de Pinto and Rachel Rovigo
[EH Pl. A-01]
 
Amsterdam, 1654
In the Portuguese community of Amsterdam most ketubbot were written by hand on parchment within printed decorative borders. On this ketubbah, which is signed by the famous rabbi and printer Menasseh ben Israel, coloring was added by hand.

Letter addressed to Shabbetai Zevi
[EH 47 A 11]

Copied by Elijah ben Michael Judah Leon, 1666
This letter, written ‘in the name of all Israel and his servants among the Spanish exiles now living in Amsterdam’ was sent from Amsterdam in 1666 to the famous false messiah Shabbetai Zevi in the Ottoman Empire.

Omer Scroll (cabinet)
[EH V0297]

Amsterdam, c. 1750
A popular form of Omer calendar among the well-to-do in the Sephardi community of Amsterdam features a scroll displayed in a wooden cabinet. It shows three rows, marked H for Homer (omer), S for Semana (week) and Dia (day) with handles to turn the scroll each successive day.

Printed Works:
Haggadah shel Pesach
[EH 13 C 5 / R 79 7125]

Passover Haggadah, including a map of Eretz Israel. This Amsterdam edition made, for the first time, use of copper engravings rather than woodcuts and was so revolutionary in its sort that it influences the topics of illustrations, composition and lay-out of many printed Haggadot to this day. Printed by Asher Anshel ben Eliezer and Issachar Baer ben Abraham Eliezer, Amsterdam, 1695.

Sermoes
[EH 15 E 04a]

Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, Solomon de Oliveyra, Isaac Saruco et. al. Printed by David de Castro Tartas, Amsterdam, 1675
The Portuguese Synagogue (Esnoga) in Amsterdam was consecrated in 1675 in an impressive ceremony, followed by 8 days of festivities. The Sermoes contains the sermons delivered at the consecration, detailed plans of the synagogue produced by Amsterdam engraver Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and handwritten lists of the costs of building and financing this synagogue.

Peri Ets Haim
[EH 4 F 08-17]

Printed by Proops, Amsterdam, 1728-1798
In 1698 the she’elot u-teshuvot (responsa) were incorporated in the curriculum of the Portuguese Jewish seminary. At the start of each month students were given two weeks to answer halakhic questions posed by their peers. Between 1728 and 1798 these exchanges were printed.

Serving our Community

Ets Haim is a library for academic scholarship, culture and education. About 800 visitors and 150 scholars visit Ets Haim every year out of general interest or from the academic field. The library provides, amongst other things, education on all aspects of Jewish book history, restauration science, heritage studies, (Sephardic) history, religion etc.

Our Partnership with AJL

Ets Haim is one of the smaller, less known libraries in the world and the AJL provides a platform for smaller libraries, like Ets Haim, to promote their collections.

Judaic librarianship in general is a broad field of different expertise through time and space of Jewish life and history. As a small and more that 400 year old library, Ets Haim is an excellent showcase for the AJL to promote varied aspects of Judaic librarianship.

Plans for Our Future

A complete online catalogue of the collection of printed books is essential to facilitate national and international research. The 11,000 printed books of the 23,000 in the collection are not in the online catalogue yet. At the moment Ets Haim is looking for funding to complete cataloguing. 

We are also interested in teaching different audiences (academic, professional, general – national, international) about the collection by organizing conferences, lectures or talks.

Contact Us

Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos
(Jewish Cultural Quarter)
Mr. Visserplein 3

1011 RD Amsterdam
etshaim@jck.nl
+31 20 5 310 398

Heide Warncke
Conservator Bibliotheek Ets Haim | Curator Ets Haim Library
Collecties & Kennis | Collections & Knowledge

Joods Cultureel Kwartier | Jewish Cultural Quarter
Postbus 16737
1001 RE Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 5310398
heide.warncke@jck.nl
www.jck.nl

Tours & Appointments

Guided Tours
Visitors can book a guided tour of Ets Haim and will learn about the first Sephardic Jews who settled in Amsterdam, their school system, and the role that Ets Haim played in this education. The guide will also talk in some detail about the library’s history and show you several of the finest items in the collection.

More information on how to book a tour: https://jck.nl/en/node/2245

Appointments for Individual Researchers
For research purposes, scholars can make an appointment with the curator and send a mail to: etshaim@jck

Access Our Catalogue

Manuscript Collection: http://etshaimmanuscripts.nl/

Printed Books:
(please note that the online catalogue of printed books is not complete yet):
https://etshaim.worldcat.org/

Support Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos

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