Thursday, December 23, 2004

כתיבת בני אדם

This week I went to a conference on the Rambam held at the National Library in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, most of the lectures that I heard involved discussions of Arabic linguistics and the inadequacy of Hebrew translations. I should also mention that people were quoting the Rambam in Arabic without bothering to translate and Rambam's Arabic is well beyond my capacity to understand. What I was able to understand was an interesting powerpoint presentation of how the National Library digitally copied all of the Rambam manuscripts in their possession and published them online. This collection is very good and the copies are very good and can be enlarged easily.

Lest one should infer from this that the National Library is very high tech and resourceful, I will say explicitly that it is not. For one thing, not all the books are on the computer catalogue -- for many of them one still needs to use paper library catalogue cards. Also, not only do normal people (including students and professors) not have access to the stacks, we cannot check books out from the library. That means that we either have to read the books in the library or photocopy the books, in violation of international copyright laws.

But, you ask, isn't there is a library just for the University on Mount Scopus? Yes and it even bears a structural resemblance to the Reg. Imagine the Reg. Now imagine that it had only five floors. Now imagine that one of those five floors was a copy room / bomb shelter and another was wasted on administrative offices and study spaces in which people are allowed to talk. That leaves us three floors of books. Now imagine that there were no stacks, i.e., three floors of reading rooms. Now imagine that more than half of the books in those reading rooms has an attempted translation into Hebrew written in between or on the lines of the text itself. What you are imagining is our university library.

Nonetheless, people do seem to be doing a lot of interesting work here. My own classes are exciting and I seem to have found a new direction for my own thinking which seems to include some Jewish thinkers as well.

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