The Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos was founded in 1616 as a seminary with a library that would soon expand. Its original name was Academia y Yesiba Ets Haim. It’s the oldest, still functioning Jewish library.
Manuscripts and printed works
The library consists of 560 manuscripts and 30,000 printed works, with a large and rich collection in the field 17th and 18th Judaism in particular. The library reflects more than 400 years of Portuguese culture in the Netherlands.
Many manuscripts, often written or copied by the teachers, students and alumni of Ets Haim, have not yet been opened up. The printed works show that Amsterdam cherished its freedom of press and expression, which benefited Jews around the world. They are also a testimony to the open-mindedness of the Portuguese Jews. Next to the many religious publications are works on a wide variety of topics, from natural science, history, music, prose, poetry and grammar.
The library grew substantially in 1889, when librarian David Montezinos left his private collection to Ets Haim. As a token of appreciation, his name was added to that of the library, from that moment onward known as Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos.
The Second World War took a heavy toll on Ets Haim. The decimation of the community signaled the end of Ets Haim as a seminary. The collection was returned from Germany in 1946, albeit slightly damaged.
In the following decades funds were insufficient to manage both the building and collections. In 1978, the trustees of Ets Haim were forced to house the valuable core collection with the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem.
Between 1998 and 2000 Ets Haim was restored and brought up to date. The building has been insulated, the roof restored, a new floor was laid in the cellar and the bookcases have been restored to their former glory. Security equipment and climate control has been installed.
Since 2003 the library was included on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and the entire collection is protected by Dutch law as part of the nation’s heritage.
Would you like to learn more about the manuscripts of Ets Haim? Click here.
Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos can be reached Monday till Thursday from 10:00 AM till 04:00 PM. You can visit the library by appointment only. Heide Warncke is the current curator of the library.