New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; First Floor Room 111
The Dorot Jewish Division was established in 1897 with funding from Jacob Schiff and the collection’s foundation was provided by holdings from the Astor and Lenox libraries and expanded by the acquisition of the private libraries of Leon Mandelstamm, Meyer Lehren, and Isaac Meyer. Other holdings originated with the Aguilar Free Library, a small public library system operated by a group of philanthropic Jews in the nineteenth century that merged with NYPL The New York Public Library in 1905.
By the early 1900s, the Dorot Jewish Division already rivaled the oldest and best Jewish libraries in Europe. Abraham S. Freidus, Judaica cataloger of the Astor Library, was appointed the Division's first chief and presided over its rapid initial growth. The Division continued to grow by purchases, gifts of books, and contributions, such as a 1983 endowment from the estate of New York City realtor Jacob Perlow to support acquisitions, conservation, and public services. In 1986, the Dorot Foundation endowed the position of the Chief of the Division, and in 1987, the S. H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation made a substantial gift for renovation and new technology. Essential donations from the Nash Family Foundation were instrumental in expanding the Jewish Division's Special Collection.
An expanded history can be read here.
The type of collection development at the Jewish Division was different from other major Judaica libraries which tended to absorb many private libraries of prominent scholars or organizations. The Jewish Division inherited or acquired only a few relatively small collections, but continued its steady and cumulative development through purchases and donations—book by book, lot by lot.
Some precious Hebrew books and manuscripts were inherited by the Jewish Division from the Lenox Library in New York, which in the second half of the 20th century was famous for its collection of Bibles assembled by its founder James Lenox (1800–1880), a prominent American bibliophile and philanthropist.
A personal library of the prominent Russian Jewish Hebraist, lexicographer, educator, community leader, and writer Leon Mandelstamm (1809–1889) arrived at the Library in 1897. It consisted of 2,135 books in Hebrew, German and Russian that were bought from the merchant and bibliophile Abraham M. Bank (1854–1904). Bank had earlier purchased the collection directly from Leon Mandelstamm in St. Petersburg and later immigrated and settled in New York.
The collection of 500 books, from the personal library of Meyer Lehren (1793–1861), a member of a wealthy Jewish family in Amsterdam, mainly rabbinical responsa, was bought at auction and added in 1899.
In 1903, the Aguilar Library became a part of the Circulation Department of NYPL and its many Yiddish books and periodicals joined the holdings of the Jewish Division. This move formed the core of the Yiddish holdings of the contemporary collection.
On May 23, 1911, the Beaux-Arts–style main branch of the Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street opened its doors to the public. For the first time, the Jewish Division acquired its own reading room on the second floor. The astounding magnitude and grace of the building became an additional attraction for readers. Most patrons were foreign-born, assimilated scholars from Eastern and Central Europe and many were Russian speakers who also visited the Slavonic Division located next door. Later, in the 1930s and 40s, the Jewish Room became a meeting point for refugee scholars fleeing Nazi Germany. An environment of "intellectual hospitality" reigned in the reading room. Abraham Freidus estimated that in the 1910s to the early 1920s, 30 to 40 readers visited the Jewish Division daily—amounting to nearly 10,000 visitors per year. He proudly stated that this was much more than the number of visitors at the British Museum, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the Asiatic Museum in St. Petersburg.
The collection includes precious rarities that date back to the 13th century and currently amounts to over 250,000 titles of books and periodicals, incunabula, unique archival materials and gorgeous medieval manuscripts, theater and music scores, posters, photographs, ephemera, as well as oral histories in all the Jewish languages. The collection evenly represents all the areas of Jewish scholarship and culture and is tasked with the mission to make these materials available to all people.
The Library’s research catalog is online at catalog.nypl.org
Monday: 10 AM–5:45 PM
Tuesday: 10 AM–7:45 PM
Wednesday: 10 AM–7:45 PM
Thursday: 10 AM–5:45 PM
Friday: 10 AM–5:45 PM
Saturday: 10 AM–5:45 PM
Patrons are encouraged to book an appointment to access materials in the Dorot Jewish Division. Same-day appointments can be made in person pending availability. Researchers are welcome to book a virtual consultation with one of the librarians to discuss research plans and needs. You do not need to have a virtual consultation before your visit to the Dorot Jewish Division.
Details on accessibility services are online here.