The head of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic dynasty received a behind-closed-doors tour of the Israel Museum last week, the first official visit there by a major ultra-Orthodox leader.

Rabbi Baruch Shochat is known for his openness to art and culture, and encourages his followers to take an interest in art and archaelogy. The guided tour of the Jerusalem museum, which lasted about three hours, gave the rabbi a look at the Judaica and ethnography wings, as well as the interiors of the historic synagogues that are now housed at the museum. He also visited the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and related archaeological finds are on display.

The rabbi - whose community is based in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood - informed his hosts that he had previously visited the museum. This time, he was accompanied by a delegation of about 15 people, including his wife. The rabbi is said to have shown great interest in what he saw and asked many questions.

Tuesday's visit came at the behest of the Israel Museum, which is planning an exhibition on the world of Hasidism, due to open in June.

Associates of the rabbi, who is a collector of Judaica in his own right, asked that museum officials not inform the media about the visit, and many leading Hasidic figures were not aware that it had taken place.

The curator of the upcoming exhibit, Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper - of the Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life - confirmed that the rabbi had paid an official visit, adding that in recent months she has been in touch with a number of Hasidic communities in Israel and abroad seeking their assistance with the exhibition.