Home Libraries / Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

The chief rabbi of Tel Aviv has some 9,000 books in his collection in Hebrew, Aramaic, English and Yiddish.

Tel Aviv

  • The most common book in the library: "The most value-laden book is without a doubt the Bible, but the most useful book and the most common in my library is the Babylonian Talmud, because it is the foundation and cornerstone of most of the books that came after it. I also have one thick volume that contains all the volumes of the Babylonian Talmud, in case I want to travel to a desert island."

  • The first book you acquired: "At the age of 15, when I was a yeshiva student, I received $18 from my aunt in New York. This was during the period of economic austerity here, and with that amount of money it was possible to buy a lot of chocolate bars. I waited for summer vacation, and I went to Tel Aviv to a store called Sova on Gruzenburg Street. The salesman said to me, 'Young man, if you buy chocolate and sardines you will use up all the money in two days. You'd do better to buy something that will stay with you.' I went back to Jerusalem to a fellow named Kaufman who sold books from his home on Narkiss Street, and from him I bought the Hafetz Haim's commentary on the Shulhan Arukh, and I have it with me to this day."

  • What book haven't you managed to finish?: "There is hardly a book that I have finished. My library, unlike a library of secular literature, doesn't include books that you read from beginning to end. The sages who wrote on morality give a reason for this: Even if we complete the entire Mishneh, and you retain everything in your mind without ever forgetting anything, remember that you haven't yet learned page aleph and you don't even know the first page."

  • The library's oldest book: "In the 1970s, when the first trickle of immigrants from the Soviet Union began to arrive here, one of them, with trembling hands, brought me a cannon shell from World War I, which he had kept in his home as a memento of his time as a fighter. Inside the tube he hid what was forbidden to own: a scroll of the Book of Esther written on very antique parchment about 1,000 years ago."

  • The library's most valuable book: "One day, in the 1970s, I got a call from someone in Tel Aviv, the owner of a bookstore on Allenby Street, who told me that an immigrant from Poland had come in and left some sheets from a Torah scroll in his shop. I went to the shop and I found an antique Torah scroll with two-thirds of its pages destroyed and the rest soaked with bloodstains. I gave it to the champion scribe at that time, Ziskind Finkelstein, who over a period of four months repaired it and replaced the missing pages. I and my brother, Naftali Lavie, together had made a parokhet, the mantle of the Torah scroll, on which is embroidered a dedication in memory of our parents and our brothers. This is without a doubt the most valuable of all the books here."

  • What, in your opinion, is your library's most important Holocaust book?: "The memorial book of the Pyotrikov Community, the memorial book of my town, which was edited by my brother, Naftali Lavie."

  • What is your favorite book?: "It's impossible to line them all up and say that this one is my favorite. It depends on what you are interested in at the time: It could be a point in Talmud, a precedent in the Shulhan Arukh, an interesting response to a halakhic question, the interpretation of a wonderful idea in the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or Job, and sometimes a sermon or a discussion in Jewish thought."

  • Which book in your library do you return to more often than any other?: "The Babylonian Talmud."

  • Who is your favorite author?: "Our Teacher Moses is the father of wisdom. He is the most admired, no one like him has ever arisen and everything that there is in my library is the offspring of the fruit of the first planter, who planted in us the Torah he brought from Sinai."

  • What dedication do you value most?: "There are many dedications that I value and that move me, like the dedication that my son wrote to me in a pamphlet when he was a child; or the dedication that the late Admor of Gur wrote to me in the book that he wrote after his son was killed in an automobile accident: 'Your Torah is my pastime'; or the dedication that I received from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, exactly 30 years ago, when I was a neighborhood rabbi in Tel Aviv. 'To our great friend, the famous brilliant rabbi, may the repute of his learning be honored, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and may he be granted the privilege of magnifying and glorifying the Torah, and much happiness and wealth and everything good, and may he succeed in all that he does. With great respect and with the blessings of the Torah, Ovadia Yosef. 5737.'"

  • What is your favorite line from among the books in your library?: "From the Torah: 'And thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord.' I love this, because it is everything between man and his fellow and between man and the Lord, in five words [in Hebrew]. And from the Hasidic literature, I love Rabbi Elimelech's sentence: 'Indeed please let our hearts see our fellows' virtues and not their faults.'"

  • Estimated number of books: 9,000

  • Predominant genres: Holy books, Bible, Judaism, morality, Hasidism, Jewish thought, Ethics of the Fathers, contemporary rabbinical rulings, Passover Haggadahs, memorial books for the fallen; history, medicine and science; Holocaust literature

  • Languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, English and Yiddish (as well as a prayer book in Persian from the rabbi of the Iranian community in New York)

  • Method of organization: The books are concentrated in a huge room that is the library, with shelves often laden with two rows of books for lack of space. The library is arranged by subject, with the volumes closest to the desk the basic books in Judaism: the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the Mishneh Torah and the Shulhan Arukh. Outside the library, visitors are greeted by more bookcases, full of volumes on history, medicine and the Holocaust.

  • Lending policy: Gladly. Many books that haven't found a home lie on the room's central table. Rabbanit Haya Lau: "I used to know where every book was located, but nowadays I am already reluctant when we get sent books."