The Israel Museum At 50


One wonders what the ancients responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls would think if they could see their handiwork this April. How would they react if they saw that two millennia after they preserved sacred texts, people are doing the same — but with nano chips?

In the Shrine of the Book, the amazing domed Jerusalem building that houses the scrolls and tells their story, curators are about to display the world’s tiniest Torah, the Nano Bible. The Israeli innovation has fit the entire Bible onto an area smaller than the head of a pin, and the results will be there for all to see in a large case, along with information about how it was made.

“Visitors will see that the technology has changed, but people are busy preserving pretty much the same text,” said Adolfo Roitman, curator of the Shrine of the Book. “The idea is that on one side of the Shrine of the Book we have some of the oldest biblical texts, and in another place a Bible that results from technological advance.”

Shrine of the Book is part of the Israel Museum, where 50th anniversary celebrations have just gotten underway, led by director James S. Snyder, former deputy director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The nano-chip exhibition is one of numerous special anniversary displays at the museum — part of a program designed to highlight just how far the museum has come since it was established.

“When he founded our museum five decades ago, Teddy Kollek envisioned a truly encyclopedic museum in Israel,” says board chairman Isaac Molho. “In the years since, the museum has succeeded in creating meaningful connections with cultures from around the globe and with our nation’s creative heritage.”

Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem for almost three decades, took delight in the museum — but never lived to see it in its current form. The anniversary will take place with the museum looking its very best, because, along with special displays, it is sporting a $100 million renovation that was completed just five years ago. Kollek died shortly before the renovation work got underway.

The exhibition space is now doubled, to 200,000 square feet, but the number of objects on display was cut by almost a third (at any one time most of the collection, almost 500,000 objects, are in storage). The idea was to make the place far less cluttered, more aesthetically pleasing and more inviting to explore — and it seems to have worked. “The renovation has made it easier for visitors, and given the museum a very clear narrative,” says Daisy Raccah-Djivre, chief curator of the Jewish Art and Life Wing. “It arranged the objects in a way that makes going around easy, comfortable and clear.”

For the anniversary, Raccah-Djivre had the excitement of a delivery from the Vatican. In an arrangement that would have been unthinkable when the museum opened — there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See until 1993 — she is displaying a rare manuscript that the Vatican is lending the museum for the occasion.

Back in the 15th century, an Italian scribe took the unusual step of producing an illuminated version of the Mishneh Torah, the work of Jewish law by Maimonides. The Israel Museum, together with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, acquired one volume in 2013, but the other volume remained in the annals of the Vatican. The Vatican agreed to fly its volume to Jerusalem for the anniversary, so that the books can be displayed together. “There are very few illuminated manuscripts of legal codes, and this is one of the most beautiful examples, so we are excited to display the two volumes in one place,” says Raccah-Djivre.

The anniversary is also being marked with contemporary art exhibitions, one of which is “6 Artists / 6 Projects,” which includes six contemporary artists whose work reflects the diverse creativity of Israeli art today. Another exhibit is “Dan Reisinger: Graphic Design in Israel,” which examines a body of work by one of Israel’s most prominent graphic designers.

The Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education, will also have an exhibit that relates to anniversary celebrations. Its companion exhibition, “50 x 50,” features miniature diorama-style presentations of the Youth Wing’s 50-year history of annual exhibitions.

Every year the museum attracts almost a million visitors, from countries all over the world, and from every sector of Israeli society. “If you look in right now in the Israel Museum, you will see Christians, charedim, religious, secular, young and old — you will find everyone here,” says deputy director Zach Granit.

“We have 20 new exhibitions every year, which means that we always appeal to a wide, diverse audience. But this isn’t easy — we need to always make sure we have our finger on the pulse of what interests different people at different times.”

The dates of exhibitions mentioned in this article vary. For detailed information visit the museum’s website at