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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 129-174(WS)-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Library History in association with the Association of Jewish Libraries, Judaica Librarians Group, and Hebraica Libraries Group: Workshop - Session 1
Joint Meeting with:
Meeting Number: 174
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Hebrew Subject Headings at Bar-Ilan University: an update

Gita Hoffman,
Shlomo Rotenberg,
Sarah Shacham,
Shifra Liebman,
David Wilk

Wurzweiler Central Library, Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel
E-mail: hoffmg@mail.biu.ac.il


Since 1983, Hebrew subjects headings have been used in the Bar-Ilan University libraries. To date, over 54,000 subject headings have been adapted and translated from the Library of Congress Subject Heading list. New original Bar-Ilan subject headings have also been added. This paper will describe the problems and solutions of adapting LCSH to Israeli, Hebrew speaking users.



At the "First International Conference of Judaica and Israeli Librarians" held in Jerusalem in 1991, I spoke about "Hebrew Subject Headings: Development and Implementation at Bar-Ilan University", I will briefly review what I said then and continue with an update.

Bar Ilan's "Hebrew Subject Headings" includes the following: Hebrew subject headings, scope notes, "see also" and "see" references all in Hebrew and parallel English Subject headings. The English entry is either a Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) or an original Bar-Ilan subject heading followed by a tilde (~). An additional English-Hebrew index is also published.

In 1983 when the Bar-Ilan Library network became computerized, the Hebrew Cataloging and Classification Department decided to add Hebrew Subject Headings to our vast collection of works written in Hebrew characters (Hebrew, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, Ladino, etc.). At that time, most university libraries in Israel used Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in English for both their Hebrew and non-Hebrew collections. Most continue to do so today, except for the Jewish National and University Library at Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus. JNUL or the Sifriyah ha-Le'umit has added verbal phrases to explain their numerical classification system. The Open University also translates LCSH into Hebrew on a much smaller scale.

The rationale, at that time, for using Hebrew Subject Headings was that "the average Israeli student or library user's dominant language is Hebrew. Searching a book by author or title in English is feasible for these patrons. Asking them to use English subject headings, however, requires a mastery of that foreign language to a level that most of them have not attained." (Hoffman et al. 1992, 24). This rationale still applies.

In 1983, we decided to use the Library of Congress as our basis for the Hebrew Subject Headings (LCSH) for the following reasons: LCSH is an internationally accepted system of subject headings. Besides, the English (or non-Hebrew character) Cataloging Department at Bar-Ilan University was using Library of Congress Subject Headings for the material that it cataloged.

In 1983, the disadvantages of using Library of Congress Subject Headings included the following:

    One - the subject headings were characterized by an American and, at times, a Christian orientation.

    Two - the subject headings were not specific enough for a large Israeli collection and especially for our specialized Judaica collection.

Today, some of these disadvantages are less apparent. Library of Congress has become more sensitive to various biases, and more and more subject headings have been added in the field of Judaica.


Christian Orientation

The following is an example of the Chrisitan orientation of Library of Congress Subject Headings. Converts to Judaism was previously assigned

    Proselytes and proselyting, Jewish,

with its pejorative connotation. Bar-Ilan did not accept LC's subject and our original subject heading was

    Converts to Judaism ~

followed by a tilde (~) after the subject to signify an original Bar-Ilan Subject Heading. In Hebrew, the subject heading we assigned was Gerim. Library of Congress assigned "Converts to Christianity" the subject heading:


Recently, Library of Congress revised its subject headings and now lists

    Jewish converts (instead of Proselytes and proselyting, Jewish)


    Christian converts (instead of Converts).

Bar- Ilan has changed its English translation to correspond with that of LC's.

Most subjects of a religious nature tend to have a Jewish orientation in Bar-Ilan. Library of Congress subjects in the field of religion continue to have a Christian orientation. Angels as a subject refers to Christian angels. Jewish angels are assigned Angels (Judaism). At Bar Ilan, we assume that the angels are Jewish and add a qualifier if the material deals with angels of a different religious orientation.

There were times when we needed a subject heading that did not exist in LCSH, and Bar-Ilan created an original subject heading. We have consulted and continue to consult Israeli reference tools, such as the thesaurus of the University of Haifa's "Index to Hebrew Periodicals" or the Thesaurus of Index Terms in Social Science of the Henrietta Szold Institute for the Social and Behavioral Sciences. On occasion, we have called upon the Akademia le-Lashon `Ivrit to provide proper Hebrew terminology. Last but not least, as a large university and research institution, we have many experts available and the academic staff have often been consulted on an unofficial basis. All of the above have aided us in creating new Bar-Ilan subject headings or helped us to translate Library of Congress Subject Headings into Hebrew.


Library of Congress and Our Work Style

Back in 1983, when the Bar-Ilan Libraries' collections were computerized, we worked in a semi-automated fashion. The cataloging and subject information was entered into the Haifa University Library's computer. We worked with a card file and entered "see" and "see also" references and scope notes in this card file catalog.

Today our work style has changed considerably. Instead of looking up subject headings in the large, red, multi-volumes of Library of Congress Subject Headings, we now work on-line. Both The LCSH and LC's Name Authorities are on-line at our fingertips; LCSH is updated monthly and the LC's Name Authorities, weekly. We also entered all our scope notes, "see" and "see also" references on-line. Departmental meetings are held to discuss proposed new subject headings. In addition, we now use the wonderful invention of email. The Hebrew Cataloging and Classification Department of Bar-Ilan has a warm relationship with the Hebraica Cataloging Unit of Library of Congress. Email correspondence is used for obtaining help in assigning or for clarifying an existing subject heading and for discussing a proposed new subject heading. Library of Congress also consults our multi-volume Hebrew Subject Headings. Examples of two subject headings that Bar-Ilan suggested and Library of Congress accepted are:

    Heter me'ah rabanim (authorization of one hundred rabbis)


    Torah cases

The subject heading Heter me'ah rabanim was taken from our Kotrot nos'im be-`Ivrit [subject headings in Hebrew] (Rotenberg et al. 1997) The subject refers to the rare occurrence of allowing a husband to take a second wife without divorcing the first one. Torah Cases, the hard cases that enclose Sephardi Torah scrolls, was adopted by Library of Congress as a result of our email communications with LC.

On the other hand, Bar-Ilan suggested the subject "Shtetl", and Library of Congress did not accept our suggestion. For a directory of shtetls, the Jewish towns in Eastern Europe, Library of Congress would perhaps assign the subject headings:

    Jews--Europe, Eastern--Gazetteers



Bar-Ilan would assign the LC subject headings but would also assign our original subject heading Shtetl with a tilde (~) after the subject.

    Shtetl ~

When an original Bar-Ilan subject heading is created we try to maintain the rules of the Library of Congress and will often assign a standard LC subdivision. Two examples are:

    Draft of Yeshiva students into the army--Economic aspects ~


    Aliyah--Psychological aspects ~


Ketiv Haser

Written Hebrew employs two pronunciation aids, the first being vowel points (nikud) under or adjacent to the Hebrew characters. The second is the use of four Hebrew characters, the aleph, heh, vov and yud, as vowels, when the vowel points (nikud) are not present. The use of these letters is called ketiv male, or plene spelling.

To achieve uniform Hebrew spelling, all the Israeli university libraries adhere to ketiv haser in their library catalogs. The specific letters of the Hebrew alphabet that function as vowels - the aleph, heh, vav and yud. are omitted in ketiv haser, also called defective spelling. In addition, there are no vowel points (nikud) in the ALEPH Hebrew character set. ALEPH is the integrated computerized library management program used by all Israeli universities. To compensate for this problem, we had to make sure that our subject headings in Hebrew were understood (Hoffman et al. 1992, 26). Following Julius Kaiser's statement that "the concrete must be stated in unmistakable terms, if there is ambiguity, it must be removed." (Kaiser. 1985), Bar-Ilan decided to use qualifiers to remove the ambiguity from the pronunciation of the subject heading. For example, the word `eser meaning ten and the word `osher meaning wealth are spelled the same way in Hebrew. The qualifier added to the subject `osher

    `osher (`ayin be-holam)

gives pronunciation directions thus filling the role of vowel points (nikud) and removing the ambiguity from the meaning of the subject heading.


Geographical place names

The Bar-Ilan University library network has a large collection of Yizkor Books, Memorial Books that were composed by inhabitants of cities or towns destroyed during the Holocaust. The subject headings in LC is Memorial books (Holocaust) which seems to be based on a Bar-Ilan original subject heading. The scope note as it appears in LC is: "Here are entered works on books compiled by Jewish Holocaust survivors about the history and destruction of their communities". We spend a great deal of time and effort in identifying the specific town or "shtetl" described in the Yizkor books. We have to identify the town, distinguish it from towns or cities with similar sounding names, find the correct spelling in English and the correct spelling in Hebrew and identify the country where the town or city is now found. Due to the various geopolitical changes in the last century in Europe a town's jurisdiction moved from country to country. A case in point is the city of Mukacheve, better known as Munkacs, today an area in the Ukraine. Until 1919, it was found within the boundaries of Hungary, then, until 1938, within the boundaries of Czechoslovakia. From 1938-1945 it again belonged to Hungary. At the end of World War II, Mukacheve, became part of the Soviet Union. (Encyclopedia Judaica 1971).

A partial list of the many references tools we use to identify the city or town featured in the Yizkor book includes the following: encyclopedias, especially the Encyclopedia Judaica, gazetteers, atlases, "Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust", "The Shtetl Finder" and the Library of Congress Name Authorities. After the city has been identified in English we go through a similar process in Hebrew because all our Subject headings contain both Hebrew and English listings and can be searched in both languages on-line.

As we all know, during the early 1990's the Soviet Union broke up into independent countries. There were also changes in Czechoslovakia and in Germany. These geopolitical changes affected the subject designations of material previously cataloged and of course, all new material. Scope notes based on the Library of Congress were translated into Hebrew and Bar-Ilan's subject headings were updated. In addition, the various historical periods of Russian Empire under the Czars, the Soviet Union, and the Former Soviet Republics were also accompanied with scope notes in Hebrew.


Examples of Bar-Ilan Original Subject Headings


Hasidic works make up an important part of our collection. Many Hasidic Rebbes, have their novella published. Material about Hasidic dynasties and their particular customs and practices as well as biographies of hasidim need specific subject headings. In 1991, the Library of Congress listed four dynasties as narrower terms under the heading Hasidism. LC has doubled its list of dynasties to eight and include the following: Belz, Bratslav, Guardian-of-the-Faithful, Gur, Habad, Satmar, Vizhnitz and Zanz. In 1991, Bar-Ilan listed thirty-eight dynasties. To date, we list 106 Hasidic dynasties as subject headings. We have also adopted the LC subdivision "Customs and practices", whose scope note is "Use as a topical subdivision under names of individual religions and monastic orders and under individual religions and Christian denominations" and use it with the various Hasidic dynasties. If a work deals with the customs of a specific Hasidic Rebbe, we also use a subdivision with his name. Examples of this are:

    Bratslav Hasidim--Customs and practices

    Spinka (Hasidic dynasty)--Customs and practices ~

    Schneersohn, Menahem Mendel, 1902- Customs and practices ~


Some of the many Bar-Ilan original subject headings concerning the Holocaust are:

    Hasidim in the Holocaust ~

    Jewish creativity during the Holocaust ~

    Jewish leadership during the Holocaust ~

    Martyrdom (Judaism) in the Holocaust ~

    Oriental Jews in the Holocaust ~

    Rabbis in the Holocaust ~

    Religious Jews in the Holocaust ~

    Zionism and the Holocaust ~

    Zionist youth movements in the Holocaust ~


Library of Congress lists the following modern historical periods for Israel:




Bar-Ilan has added the following subject headings:

    Israel--History--1948-1949 ~

    Israel--History--1948-1956 ~

    Israel--History--1948-1997 ~

    Israel--History--1956-1967 ~

    Israel--History--1967-1973 ~

    Israel--History--1973-1993 ~

Likewise, many more chronological periods were added to Israel--Politics and government

War dead vs. war casualties

Unfortunately in its fifty-two year history as a modern independent country, Israel has had six wars. LC lists both

    War casualties and Battle casualties

as subject headings. We translate Battle casualties as Nifge`ei keravot. Casualties is a topical subdivision under individual wars. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines casualty as "a military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment or capture or through missing in action" (Webster's 1981). Bar Ilan felt the need for an additional subject heading and added

    War dead ~

as an original subject heading and in Hebrew, Halale milhamah. The following subject heading has been assigned 107 times.

    War dead - Israel - Biography ~



The Hebrew Cataloging department at Bar-Ilan University has adapted and translated Library of Congress Subject Headings into Hebrew and has created new original subject headings. To date, we have over 54,000 subject headings. Approximately a hundred new subject headings are added weekly. These subject headings include classes of people, topical, historical, and geographical subjects, as well as personal names. Each subject appears in Hebrew and in English with "see also" references. Many "see" are included as well. The "Hebrew Subject Headings" are used daily by over 20,000 faculty members and students at Bar-Ilan University. This project, started seventeen years ago, has effectively served its users. Our subject index can be searched on-line as a full subject search or used as a keyword search in a Word-From-Subject (WSH) search. When searching other university libraries in Israel, our readers are disappointed that they cannot search by subject in Hebrew.

The English translation of our expanded Judaica subject headings should be helpful to those libraries abroad that have large Judaica collections as well as to Israeli universities who have decided to continue to assign Library of Congress Subject Headings in English to their collection (Hoffman et al. 1992, 32).

Bar-Ilan's Library Catalog has a Web format as well as a Telnet format. Any Hebrew speaker in the world, can access our catalog and search using Hebrew subject headings and then return to their local library to find the material sought. While we have no figures to quantify this type of search, we are certain it is wide spread.

Which libraries uses our Hebrew subject heading? Several colleges in Israel and abroad, as well as two Hesder Yeshivot and a Bet Yaakov Seminary use Bar-Ilan's Hebrew Subject Headings. We still maintain that the university libraries in Israel should reconsider their policy of assigning English subject headings to Hebrew material and assign Hebrew subject headings. (Hoffman et al. 1992, 32). After all French university libraries assign French subject headings and Canada assigns bilingual subject headings.



Encyclopaedia Judaica. 1971. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing. 12:513.

Hoffman, G., S. Rotenberg, S. Liebman, S. Shacham, and D. Wilk. 1992. Hebrew subject headings: development and implementation at Bar-Ilan University.

Judaica Librarianship 6:24-32,37.

Kaiser, J. O. Systematic Indexing. 1985. In Theory of subject analysis, ed. L. M. Chan, P. A. Richmond and E. Svenonius. 65. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.

Rotenberg, S., S. Liebman, G. Hoffman, S. Shacham and D. Wilk. 1997. Kotrot No'sim be-`Ivrit.. Ramat Gan: [Hebrew Classification and Cataloging Dept., Bar-Ilan University]. 1:289

Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. 1981. Springfield, Mass.: G & C Merriam Company. 172.


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