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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 131-181(WS)-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Classification and Indexing: Workshop
Joint Meeting with:
Meeting Number: 181
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Problems in the use of Library of Congress subject headings as the basis for Hebrew subject headings in the Bar-Ilan University Library

David Wilk
Shlomo Rotenberg, Sarah Schacham, Gita Hoffman and Shifra Liebman

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


For many years prior to 1983, the Hebrew Classification and Cataloging Department of the Wurzweiler Central Library at Bar-Ilan University had felt the need of providing the University's students with a means of subject access in the Hebrew language to Hebrew source material for their academic research. The computerization of the library in that year enabled the department to embark upon a project of assigning Hebrew subject headings to its collection of books and non-printed material in Hebrew letters in order to fulfill that goal. It was decided that these subject headings should be based on those of the Library of Congress (LCSH) since the latter were readily available and provided an excellent source for use and translation. LCSH was an internationally accepted system and was already being employed in cataloging the library's non-Hebrew works. But there were disadvantages as well. LCSH sometimes displayed either a political bias or Christian orientation. Additionally, in certain instances, LCSH was not specific enough for a large and varied Judaica and Israeli collection. The current paper describes how the department's staff handled these and other problems, which have arisen during the ongoing work of assigning Hebrew subject headings.


Bar-Ilan University's wide-scale project of assigning Hebrew subject headings to its collections of books in Hebrew letters (including Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, etc.) began with the computerization of its Library in 1983. Other open-stacked university libraries in Israel had already been assigning Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in English to their works in Hebrew script. However, we at Bar-Ilan felt that the assigning of English subject headings to such works did not help the average Israeli university student very much when it came to searching for Hebrew source material needed for seminar papers, theses or dissertations. Whereas his or her knowledge of English would probably be sufficient to read texts in that language, chances are that the student's thought patterns would remain based in the nuances of Hebrew. Thus he or she might be hard-pressed to think of the English subject headings that have been assigned to describe the kind of Hebrew books and non-print material being sought. In order to ease the burden, the Hebrew Classification and Cataloging Department of Bar-Ilan University's Wurzweiler Central Library developed Hebrew subject headings, based primarily on LCSH. These headings consist of the Hebrew subject heading, its English form (usually that of LCSH), scope notes when necessary and various "seen from" or "see also" references.

Why did we choose LCSH? It was a comprehensive and authoritative system of subject headings, one that was based on the advice of experts in every field. And it was readily available for use and translation. However, even when we knew which LC subject headings were appropriate, it did not always mean that finding Hebrew equivalents for them was an easy matter. We often had to try and find solutions to various linguistic and spelling problems and continue to do so. Perhaps some of the methods we have used in dealing with these problems may prove beneficial to others who are working to apply LCSH in different languages.



One of the problems we found involved different LC subject headings being represented by the same Hebrew word, depending upon the context. An example of this phenomenon is the word Avot, which means both Fathers in LCSH and is a "seen from" reference to Mishnah. Avot in the LC Name Authority File. But we do not use Mishnah. Avot as our Hebrew subject heading. Instead, we use Avot with the qualifier Masekhet or Tractate to indicate Mishnah. Avot. And we added the qualifier, le-yeladim to Avot, making it Fathers of children for Fathers, the LCSH form which remains as our English translation.

Similarly, the Hebrew word, Ezrahut can mean either Citizenship or Civics in LCSH. We added a qualifier in the first case to indicate that it is referring to Citizenship and not to Civics.

There were occasions, however, when we couldn't find a solution at all to the problem of one Hebrew word representing two different subjects in LCSH and in such cases we had no choice but to keep the same Hebrew word for both subjects. An example of this is the word Kin'ah which may mean either Jealousy or Envy.


Problems of Hebrew Language Structure

Another problem we had to deal with involved finding a way to distinguish between different Hebrew words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently, the result usually of different vowel configurations. In classical Hebrew, vowels are indicated by symbols attached to each consonantal letter. Texts printed in such a manner are called pointed. Modern Hebrew, however, is often written without vowel points, with certain unaspirated letters being used to take their place. The difficulty here is that employing these letters in place of vowel points can lead to an uncontrolled vocabulary, as the rules concerning the use of such letters are often disregarded. It would then be very difficult to use this vocabulary as an indexing language, since one would have to search under each form of spelling in order to retrieve all possible outcomes. The joint subcommittee on cataloging of Israel's University libraries has therefore decided that only Hebrew script written without these letters is acceptable, since only in this form is a uniform spelling guaranteed. A uniform spelling also enables our Hebrew subject headings to be used in keyword searching. However, the vowel points to accompany Hebrew words written without the unaspirated letters are not currently available on our computer keyboards and thus it is sometimes impossible to know which words are meant. One solution to this dilemma was to use a qualifier in one of the terms to indicate the particular vowel point differentiating that term from another one that is spelled the same. Examples of these are:

  1. Shanah means Year and Shenah means Sleep. We have added a qualifier to Shenah, in which the vowel for the "e" sound is spelled out and indicated as appearing after the "sh" sound.

  2. In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Mitsrayim and the word for Egyptians is Mitsrim. The qualifier we added in this case for Mitsrim spells out the vowel for the "i" sound and places it after the letter with the "r" sound.

  3. Almanot is the Hebrew word for Widows and Almanut means Widowhood. Similarly, Imahot means Mothers and Imahut means Motherhood. In these cases, we have placed a qualifier after Almanut and after Imahut spelling out the vowel in the final syllable with the "u" sound.

Another solution was to add a qualifier which did not spell out the differentiating vowel, but rather explained the concept so that the library patron would automatically know what the correct pronunciation was. Examples of these are:

  1. Omanut or Art has the same spelling as Amanot or Treaties. We added a qualifier to Amanot to indicate that it referred to international agreements.

  2. Gananot or Kindergarten teachers, is spelled the same as Gananut meaning Gardening. In this case, we added a qualifier to Gananut explaining that the subject deals with plants.

In other instances, we handled the problem of one spelling giving different meanings by expanding one of the terms. For example, the word, Bikurim which LCSH lists as First fruits (Bible) and the word, Bekhorim or First-born, the LC subject heading for which is First-born children, are spelled the same in Hebrew without vowel points. We prefixed the word Yeladim, or children to Bekhorim, emphasizing that the subject is indeed First-born children, Yeladim bekhorim.

An interesting example is the word Yamim which may be used for both Days and for Ocean. At first glance it might seem more like a homonym, but there are in fact different vowel points possible under the first letter indicating that it is a plural form for two different words, the one being Yom meaning Day and the other Yam or Ocean. In the Sephardi pronunciation prevalent in Israel, the plural form for both words sound almost the same. But in the Ashkenazi pronunciation used by many Jews throughout the world, the difference in pronunciation is more noticeable with the word for Days being sounded as Yawmim. For Days, we used the construct form of Yamim, Yeme, which combined with the word ha-shavu`a means literally, days of the week. Ocean remained Yamim by itself.


Hebrew vs. non-Hebrew Terminology

Our previous examples all concerned pure Hebrew terms. However, Hebraized non-Hebrew terms have also entered the Hebrew language when there were no equivalent terms already existing in Hebrew and when the Academy of the Hebrew Language either chose not to create new ones or have not as yet decided on a Hebrew form. Examples of these are Biologyah for Biology, Ekologyah for Ecology, Psikhologyah for Psychology, etc. But even a word coined by the Academy of the Hebrew Language is not always accepted in common speech in Israel. That is why we continue to use the Hebraized non-Hebrew term, Seksizem, from the LC Subject Heading, Sexism, rather than the Hebrew term, Minanut. Sometimes, we have combined a Hebrew word together with a Hebraized non-Hebrew one to create a hybrid as for example, Bitahon sotsiyali for the LC subject heading, Social security or `Avodah sotsiyalit for Social work. At other times, we used either a Hebrew or Hebraized non-Hebrew term, depending upon whichever is more locally accepted. For example, we use both the Hebrew term, Ripui, and the Hebraized non-Hebrew term, Terapyah, for the LC subject heading, Therapy, depending upon which type of therapy is being discussed. Terapyah was used especially in psychological settings while Ripui was more often given in medical situations. Nevertheless, if a singular medical term incorporated the word "therapy", we usually kept it in the Hebrew subject heading as well.


User Friendliness

An example of such a type of therapy recorded in LCSH is Chemotherapy. LC employs this subject heading for any kind of treatment using chemicals, including drug therapy. Israelis consider chemotherapy to be used only in the treatment of cancer patients. In the treatment of other diseases, drug therapy would be the appropriate term. We have made this distinction in our Hebrew subject headings and used the Hebraized form of Chemotherapy, Kimoterapyah when discussing the treatment of cancer patients, but used the Hebrew equivalent of Drug therapy, Tipul terufati, when dealing with other diseases. However, since in LCSH, Chemotherapy is used for Drug therapy, we have translated both our Hebrew subjects as Chemotherapy.

Our Hebrew translations from LCSH sometimes use a plural form when LCSH uses the singular. To give a few examples, in Hebrew it was more appropriate to employ the plural form of the LC Subject Headings: Almond, Apple, Secret service, Social service, Sex role, etc. But we have retained the singular form as it appears in LCSH in our English translation

At other times, however, we have not retained the LC subject heading and have used instead one of the references seen from that subject. A case in point is our Hebrew heading, Sartan etsel yeladim or Cancer in children ~. The LC subject heading for Cancer in children is Tumors in children. We felt that since tumors may either be benign or cancerous, it was too broad a heading to be used only for Cancer in children. Our translation is followed by a tilde (~) to indicate that we consciously diverged from LCSH. The subject heading in question is a general one, but usually we try to limit our changes from LCSH to subjects relating to Judaica or to Israel.


Disadvantages of LCSH

It is within the framework of Bar-Ilan University having both a large Judaica and Israeli collection that we discovered disadvantages as well in using LCSH. In some cases, LC subject headings were not specific enough in dealing for example with Hasidism, Hebrew literature, the Holocaust, Jewish law, Israel, Jewish history, etc. In other instances, it was clear that LC subject headings sometimes displayed either a political bias reflecting the foreign policy of the United States or a Christian orientation, echoing the fact that the majority of that country's population are Christian in religious belief. We felt that in Israel, a country with its own government policy and where the majority of people are Jewish, subject headings should be more in line with locally held views when they conflicted with those of LC. In such situations, we would create more specific, alternative or original Hebrew subject headings more suitable for Bar-Ilan's collections. A tilde (~) was placed after the English translations of these original Hebrew subject headings to show that they were not taken from LCSH.



What were some of these original Hebrew subject headings? Let's start with areas where the Library of Congress' subject headings were not specific enough. LCSH divides the politics and government of Israel into three time periods: 1948-1967, 1967-1993 and 1993-. We found it necessary to use many more: 1948-, 1948-1963, 1948-1967, 1948-1977, 1963-1973, 1967-, 1967-1977, 1973-1977, 1977-1984, 1984-1992, 1992-1996, 1996-1999 and 1999-. We have similarly divided up other LC subject headings into time periods, Hasidism, being one of them.

The followers of Hasidism are called Hasidim and they comprise a group of Jews not given enough attention by LC. It is true that LCSH lists Hasidim as a subject heading as well as eight specific groups of Hasidim. But to date, Bar-Ilan numbers 106 different Hasidic sects.

These Hasidic sects are usually named after the places in Eastern Europe where they were founded. In our Hebrew subject headings, we have generally tried to keep the form of these names as they were pronounced by the Jewish population even if they differ from the way they may appear on maps today. LC itself does this with the Hasidic sects it does list. For example, it is Gur Hasidim and not Gora Kalwaria Hasidim. It is Satmar Hasidim and not Satu Mare Hasidim, Zanz Hasidim and not Nowy Sacz Hasidim. Among those we have added, one may find Klausenburg and not Cluj-Napoca, Kalub and not Nagykallo, Nikolsburg and not Mikulov.

The problem of identifying Jewish place names in general in Eastern Europe is a difficult one because of changes in boundaries and political jurisdiction over the course of time. It is rendered even more acute when it comes to the many Yizkor books, or books commemorating the Jewish communities which were destroyed during the Holocaust that are contained in Bar-Ilan's Library. Here too, we have in many cases used the Jewish form of the name in our Hebrew subject headings rather than the current form. For example, in Hebrew our subject headings record Vilna rather than Vilnius and Kovno rather than Kaunas, both in Lithuania, and Mattersdorf rather than Mattersburg in Austria. We also use the name Rusiyah ha-levanah or White Russia in our Hebrew headings when referring to Belarus. The English translations however, do reflect the official form of the name and we have provided references from one or more forms of the name to the other. These instances are all fairly straightforward.

Other cases may be more obscure and require painstaking research, using such sources as gazetteers, atlases, encyclopedias, Library of Congress Name Authorities, etc. Examples of these are Varenz rather than Novoukrainka, Zadniye rather than Pryborzhavs'ke, Zwehil rather than Novohrad Volyns'kyi, Radzivilov rather than Chervonoarmeisk, all in the Ukraine; Dvinsk rather than Daugavpils in Latvia; `Ir Hadash rather than Nove Mesto nad Vahom, Unsdorf rather than Huncovce and Helmets rather than Kralovky Chimec in Slovakia; Eishishok rather than Eisiskes, Yurburg rather than Jurbarkas, Meretesh rather than Merkine, and Rakishok rather than Rokiskes in Lithuania These were some of the names given to the small towns or shtetls in which Jews had settled in pre-Holocaust Europe.

Jewish settlement in Israel, reflecting different conditions, developed some new forms. LC lists them as Kibbutzim, Moshavim and Moshav shitufi. We have added to these as well, Development towns~, the latter being towns that were set up to absorb the many thousands of Jewish immigrants who came to Israel in the 1950's. We have also taken Kibbutzim and expanded it to deal with specific situations peculiar to kibbutz life. These include for example: Kibbutzim - General meeting ~, Kibbutzim - Sleeping arrangements ~ and Kibbutzim - Hired labor ~. In addition, we have treated Kibbutzim, Moshavim and Development towns ~ as if they were names of places and used them as geographical subdivisions, much as LC has done for Developing countries.


Cultural, Political and Religious Differences between the U.S.A. and Israel

Works discussing immigrants to development towns and to Israel in general would have been assigned the LC subject heading, Israel - Emigration and Immigration. That might be true of any other country, but here when we talk about Jews coming to live in Israel, the commonly accepted term is Aliyah, literally going up, as if to say that a Jew is elevated spiritually by immigrating. Similarly, when a Jew emigrates from Israel, it is called Yeridah, meaning going down. So in terms of Jewish immigration and emigration regarding Israel, we have established the terms Aliyah ~ and Yeridah ~ as Bar-Ilan original subject headings. Through the use of these terms, many others have also been derived. Among these are `Olim ~ or Jewish immigrants to Israel and Yordim ~ or Jewish emigrants from Israel.

Yordim have migrated to countries throughout the world into what LCSH refers to as Jewish Diaspora. We have established the term Diaspora ~ as if it were a place name subdivision, to apply in general to Jews living abroad as opposed to those living in Israel.

Previously mentioned were some of the problems involving the names of places in the Diaspora where Jews had lived prior to the Holocaust. Here in Israel, we have geographical name problems as well because LC's policy reflects the political position of the U.S. Government, which need not be the same as ours. Perhaps the most extreme example of U.S. policy being reflected in LCSH vis-a-vis Israel is the refusal of LC to recognize Jerusalem not only as Israel's capital but as even being part of Israel. According to LC, Jerusalem as a geographical subdivision is assigned directly. For example: City planning - Jerusalem. We could not accept this disregard for Israel's sovereignty over the Holy City and our subject heading would of course be rendered: City planning - Israel - Jerusalem ~.

In addition to the political stance of LCSH, there is a religious orientation indicating a preferred position for Christianity. We felt this to be inappropriate for Israel, the Jewish State, and established alternative subject headings when necessary. Perhaps the most obvious example is that of the Bible. LC recognizes the New Testament as being a part of the Bible, which of course, Judaism does not. So instead of writing Bible. N.T., we just use New Testament ~. And we use Bible and not Bible. O.T. to indicate the Old Testament. Our system of counting years is also dependent on whether one recognizes the New Testament as being part of the Bible. So we use B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) rather than the Christian oriented terms, B.C. and A.D. Miracles recorded in the New Testament are listed under the LC subject heading, Miracles. We have used Miracles rather to indicate miracles in Judaism. If we ever receive material in Hebrew concerning Christian miracles, we shall add the qualifier, "Christian", to our Hebrew subject heading, much as we have already added the term, "Christian" to our Hebrew subject heading for the LC subject heading, Theology, which is by definition Christian theology.

A number of the examples given in this paper have illustrated cases where we have had to depart from LC subject headings and create our own. We have also established our own subject headings, particularly in areas of Judaica, when no suitable subject heading existed in LCSH. We are pleased that the Library of Congress has adopted some of these original subject headings. Among the more recent ones are Heter me'ah rabanim, referring to the rare instances when one hundred rabbis sign a document allowing a husband to take a second wife without divorcing the first one; Torah cases, the hard cases that enclose Sephardi Torah scrolls; and Responsa, 1948-, answers to queries in Jewish law given by rabbis since 1948.

The creation and updating of subject headings remains a dynamic process, both at the Library of Congress and at Bar-Ilan, where as of the last count there were over 54,000 Hebrew subject headings in our data base. We are proud that our joint cooperation results in the improvement of both our subject heading lists, for the benefit of library users throughout the world.



  1. Hoffman, G. et al.1992. Hebrew subject headings: development and implementation at Bar-Ilan University. Judaica Librarianship 6:24-32,37.

  2. Kotrot nosim be-`Ivrit. Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University, Wurzweiler Central Library, Hebrew Classification and Cataloging Department, 1997.


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