People Of the Book: The Encyclopedia Project and the Attempt to Create A Knowing Nation, 1944-1991

Dan Tsahor
מרכז צ'ריק, האוניברסיטה העברית, ישראל

Encyclopaedia Hebraica was the largest modern literary project in the Hebrew language in terms of intellectual and financial investment. For more than half a century, its 35 volumes served as an authority within the Israeli academia and as an expert opinion in the judicial system. My paper explores the reasons that led the publisher to initiate a project of this magnitude, the ways in which editors and writers defined the encyclopedias’ readerships, and the types of knowledge they attributed to the target readers. I observe the interplay between Encyclopaedia Hebraica and Jewish encyclopedias in other languages, as well as the intellectual and commercial exchange with other European national encyclopedias to understand the epistemic and thematic models of Encyclopaedia Hebraica. Like previous Hebrew encyclopedias, the first editors of Encyclopaedia Hebraica adopted the model of the notable German Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, which was a compilation of small autonomous entries that covered many fields of knowledge. However, Yeshiayahu Leibowitz, who was the editor for several years, decided to adopted the model of Encyclopedia Britannica, which had fewer entries but each was broader in scope, more comprehensive, and included several references to other entries. In this paper I explain the reasons for these drastic changes in the epistemology of the encyclopedia and explore their implications on the various divisions of knowledge.

Dan Tsahor
ד"ר Dan Tsahor

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