For ultra-Orthodox Jews who shun secular newspapers, radio and the Internet, the best way to hear the news has long been by literally reading the writing on the wall.
The insular, strictly religious community still relies on black and white posters pasted up on walls in their neighborhoods to hear the latest rulings from important rabbis on modest dress, upcoming protests and the correct way to vote in elections.
Now one avid collector has teamed up with Israel’s National Library to bring this old-fashioned form of communication into the 21st century by scanning more than 20,000 of the posters – known locally as “pashkevilim” – into a digital online archive. The project, which includes an exhibit that opened at the library earlier this month, offers a glimpse into one of the main media used by a group trying to hold the line against the march of modernity.[Clip]
The library has put up 100 of the most striking posters in an exhibit. One warns against computer use by showing a Jewish boy turning into a horned beast after spending hours on one. Another provides a visual guide to women, warning against all the ways a shirt collar can be immodest.
The National Library added Kraus’ extensive collection to its own archive of about 7,000 posters, including many from the Jewish community in Poland in the 1930s.
With regard to the national library, the digitization of the pashkevils is a groundbreaking event: Until recently the institution refused to use or display materials that were not part of its holdings. Following changes to the way the library operates (it switched from being a department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to an independent public corporation, ahead of a planned move to a new building near the Knesset ), it is also becoming an umbrella site for the digital collection and preservation of print matter related to the library’s three main fields of interest: the State of Israel, the Middle East and Judaism.