About Project Ben-Yehuda

Project Ben-Yehuda - Connecting Hebrew Readers Around the World



What is Project Ben-Yehuda?

Project Ben-Yehuda is a volunteer-based free digital library expanding access to Hebrew literature for 20 years now. We believe that literature connects people to their culture, to their roots, and across political and geographic boundaries.

Project Ben-Yehuda aims to make accessible a comprehensive library of Hebrew literature for Hebrew readers (from early piyyut to contemporary fiction), preserve it and expose it for new audiences. Project Ben-Yehuda is the largest, open and digitized Hebrew library in the world, with more than 22,000 literary works by more than 300 writers (mostly in the public domain). Over the years, more than 1000 volunteers have created digital editions of poetry and prose, but also essays, letters, memoirs, non-fiction and reference works, and translations into Hebrew of works from ancient literature to 20th century works. Hundreds of thousands of people are exposed to Project Ben-Yehuda every month, most of whom are Jewish people and Israelis living all over the world, including teachers, amateurs and scholars. To our delight, our dedicated efforts receive recognition; For example, in 2019 we had the honor to receive the Presidential Award for Volunteering by Israel’s president, Mr. Reuven Rivlin.

In order to encourage the public to read and learn through the project, we develop the website constantly. For instance, we have just released a new feature, which enables educators (such as teachers, lecturers or youth movements' guides) to create anthologies from texts in Project Ben-Yehuda, combined with their own educational material, such as curated texts, comprehension questions, and relevant links.

Exposing the Hebrew literature

In addition to the website, we initiate cultural ventures, such as literary events and filming intellectuals and artists read beloved literary works. In 2020, we invited hundreds of musicians to compose literature works from the project in a composition contest. We do everything in our power to ensure that Hebrew literature is not forgotten and remains accessible for any Hebrew-reader all over the world, free of charge and without advertising, and legally provided on the Internet. One of our main goals is to see a broadening of the project’s readership and supporter base outside of Israel, especially among young readers and pupils. We will be glad also to tell you more about our current initiatives and our plans for the future.

Is there no copyright violation involved in posting works online?

No. The project’s editors take copyright laws seriously, and usually works that are in the public domain (that is, according to Israeli law, works where seventy years have passed since the end of the year of the author’s death) are included in the project. The exception to this rule is when the project receives explicit permission by copyright holders to include a work before the copyright on it has expired, as is the case with the works of David Ben-Gurion, Aharon Meged, Avraham Shlonski & Nathan Alterman.

What works are included in the project?

Our knowingly ambitious goal is to bring the entirety of Hebrew classics to the Internet. At this time we are working on the authors appearing in our home page. We would be happy to receive suggestions regarding the choice of texts.

Why can’t I click on some of the works to see them?

We try and upload material to the site incrementally, so that most works become available as soon as possible. This means that for some authors, we have not finished preparing their entire works yet. Material that is ready for viewing is linked (and colored blue, in most browsers), and material that is not ready is colored black and is not clickable.

What about Goldberg, Amichai, etc.?

Israeli copyright law protects works for a duration of 70 years after the end of the year of the author’s death. This means that we cannot publish the works of these and many other authors for now, unless we get written permission from the copyright owners (heirs, publishers, or literary executors).

How does the material arrive at the site?

Manually: a volunteer scans a book, another volunteer types it from the scanned pages and into a word processor file, which is then translated to HTML and uploaded to the site. Most of the effort, of course, is in typing the text, and more precisely (with poetry) in adding diacritics to it.

Why manual typing? Why not scan the texts and display them as graphical image files?

Because image files are not searchable by a computer. A great feature of the project is the ability to find a work even if you remember only a phrase from it, but not its title or author.

Why not use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software?

We are not aware of an OCR program that can handle the texts we deal with – older fonts, yellowed pages, and diacritics. The free and open source HOCR comes close, but isn’t quite accurate enough to be significantly time-saving for us. It is also not in active development since 2008.

How can I help?

You can join as a volunteer in the project. Help usually means typing and proofreading texts. Another way to help us is to donate money to help us cover our costs. To donate, click here.. For details, please contact the project’s editors by electronic mail at editor@benyehuda.org.

Does access to the site require payment?

No. The works are free for any person’s use. We do ask that you aid us in spreading the word about the project, for example by citing the site’s address in your academic papers if you obtain copies of texts from it. If you have any further questions, please contact us via: editor@benyehuda.org.