The otzer

One key aspect of any Kollel is its Otzar – the Otzar started from humble beginnings and grew gradually over the years. In 2008, a new effort was made to upgrade the Otzar to a new level of breadth and depth of coverage. This ongoing process has brought the number of Sforim to over 12000.

It is unique in that it caters for every section of the community – one often finds sets or individual sforim in Loshen Hakodesh, both older and newly-revised modern-print editions, as well as English versions adjacent on the same shelf.

Another unique feature is that men, women and children are all catered for in their own areas. Children can find stimulating material in Hebrew or English, in book or even ‘’comic’’ form. Anyone can spend pleasant hours exploring in the reading rooms.

A single digital integrated kiosk of Otzar Hachochma, Otzros Haposkim, Hebrew books and Bar Ilan Digital Library Plus was designed and implemented (All are the latest versions available).

The Otzar is divided into many very specific subsections. Whole sections exist on Haggodas, Pirkei Avos, Peirushim on Tehillim, Peirushim on Tefilla, Churban Europe, Biographies, Shalom Bayis, Chinuch, Daf Yomi Resources,many subdivisions of Halocha Sforim, plus all the major sections which one would expect in an Otzar for the most advanced Torah study. Biographies from the major Torah orientated magazines over the past 40 years have been filed for easy reference. Sections on Torah and Science, Geula, Maps and charts etc give one some idea of the scope of the coverage. Besides the wide range of Peirushim in general, in the Peirushim on Chumash section, for example, one whole shelf is devoted to Peirushim on Targum Onkelos, one to Peirushim on Targum Yonoson, several to Peirushim on Rashi, Ramban, Malbim , Torah Temima etc . New sections include Halocha for Young Readers, Wisdom of the Aleph Beis (all bilingual) etc.

Reduced-size photocopies of title pages are inserted inside front covers to act as cross-references to other sforim by the same mechaber in other sections.

A floor plan of the entire Beis medrash and all the Otzar areas, with colour coding, acts as guide for visitors to finding specific sections. (See Gallery – Video of floor plan)

One probably unique feature is the use of a three- part colour coding system: a 12mm colour sticker at the top of the spine is common to all sforim along one wall of one otzar; a 6mm colour sticker placed over the centre of the 12mm one is common to all sforim in one whole column of book-shelves along that wall; the colour sticker at the lower edge of the spine is common to sforim on one shelf. The system is simple and works very well – any sefer can be returned to its place in a quick three-step process – find the wall, then the column and then the shelf.

Two bochrim, Elan Bauer and Anthony Furman, have dedicatedly worked on the Otzar project every working day for over 3 hours for over six years. These two dedicated librarians aim for perfection and this results in thorough organisation, repair work, labelling  and refining the layout on an ongoing basis. The project is not allowed to lie dormant. Ongoing acquisition of sforim has greatly expanded the scope of coverage. New Sforim have been obtained and, where necessary, also used out-of-print Sforim or reprints.

The labelling system is mostly colour-coded, which allows for easy expansion and shifting of columns with little effort.

R’ Yaakov Rosenes of Virtual Geula has played a critical role in obtaining hard-to-find Sforim; his knowledge and experience have made a huge contribution to the entire project.

The result of all this is that this Otzar is now the largest and most organised Torah Reference Otzar in the Southern Hemisphere.

A major goal of such a project is to provide a central Otzar where Mechanchim, Avreichim, Rabbeim and the Torah-learning public can all find extensive material – shiurim can be prepared for use in the Kollel as well as many other institutions, such as the school network. A photocopy facility is available. A single digital integrated kiosk of Otzar Hachochma, Otzros Haposkim, Hebrew books and Kol Haloshen was designed and implemented – it is currently undergoing refurbishment, including the acquisition of version 16 of Otzar Hachochma.

Sforim related to the current main Mesechta being studied are kept for the duration of the zman in one column inside the Beis Medrash, for ease of access. They have a temporary larger colour sticker on the spine to indicate their temporary location – these labels are applied in a way that they can be removed without damaging the Sforim at the end of the zman. This entire reference Otzar runs separately from the substantial Kollel Lending Library – it is meant only for use in learning in the Beis Medrash and reading rooms and preparation of shiurim.

From humble origins, with broken sets and many Sforim almost unusable, the Otzar has developed methods of refurbishing spine labels and rejuvenating older volumes. There are unique stories which lie behind many of the developments: A single volume acquired in one country completed a broken set obtained in a different country, by pure ‘chance’. A set which was out of print for many years was discovered unexpectedly in a back corner of a store-room. Another set which was needed was accessed only through a chance encounter with a relative of the mechaber.

The project has enhanced Torah studies in the Johannesburg Community and we look forward to it continuing to do so for many years. A most satisfying aspect is that visiting Talmidei Chachomim and Roshei Yeshiva have enjoyed the use of the Otzar and have given very positive feedback, with some saying that they have never seen anything quite like it. The Kollel Yad Shaul invites the wider Torah public to make use of its Otzar, even if only passing through Johannesburg.