The Israel Museum

The Israel Museum is the most famous Jerusalem museum - and rightly so. It truly has something for everyone.

Shrine of the Book at Israel Museum

You can spend hours deciphering a Dead Sea scroll, stroll among fine works of art in the Billy Rose garden or discover the children's wing.

The museum is the result of one man's vision. In the 1950s Teddy Kollek was a government official in the Prime Minister's Office. (He later went on to be Jerusalem's longest serving mayor.) On a visit in America to a wealthy art collector, he asked his host why he didn't donate some pieces to the fledgling State of Israel.

"Why should I," asked the art collector, "when you have no place to put it?"

Realizing the man was right, Kollek made it his mission to create a world class museum for the new state. He went fund raising, obtained land, organized an international architectural contest for the design of the new museum and begged, cajoled and bribed artists and art collectors around the world. The result? The Israel Museum, an institution with art and archaeology collections to rival the world's oldest museums.

The Israel Museum opened its doors in 1965 and it is the largest and most important cultural institution in Israel.

Don't try to do the entire museum in a day, because this museum campus is more like seven museums in one!

The Shrine of the Book

This striking architectural landmark houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. The white, curved roof is designed to recall the shape of the covers of the clay jars in which the scrolls were found. Next to it is a rectangular black stone wall. Together these architectural elements allude to one of the famous Dead Sea scrolls, "The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness."

Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Underground, beneath the white roof, you can see a rotating exhibit of some of the scrolls. The exhibit at the center of the hall was designed to hold the most famous Dead Sea scroll, the Book of Isaiah. However, being displayed vertically was damaging the ancient manuscript. It was soon replaced by a facsimile. August 2008 was the first time the actual Isaiah scroll was displayed publicly in many years.

Below the hall are more recent manuscripts, including the priceless, mysterious Aleppo Codex. It is over a thousand years old and is thought to be the Bible that Maimonides used when he wrote his famous commentaries. (Read more about the dark mystery surrounding it in Matti Friedman's book The Aleppo Codex, In Pursuit of one of the World's Most Coveted, Sacred and Mysterious Books.)

The Model of Jerusalem

Israel Museum model of Jerusalem c. 70 CE

This 1/50 scale model depicts ancient Jerusalem in the year 66 C.E., four years before the destruction of the Second Temple.

The model is close to my heart, because it used to be displayed in the gardens of the Holy Land Hotel, where I stayed during my very first visit to Jerusalem. It was as I stood near the model that I decided one day I would surely make Jerusalem my home. The Holy Land Hotel is no more, its owners having razed it in favor of a luxury appartment complex. The model was relocated to its new home at the Israel Museum and I have to say its new setting is perfect.

Walking around the model is a wonderful aid in bringing to life the archaeological sites you may visit around the city.

The Billy Rose Art Garden

This garden - an artwork itself, designed by landscape artist Isamu Noguchi - was donated by Billy Rose to display the sculpture collection he gave to the museum. Scattered throughout the garden are works by some of the most famous sculptors of the late 19th and 20th centuries, including Henry Moore, Rodin, Picasso, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana, and Aristide Maillol, just to cite a few.

Henry Moore sculpture in Jerusalem

The Youth Wing

Here you'll find an ever changing collection of exhibits and interactive programs for children. There are also workshops, art studios and a library of illustrated books.

Youth Wing at Israel Museum in Jerusalem

For listings of special children's activities, especially during school holidays, see the museum's website.

The Israel Museum Archaeology Collections

The Israel Museum can boast one of the world's most extensive archaeology collections. The exhibits focus mostly on local archaeology, starting with the prehistoric era all the way through to the Roman Empire.

Canaanite lion frieze at Israel Museum

For more Biblical archaeology, make sure to visit the City of David as well.

Judaica and Jewish Ethnography Wing

This is the world's largest collection of Jewish ceremonial art, displaying the incredible variety and richness of Jewish culture.

The Bezalel Art Wing

Under this roof alone you'll find four different department, which could each be a museum of its own! There is a department of European Art and Modern Art, a department of Israeli and Contemporary Art that includes Design and Architecture, a department of Photography and Drawing, and a department of Asian, African and American Art.

Hours:

Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs 10 am – 5 pm
Tues 4–9 pm
Fri and holiday eves 10 am – 2 pm
Sat and holidays 10 am – 5 pm

Admission is free for kids on Tues afternoons and Saturdays.

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