No Friend of Bacteria: A Letter from Louis Pasteur

This is the story of a promising young student who became the “father of microbiology”, but it didn’t happen by accident; a personal tragedy spurred Louis Pasteur to search for cures for infectious diseases

Louis Pasteur was not born into a family of means. Growing up poor, he received a Catholic education and did not particularly excel at his studies. No one imagined that he would become one of the most prominent scientists of all time for his contribution to the field of medicine.

In his early teens, Louis’ interest in reading grew and he eventually became his own schoolteacher’s assistant. At sixteen, he moved to Paris for his studies, but an acute case of homesickness led him to return home. He enrolled in a local college and successfully completed his bachelor’s degree in science in 1840 and master’s in science in 1842. The next year, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of attending the prestigious École Supérieure Normale (after having failed his first attempt at acceptance).

A portrait medal of Louis Pasteur, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1846, Pasteur began his research in the field of crystallography (the scientific study of crystals), for which he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1853 for his discovery of the differences in the crystal structure of the two enantiomers of tartaric acid. At age twenty-seven, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

An autographed photograph of Louis Pasteur, 1891, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

While teaching at the university, the brilliant young scientist met Marie Laurent, the daughter of the university’s rector. They married on the 29th of May, 1849 and began working together, with Marie assisting in scientific experiments. Their future seemed very bright, until tragedy struck. Three of the Pasteur’s five children died from typhoid, not unusual for that time, but Pasteur swore he would do everything in his power to find a cure for communicable diseases.

In 1854, he was appointed dean of the faculty of sciences at the University of Lille, the same year he began his study of fermentation. In the framework of his research, he came up with a solution to the problem of bacteria. His idea eventually led to a process that would significantly reduce the presence of bacteria in milk, wine, beer, fruit juices and honey.  In this process, liquid (milk, for example) is heated rapidly – almost to the boiling point, and immediately cooled. The purpose is to kill harmful viruses and organisms such as bacteria, protozoans and fungi that are present in the liquid without compromising the liquid’s nutritional value or taste. Beyond extending the shelf life of the liquid, the process helps to prevent disease. This process, which we call pasteurization, was named for its inventor – Louis Pasteur. For his work, Pasteur was awarded the prestigious Rumford Medal in 1856.

Louis Pasteur

The National Library of Israel is in possession of a rare letter sent by Pasteur himself to an unknown recipient, referred to simply as “Monsieur,” which was written, in French, at some point between 1868 and 1869, and which reveals that at that time of its writing, Pasteur was deeply engaged in the further development of the pasteurization process:

“[B]efore anything, and as I mentioned in my last message to you, I ask that you take note of the necessity of performing the heating of the bottles inside the large-scale heating containers; and remember the fact which the professional committee finally agreed upon at the last wine tasting, that the color of the wine that was heated when protected from air was stronger and even somewhat darker than that of the same wine when it remained unchanged and unheated. One can get an idea of the speed of the oxygenation of the wine by looking at the exact experiments appearing in my publications. Do not forget that the wine in bottles or in any other vessel, after it has been sealed a few days before, and after moving it from vessel to vessel to remove the sediment, will, during its decomposition, contain only nitrogen or carbonic acid and no trace of oxygen, but will contain oxygen the very moment it comes into contact with air. Furthermore, bear in mind that the solubility of gases is proportional to pressure.

Finally, it is best to remember that the wine, at the first removal of sediment after the end of fermentation, is saturated with only carbonic acid gas; also on this point refer to my publication “Etudes sur le vin” – the amount of dissolved carbonic acid, at this moment, is so great and so ready to be released that it might resist the intake of air in your device.

I am far from being against cooling after heating. Here again, one must take into account the oxidation process. With the reduction in volume in a barrel, air will penetrate, however it is perfectly clear, from the point of view of preservation principles, that it is safer to fill while heating; but the germs of the wine development process are many and much more active than those created by the air. Through heating, the wine has acquired such features of preservation as to allow, in most cases, even further maneuvering at a later date without great danger to its preservation. In short, with regard to the practice of immediate cooling after heating it will be possible to formulate an opinion after the accumulation of [data from] experiments. In the current state of affairs, I am far from doubting the wisdom of this practice. When heated in a bottle it is clear that the process is more or less natural and certainly not harmful here…”

The four-page letter Pasteur wrote to an anonymous recipient on October 20th (no year is recorded), the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Pasteur did not stop there. His contributions spanned a variety of fields and even included the development of a vaccine for rabies. The first successful experiment with the vaccine was performed on a sick child on July 6th, 1885. Following the experiment’s success, he received inquiries from across Europe from people who had been bitten by wild animals.

In 1887, Pasteur founded the medical research institute which bears his name to this day, and which he headed until his death in 1895. Long after his passing, his name is still familiar thanks to his discoveries relating to the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. The Pasteur Institute continues the work he began: developing vaccines and drugs to fight disease, including current research being conducted in the hopes of developing a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Friedman and Sharon Assaf for their assistance with translation.


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Making Japanese Washi Paper

The members of the National Library's Conservation and Restoration Department make sure they are constantly up to date, even when it concerns the most ancient traditions; recently, they attended a workshop dedicated to the secrets of making Japanese washi paper

The Conservation and Restoration team making Washi paper in the traditional method

The National Library’s Department of Conservation and Restoration is in charge of preserving and restoring rare items in the Library’s collections, as well as halting processes of deterioration and erosion, in order to conserve the items for future generations. This delicate work is an art form in itself, with techniques and knowledge that have evolved over centuries. Our Conservation and Restoration department, like many conservation departments around the world, uses Japanese washi paper to restore various items. Marcela Szekely, the department’s director, explains the many uses and advantages of washi paper: “Every item that arrives at the department is carefully examined and the Japanese paper used for repairs is strictly selected according to it thickness, coloring, and fiber length. Washi paper is very versatile and has many uses in restoration: patching together paper tears, filling in missing parts, and even restoring book covers. Other disciplines in the world of restoration have also discovered the wonders of Japanese washi paper and it is also used in the restoration of objects, ceramics, textiles, and more.”

Marcela Szekely, director of the Conservation and Restoration Department, tries her hand at papermaking

Members of the National Library team recently met with Izhar Neumann from “Izhar Neumann Paper Making Studio,” at his workshop in the village of Yanuh-Jat in northern Israel. Izhar is an artist who specializes in creating washi paper. He lived in Japan for many years, where he worked with master paper-makers and learned traditional techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Izhar brought these methods to Israel, where he opened his workshop and planted paper mulberry trees – otherwise known as Japanese kozo (楮) plants – which are then made into flexible, strong paper with delicate, natural textures.

Japanese washi paper can only be made by using either kozo plants or close substitutes like the mitsumata shrub and the gampi tree. In any case, the first step towards creating your own washi paper begins with the planting of a tiny seed! – These perceptive words are my own; to the best of my knowledge, they were not uttered by a wise old Japanese man, but who knows? – So if you’ve read this far, you already understand that washi paper isn’t made of rice, as are other forms of Japanese paper used in art. It is extremely important to maintain a strict production process, especially if you want excellent results. If the process is completed correctly, it produces a very strong and flexible paper characterized by long fibers which can blend wonderfully with the original paper of the item being restored.

The department members with the finished product; Izhar Neumann Paper Making Studio, Yanuh-Jat

It is very difficult to make paper at home, and it’s important to remember that this is a process involving various substances. Therefore, if you don’t have the knowledge, we suggest you don’t try this at home. Nevertheless, just for the sake of accumulating new knowledge – here is how you prepare washi paper using the traditional method:

The first step, as alluded to earlier, is to grow the paper mulberry trees until they reach the right size. It is important that they reach a precise stage in their growth – on the one hand, not to over-grow them, while on the other hand, giving them enough time to reach the appropriate size.

Hagar Milman from the Conservation and Restoration Department separates the paper from a bamboo mat using the traditional method

After showering love and attention on the branches of the kozo tree, we prune the pinkish branches and cut them. This must also be done in a very precise and focused manner. Then, it’s time to start “cooking” the paper.

First, we handle the raw material. After collecting the kozo branches, they are soaked in water and treated with various substances.

The Japanese prepare the paper mainly during the winter, as the cold water helps soften the wood fibers during the production process. This is why the National Library team chose a wintry, overcast day to travel to Izhar’s workshop. Izhar recalled that when he studied the technique in Japan, the students would work in the workshops during the winter for hours in order to make use of the cold water. After that, they would plunge their hands into hot water, in a pot placed on the oven, in order to warm them quickly. The library staff members were seated around a low wooden table and Izhar began working with the group on the various stages of paper preparation. The method remains the same. The only difference is that a group of Israelis sat around the table, instead of a group of Japanese.

After soaking the branches, we separate the bark from the branch, and collect the fibers at its core. Although Izhar does this quickly and mechanically, we must keep in mind that he’s highly experienced and that he’s using a sharp, dangerous tool. So don’t try to peel the bark without going through proper training.

After collecting the core strips of the kozo branches, which look like long white hairs, soak them in water, stir occasionally, and then, take out a cluster of fibers and squash them together. After that, squeeze the mass with your hands to extract the water from it.

Now comes the fun part: pounding the pulp with a meat tenderizer or some other wooden hammer. Just take out all your frustration on that poor pulp, (“Take that! And that! That’ll teach you!”) before it is then placed in a big tub filled with water where it is boiled with the required substances – don’t forget to mix!

Now it’s time to get your hands dirty.  At this point, grab a bamboo mat which has been attached to a wooden frame and start making paper! By using a distinctive movement that consists of pushing the frame into water, tilting it at a certain angle, pulling it out, and straining the water – the kozo wood fibers are extracted from the water, and in turn merge into a beautiful strip of paper. The person performing this action also controls the thickness of the final paper.

After achieving the desired thickness, take the frame out of the water, and by using skilled movements and a specific technique (which we thought bore a resemblance to working with a sushi mat), separate the bamboo mat from the frame and place it on the drying paper. After accumulating a pile, the papers are pressed in order to get rid of the excess water. Now all that’s left to do is place the damp paper onto upright wooden boards and wait for it to dry.


At the end of a long day at the workshop, the Conservation and Restoration team returned to the library with a cache of practical knowledge and with their own stock of washi paper, which they can use in their various assignments. This traditional technique of paper preparation is hundreds of years old, and to this day, many workshops like Izhar’s can be found in Japan. Experiencing how to make paper from scratch, and understanding the complicated process and the necessary amount of hours required, contributed greatly to the knowledge and experience of our Conservation and Restoration team, who now have a new-found appreciation for the material which they paste into various restored manuscripts and books. The ctrl+p keys on our keyboards will never again be taken for granted!

Japanese paper of varying thickness prepared by the members of the Conservation and Restoration team
Video and photos: Haim Shushan, the Conservation and Restoration Department at the National Library of Israel


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Historic Caricatures of Haganah Prisoners in British Custody

On the morning of October 5th, 1939, 43 members of a Haganah officer’s training course found themselves in handcuffs and being led by the British army to Acre prison; This is the album that tells their story

Putting aside the introduction and the assortment of press clippings, one might think that the album of the “Haganah 43” (the Haganah was the largest Jewish paramilitary organization in Mandatory Palestine between 1920 and 1948) was just another soldier’s yearbook filled with stories of their heroic deeds, funny caricatures, and photographs of smiling young men – the kind of military service that might be the envy of many.

“In the early dawn hours of October 5th, 1939, catastrophe struck during a secret military exercise in the Lower Galilee: Without warning, we were surrounded, stripped of our weapons and escorted to Acre prison where the gates shut with a bang behind us. It was a very different, not to mention much longer and much more tormenting ending than originally planned to officer’s training course No. 2…”

The introduction to the album, apparently written by Moshe Carmel

The detention coincided with the end of the collaboration between the British military and the Haganah during the Arab uprisings of 1936–1939, after which the British forces once again considered the Haganah one of a number of underground movements in the country that needed to be suppressed. The 43 detainees were taking part in a commander’s course at Yavniel, which was disguised as an innocent “Hapoel” physical training course. Many considered the severity of the sentence as the embodiment of the Mandatory regime’s malicious caprice—42 of the detainees were sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Avshalom Tao, who had pointed his weapon at the British, was sentenced to life.

They were taken first to Acre Prison and from there to Mizra Detention Camp. The detainees, who often referred to themselves as prisoners, testified that the sentencing was carried out “by a swift military tribunal which had the air of a rubber-stamp procedure”. Even worse than the conditions of their detention was the timing of the  Mandatory government’s decision to “impose years-long sentences on the 43 young Jewish defense officers,” one month into World War II, “when the Jewish community was summoned to mobilize  all its forces against Nazism, which was rising up to enslave the world and destroy our people.”

It was all true; everything was serious and urgent. And yet, it’s hard not to take note of the atmosphere of brotherhood, and dare we say, frivolity and humor that characterizes the album – once you get past the somber introduction. Let’s take a look.

The Haganah album in the Library’s collection was given as a memento to Major General Yohanan Ratner, a leader of the Haganah and an architect in civilian life. It opens with a  “memorial” page of sorts showing three detainees (from right to left) – Yaakov Gordon, Mordechai Plutchnik and Shlomo Ben Yehuda – who had fallen during their service in the Haganah, following their release from Acre Prison.

“In Memoriam to the members who fell in the fulfillment of their duties after the release”

On the next page, we find the course commanders (who were imprisoned with their cadets) – their names are not noted on the page. With the help of Omri Shabtai, we were able to identify the prisoner on the far right who appears above the caption “Supervisor” (the English word transliterated into Hebrew letters – סופרויזר). This was the prisoners’ representative in dealing with the prison’s staff. He would go on the serve as the IDF’s fourth Chief of Staff, as well as Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Defense – the “Supervisor” was none other than Moshe Dayan, then just 24 years old.

Above and to the left of Dayan, dribbling a soccer ball, is Moshe Zelitsky (Carmel), who would go on to command the IDF’s Carmeli Brigade during Israel’s War of Independence, capturing Acre and the prison which had held him, among other exploits. To the left of Carmel is Raphael Lev, who commanded the officer’s course which had been interrupted by the arrest of the 43. Lev was a former battalion commander in the Austrian army and had also been active in the Republikanischer Schutzbund paramilitary organization.

On the bottom-left is “The Mukhtar” – Yaakov Salomon – who was the Haganah prisoners’ representative to the Arab prisoners being held at the facility.

“The commanders” – Moshe Dayan, the “Supervisor”, is on the far right

The picture below appears to show three of the prisoners “In Full Costume”, as the Hebrew caption suggests, wearing ponchos and mischievous smirks while brandishing buckets and a broom. The exact significance of the episode remains unclear, however.

“In Full Costume”

One page of the album is dedicated to the Jerusalemite prisoners, while others are devoted to those hailing from the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Below is the kibbutznik page, which includes portraits of prisoners answering to such nicknames as: “Ulcer” (top right); “The Ballerina and the Hummus” (bottom-center); “Bunny” (bottom-left); and the “Preacher” of the group (top left).

“The Kibbutzniks”


The captions below the sketches read, from right to left, “Bad,Bad, Bad!”, “Who knows?” and “Oy vavoy!”. The photo on the left features Moshe Dayan on the right, as well as an unclear caption – ואפטימזס

Without an expert to help guide us through the album, many of the cryptic quotes and phrases remain unsolved puzzles: for example, on the next-to-last page, who are “The Captain and the Snakes”?

“The Captain and the Snakes”

At the end of the album is a press clipping reporting the joyous news: “The 43 are Being Released Today,” after almost a year and a half of pressure from Jewish leaders on the Mandatory authorities.

The 43 were freed on February 17th, 1941. According to the article: “From yesterday morning, small cars and busses filled with the prisoners’ families, friends and acquaintances flowed into the central bay near Acre. The kibbutz was designated as the greeting point, where they dined at noon.”

“The 43 Are Being Released Today”

Four months after their release, former detainee Moshe Dayan would find himself with an elite Palmach force in Syria, alongside British forces, in an operation in which he would lose his left eye.


Do you know the context of the drawings in the album? Can you provide us with more information? Feel free to write in the comments below or contact: [email protected]


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Marcia Freedman and the Fight Against Domestic Violence in Israel

Transcripts of the first-ever Knesset session dedicated to domestic violence against women reveals how indifferent, detached and even cynical Israeli politicians of the 1970s were when it came to this subject

Marcia Freedman, GPO

“The Knesset took a short break yesterday from the “heavy” topics to hear (with a half-grin, for some reason) about a particular kind of violence: ‘Women battered by their husbands’.”

Maariv daily, July 15th, 1976



Member of Knesset (MK) Avraham Givelber, the Deputy Speaker, who chaired the session:

Members of the Knesset, we move on to the next item on the agenda, presented by MK Marcia Freedman, regarding ‘women battered by their husbands.’ Permission to speak is granted to MK Freedman.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

Honorable Speaker, honorable Knesset – – –

Mordechai Ben-Porat (Alignment party):

What about the other issue, husbands who are battered by their wives?

Meir Pa’il (Moked party):

If a woman beats her husband, the husband should be arrested.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

I’m surprised you find this matter so amusing, and this proves exactly what I have to say today.


At the Knesset: ‘Women Battered by Their Husbands’… Discussion held in an unserious atmosphere…Davar daily, July 15th, 1976. Click to view the full article

Though it may be hard to believe, this was how the first discussion ever to be held in the Israeli parliament on the topic of domestic violence against women began. When MK Marcia Freedman raised the issue, she surely did not imagine her colleagues at the Knesset would find it entertaining. The minutes of the session show that instead of dealing with the problem, the MKs repeatedly responded with ridicule and laughter, raising “objections” by interjecting that women too, beat their husbands.


Minister of Health Victor Shem-Tov (Alignment party):

If a woman reports to the police that her husband beats her, do the police open a case file?

Minister of Police, Shlomo Hillel (Alignment party):


Pesah Grupper (Likud party):

And if the case is the other way around, and a man reports that his wife beats him, is a file opened then, too?

Meir Pa’il (Moked party):

There are some husbands it might do good to be beaten by their wives.

Minister of Health Shem-Tov:

MK Grupper, you don’t look like the kind of guy whose wife beats him.

Minister of Police Hillel:

You haven’t seen his wife – how do you know?

The minutes show how Freedman had to convince those present there was even a problem at hand. Even the minister responsible for these matters didn’t see what there was to discuss.

Minister of Police Hillel:

In all seriousness… I cannot say that there is a specific problem of violence inflicted by men against their wives.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

That’s the problem – that you don’t see it.

Yitzhak Golan (Independent Liberals party):

This has been a problem since the days of Ahasuerus and Vashti.

Minister of Police Hillel:

As I said, this problem is one of the many issues of violence in our society.

Mathilda Guez (Alignment):

It seems this is a very amusing topic.


‘The Knesset Discussed the Matter of Husbands Who Beat Their Wives’ Maariv daily, July 15th, 1976. Click to view the full article


Despite the “light” atmosphere and the common belief that the phenomenon was not one that required any special attention, Marcia Freedman did not hesitate, and  gave a riveting, shocking speech that created an opportunity to deal seriously with the matter for the first time in Israeli history:


In Shakespeare’s day, the law stated: ‘If a man beats a criminal, a traitor, an apostate, a villain or his wife – it is not considered a violation of the law.’ Today, the law and the police rightly protect all people from violent assaults, including criminals, traitors, apostates and villains. However, a married woman is still left forsaken, at the mercy of her husband, who may beat her more often than we may imagine.

Because of the conspiracy of silence regarding this issue, we do not have substantiated information as to the extent of the problem in this country. The police do not keep a record of most reports because, according to them, most injuries are limited to ‘bruises’, causing no bleeding or broken bones. Therefore, according to police policy, this kind of violence is not considered a matter of public interest.

Despite the conspiracy of silence, the estimated number of battered women in Israel is in the thousands rather than in the hundreds. A British parliamentary committee investigated the issue in England and found that one in a hundred men regularly assault their wives. There is no reason to assume our situation is any better. It is important to understand that violence against women is not a phenomenon restricted to poor neighborhoods or development towns.


Freedman did not hesitate to confront the police who demonstrated a forgiving approach to such violence:


When a woman turns to the police, she faces humiliating, belittling treatment. She is usually told, ‘This is not an issue of public interest. We don’t deal with domestic matters.’ Sometimes, if an officer considers himself something of a psychologist or moral keeper, he may say, ‘If you had behaved, he wouldn’t have hit you. Try to be nicer to him.’


Upon conclusion of the discussion, two proposals were put forth: The first, proposed by the Minister of Police himself, was that the topic not be included in the Knesset’s agenda. The second proposal was to assign the matter to the relevant Knesset committee. The result of the vote was 20:9, and Marcia Freedman’s proposition was accepted. And so, the issue of battered women went from being regarded as a matter “unworthy of public interest” to an official problem acknowledged by the Knesset and state authorities.

For MK Marcia Freedman, promises alone did not suffice. She was among the founders of Israel’s first shelter for battered women and a pioneer in the field of women’s rights in Israel.


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