Every year, Hei Tevet, the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, is celebrated around the world as a “festival of the books.” On this day, countless men, women and children rededicate themselves to the study of Torah and the pursuit of Jewish knowledge with a particular focus on purchasing new books, repairing old ones, and expanding individual and communal libraries.

The annual event falls out in December or January and marks the Hebrew date in 1987 when a federal district court unequivocally ruled that the vast and rare library accumulated and rescued from Europe by the Sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—belonged, as the Rebbe himself did, to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as a whole.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s son-in-law and successor, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—had taken the initial charges that the Sixth Rebbe’s priceless library was someone’s personal property very seriously (Read the complete story of Hei Tevet), and upon the court’s ruling on in favor of the Chabad movement, dancing and singing broke out around the world. The Rebbe acknowledged this outpouring of joy, but on the first anniversary of the court ruling highlighted that it was not enough that the texts had been recovered, but that they must be studied.

“According to worldly conventions,” he said on the first anniversary of Hei Tevet, “the victory of an expensive object, like precious stones and diamonds, is celebrated by giving it more respect: guarding it in the most dignified place, so that no-one will touch it, and surely not to use it. ... But according to Torah the victory of holy books ... is by using them and learning from them even more—the more they are used, the more dignity they have, even if they become worn out and torn from use.”

The Rebbe’s emphasis on books and library expansion during this period built upon a mitzvah campaign he had introduced in 1974 known as Bayit Malei Sefarim, “Home Filled with Jewish Books.” It was a call for all Jews, young and old, to surround themselves with holy books and thereby make the books a part of their lives.

The aura of the home

Every home has its own aura. Whether a Manhattan penthouse, a Spanish-tiled California mansion, a suburban development or a Texas ranch, each structure has a certain feel, a conscious or subconscious aesthetic that places the space’s occupants and visitors in a certain atmosphere.

People are constantly searching for ways to enhance their homes; they want their surroundings to evoke a certain mood, and that it should reflect their histories and families, their personalities and passions. Whether they favor something rustic, classic or modern, homey or industrial, their choice of color schemes, furniture, wall decorations and knick-knacks (or lack thereof) are all part of the greater story of who they are.

A simple glance around a room can teach you much about the person or people living there—be they students or scholars, single people just starting out in life or leading established families. It is a reflection not only of who they are, but who they want to be. Even more, in addition to completing the individual’s image, their surroundings actually play a distinct role in forming them.

It thus follows that a Jewish home is filled with Jewish articles and decorations. Certainly, there is a mezuzah on the door (though this is more than just a matter of decoration). But walk into a Jewish home and very often you’ll find aesthetic pointers to their identity: perhaps a menorah on the mantle or a Passover Seder plate in a breakfront. You might find a painting of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a wrought-iron Star of David or a Jewish-themed tapestry.

Above all, it is Torah books and Jewish texts that take center stage in the Jewish home. The most important element for the “People of the Book,” is, well, books!

The Rebbe’s call

In the winter of 1973-74, during the months following Israel’s Yom Kippur War, the Rebbe began campaigning for a boost of spiritual morale and protection for both the Israeli military and the Jewish people in Israel and around the world.

Some six year earlier, in the runup to the 1967 Six-Day War, the Rebbe had spoken of the spiritual power of tefillin, especially in the face of an existential war, launching what would become the tefillin campaign. Now, the Rebbe began stressing additional mitzvahs campaigns were in order. That year, the Rebbe laid out the first five of these campaigns: 1. He reiterated the importance of encouraging Jewish men and boys to don tefillin; 2. all Jews to study Torah; 3. have mezuzahs on their doorpost; 4. to give tzedakah (i.e., charity); and 5. fill their home with Jewish books. All of these concrete mitzvahs serve to protect the individual, their family and their home, but with each one the Rebbe explained them in greater detail and added multiple dimensions.

The Rebbe explained that in addition to the inherent spiritual value of each of these mitzvahs, the individual’s intellect must be engaged in these initiatives as well. As a way of expanding on the Torah-study campaign, the Rebbe spoke of the importance of making Torah books available for everyone and making sure to have them displayed prominently in every Jewish home and in every child’s room.

This call was formally initiated by the Rebbe during his talk on the Shabbat of Bamidbar, 1974 (May 25) and given the name Bayit Malei Sefarim, or “A Home Full of Books.” It was a call for Jews the world over to fill their homes both literally and figuratively with Torah and prayer.

First and foremost, the Rebbe saw this campaign as a pragmatic strategy to enable every Jew to study Torah and make it more present and more paramount in their lives. As a start, he stated, every Jewish ought to have a siddur (prayer book), Chumash (Five Books of Moses) and Tehillim (Psalms), connecting Jews in a very tangible way to these foundations of their heritage. (Together with these books, the Rebbe mentioned the need for every Jewish home to have a charity box as well). He also reasoned that if Jewish books are lining their walls, sitting on their coffee tables and in their children’s bookshelves, people would inevitably take a peek inside and begin their journey into the depths of Jewish wisdom.

But the Rebbe took it further. A home that is “full” of books means a home that is defined by its books—a home where the books fill the entire essence of the home. A home full of Torah books becomes a home defined by the Torah itself.

A Torah home positively impacts the children being raised in the home and on visitors to the home. The books contained also have a profound effect on the owners of the home. Even books that are bought primarily as decorations or “just to have,” consciously and subconsciously have a tremendous effect on how the inhabitants view themselves and their small sanctuary.

The following Shabbat, the Rebbe discussed yet another advantage to filling one’s home with Torah books: the blessings they bring. Many prayers traditionally recall the Jewish people’s saintly predecessors with the idea that they stand alongside the supplicant during his or her time of judgment and draw down G‑d’s blessings in their merit; wouldn’t reminders of the supplicant’s own good deeds and prayers do the same? Indeed, each of the holy books in which an individual has buried their mind and poured out their heart, stand in their home as a firm testament to their own good deeds and merits, thus bringing an aura of blessing and G‑dliness into the home and onto the individual’s family. “These are not only reminders of the deeds of our ancestors but their very own merits,” the Rebbe explained, “signs of the good deeds or study he engaged in moments earlier, or a day earlier.” The reminders of these deeds in the world below have a tremendous impact in the world above as well.

Through Bayit Malei Sefarim, the Rebbe was encouraging the Jewish people to connect to their heritage and birthright through the holy books that had sustained them for millenia, books which would themselves stand as a testament to the People of the Book’s inherent relationship with the Torah—G‑d’s gift to the chosen people. This simple but profound action would in effect transform every Jewish house into a Jewish home—a G‑dly sanctuary and a source of blessing and Jewish spirit.

Studies have shown ...

“How far back can I trace my love of books and libraries?” Israel’s third president Zalman Shazar asks in his 1967 memoir, “To the time, I believe, when at the age of eight or nine, I was permitted on the eve of Passover to help Father air his books and dust them to make sure that they were absolutely free of leaven.”

Writing more than half a century later, Shazar would still recall how his father’s holy books were arranged, despite the lack of a written catalog. “It was self-understood that the Tanya, small and thin as it was, should stand alongside the large Torah-Ohr, so well bound in black cloth, and in the vicinity of the Likutei Torah, which resembled the Torah-Ohr in size and binding … . Then there was the Old Rabbi’s large Siddur, two square volumes full of wine stains on the pages that contained the Passover Haggadah, and spotted with tears where the Rosh Hashanah Amidah prayer appeared.”

Anecdotal evidence of this sort testifying to the impact of a home library on a child’s development has long been around, but recent academic studies, conducted years after the Rebbe’s call, concluded that there is an undeniably strong relationship between a home full of books and a child’s academic success.

One such study, led by University of Nevada-Reno sociologist Dr. Mariah Evans, together with teams from the Australian National University and the University of California, Los Angeles, explores the effects of home libraries on the development and progress of children growing up. The 20-year-study’s conclusions found that no matter in which of the 42 countries where the research had taken place, no matter the culture, socioeconomic status, or the academic level of the parents, children with more books in the home will read better, achieve higher academically and overall succeed more.

A home full of books makes clear the values, culture, and atmosphere of the home for all of its inhabitants, children and adults alike. A home that respects learning will plant the seeds of education in the children raised there. Similarly, a home that reveres Torah books and teachings will have a strong, positive effect on the family living within.

The 2017 study (which expanded on an earlier 2010 study) further highlights that every added book has a commensurate additional effect on the child’s education. Even when a home has already been classified as a “bookish” one, there is no cap to the number of books, and each book acquired leads to even better results. Further, the very act of buying books proves the value of learning to the children in a way similar to owning them.

Not coincidentally, the Rebbe underlined this same idea speaking on 5 Tevet, 5751 (Dec. 22, 1991), when he delved into the meaning of the campaign’s name, Bayit Malei Sefarim—“A Home filled With Books.” He explained that this meant quite literally full, the ultimate goal being that every inch of the home be packed with Torah books. To fill a home completely with Jewish books would require that it contain nearly every Torah book ever printed, the pursuit of which could never be satisfied. In other words, the appetite with which an individual approached building their Jewish library and the shaping of their Torah-rich environment needed to be like the pursuit of Torah study itself—endless.

The mitzvah of owning books

From the beginning, the Rebbe stressed that “A Home Filled With Books” was not only a personal endeavor but a communal one. He thus spoke of the need to open Jewish libraries across the globe, each providing collections of books on Jewish subjects, and offering classes and lectures on a range of Torah topics.

The Rebbe further elucidated the vast impact and importance of building a Jewish library. For example, in 1981, the Rebbe explained its connection to the unique commandment written near the very end of the Torah—the obligation for everyone to write for themselves a Torah scroll. The Rebbe later edited these talks, and they were distributed for Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, and appears in Likkutei Sichot Vol. 23.

Quoting the opinions of the 13th-century sage Rabbeinu Asher (the Rosh) and the 16th-century halachic arbiter Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rama), the Rebbe explained that one does not need to write a Torah scroll themselves to fulfill the commandment, but may fulfill it by owning Torah books. Since, as the sages explain, the commandment is meant to foster not the writing of a Torah scroll but its easy access and study, one could fulfill their obligation by having Torah books in their possession—the more the books, the better the fulfillment of this mitzvah.

The Rebbe also noted that the commandment does not differentiate between rich or poor, wise or simple, and so by having a home full of books every Jew was able to fulfill the commandment and connect to G‑d through His Torah.

The victory of the books

It was the events of 1985-87 and the court ruling that the priceless Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad belonged to the Chabad movement that transformed the fifth of Tevet into the holiday of the books and thus synonymous with Bayit Malei Sefarim. To celebrate what the Rebbe called a victory of the books, the Rebbe once again urged everyone to add Torah books to their libraries and partake in the yearly celebration in an especially meaningful way.

In the following years, the Rebbe urged everyone to buy books on the fifth of Tevet, highlighting the importance of buying, owning and utilizing Torah books. The victory of the books was not a legal triumph in a property dispute, but rather the victory of Torah books and Torah study, and ought to be celebrated that way. In the years since, Kehot Publication Society has conducted a massive annual sale in support of the Rebbe’s campaign to fill every Jewish home with as many books as possible.

‘People of the Book’

Throughout the generations, many cultures have viewed books as fountains of life and windows to deeper dimensions, items to collect and cherish. The rich and powerful amassed great libraries for themselves, opening them up to the elite few who could and would make use of them.

It was the Jews who, true to their age-old moniker as “People of the Book,” democratized the printed word. Jewish books were for everyone, rich and poor, a central conduit for their heritage. In the modern era the Rebbe expounded on Judaism’s perspective, stating that a library, and the consequent study and education that comes with it, isn’t just for academics or philosophers, but rather an avenue for every Jew to enjoy the richness of the Torah’s teachings.

Torah is the inheritance of every Jew and must take its rightful place in the Jewish person’s home and life. By lining his or her shelves with Torah books, continuously growing their collection, year by year, book by book, the individual transforms their house into a Jewish home—“A Home Full of Books.”


Sichot Kodesh 5734 Vol. 1-2 (19 Kislev, Vayeshev, Zot Chanukah, 10 Shevat, Bamidbar, Naso)
Likkutei Sichot Vol. 23 (17-26)
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5748 (Vol. 2, p. 173)
Torat Menachem Hitvaduyot 5751 (Vol. 1, pp. 96, 103)
‘Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 Nations,’ Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, June 2010
‘Scholarly Culture and Academic Performance in 42 Nations,’ Social Forces, June 2014.
‘Redefining the Home’ - A Chassidisher Derher – Tevet 5777.
A House of Books - Chabad.org