The Dorot Jewish Division was established as a distinct collection with funding contributed by Jacob Schiff in 1897, just two years after the formation of The New York Public Library. Abraham S. Freidus, cataloger of the Astor Library's rich collection of Judaica, was appointed the Division's first chief and presided over its rapid growth for twenty five years. The Library's foundation for collections on Jewish subjects in Hebrew and other languages was provided by holdings from the Astor and Lenox libraries. This existing nucleus was quickly expanded by the acquisition of the private libraries of Leon Mandelstamm, Meyer Lehren, and Isaac Meyer, as well as some holdings of the Aguilar Free Library, a small public library system operated by a group of philanthropic Jews in the nineteenth century that merged with The New York Public Library in 1903. By the early 1900s the Dorot Jewish Division already rivaled the oldest and best Jewish libraries in Europe.
In subsequent years the Division continued to grow by purchases, gifts of books, and contributions of funds. In 1983, for example, a gift from the estate of New York City realtor Jacob Perlow established an endowment fund which partially supports acquisitions, conservation, and public services. In 1986 the Dorot Foundation endowed the position of the Chief of the Division, and the following year the S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation made a substantial gift for renovation and new technology. Today the Dorot Jewish Division contains a comprehensive and balanced chronicle of the religious and secular history of the Jewish people in over a quarter of a million books, microforms, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, and ephemera from all over the world.