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Newsletter 16

Winter 2004


Ancient Jewish Art
Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts and Printed Books
Synagogues and Ritual Objects
Architecture: Germany, Former Yugoslavia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine
Modern Jewish Art

SPECIAL FEATURE: Tracing the Roots of Greek Jewry

Patrons and Friends
Visiting Researchers
In Memoriam


Letter from Director

The local and worldwide disturbances of the past two years have delayed the publication of this newsletter but it has not thwarted the work of the CJA. If anything, the current wave of anti-Semitism directed against Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and art objects around the world has only renewed our determination to document Jewish art wherever it is found. Now, more than ever, we must join together and save the historical visual legacy which is threatened with destruction. Our researchers are continuing their systematic work inside and outside of Israel. The documentation expeditions of the past two years to Ukraine, former Yugoslavia, Germany, Italy, Greece and Uzbekistan have been successful in enlarging our knowledge of the visual culture of these communities. In some places, evidence of Jewish life remains in the form of illuminated manuscripts, ritual objects, architecture and painting; in many, the visual culture is long gone.Working with other cultural organizations through the Council of Europe, we are enlarging our efforts to preserve Jewish visual culture through documentation and computerization. Our Save-a-Synagogue program is being broadened to include art and ritual objects, photographs, verbal and historical documentary evidence, which will give a comprehensive image of a community. We continue to document these endangered sites and objects with the help of patrons and communities sponsoring our excursions in Israel and abroad. Countless sites still await documentation and others have not had the good fortune to survive the passage of time. Our team of researchers documented the synagogues and ritual objects in the remote island of Djerba in Tunisia. Unfortunately they were not allowed to document one of the community’s most important treasures: the large synagogue of el Ghriba. This was the site of a recent terrorist attack where some twenty tourists were killed. We were recently informed that the 18th-19th century wooden synagogue in Rozalimas, Lithuania was dismantled by two businessmen who wanted its wood for a new building; we were unable to raise the necessary $2000. in time to stop this from happening.We are in a race against time to fully document those buildings and their ritual treasures which are in constant danger of abandonment, collapse or disappearance. It is an enormous endeavour, one which requires many hours of preparation and a large team of student-researchers to do the on-site documentation, the post-expedition research and finally, the input of written and visual information into the computer database. As always, the work ahead looms large, with so much yet to be uncovered and documented.Occasionally, we must stop and look back upon what has been accomplished. This newsletter gives expression to the tireless work of student-researchers and supporting staff of the Center for Jewish Art who together are moving our enterprise forward during these difficult times. We trust you will enjoy catching up on the Center's activities of the past two years.

Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin

The Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art:
Survey – Documentation - Computerization

Documenting the visual legacy of the Jewish people from antiquity to the present is the main goal of the Center for Jewish Art's "Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art" (IJA). The Index is predicated upon the understanding that the Jewish heritage is manifested in a most profound way within its art and architecture. Now, more than ever, Jewish visual culture requires the strongest advocacy. It is not only the growing anti-Semitism all over the world, but also the natural processes of decay which threaten this legacy. The danger of terrorist destruction of monuments and artifacts, as occurred in Istanbul and the island of Djerba in Tunisia, has sadly become one of the factors with which we must contend. To this end, the Index of Jewish art has documented about 250,000 items in over 39 countries and trained over 150 student-researchers.

The IJA’s methods of documentation are the same for all objects, from a tiny coin to a complex synagogue building, from treasures found in private homes to Judaica collections in museums. A project begins with an in-depth survey of the region or country, highlighting the important sites and items and those in danger of destruction. What follows is a detailed plan of the next stage of documentation formulated by team leaders. Part of the training of student-researchers is assisting in planning the expedition. Often local guides are engaged for assistance with language, logistics and local customs. Once on site, the objects are carefully measured, described and photographed by trained researchers, architects and a professional photographer. Time is limited. Precision and teamwork are paramount.

Back at the Center for Jewish Art, comparative research is carried out to determine the accuracy of the information collected and to place the item within a larger cultural context. The results of the documentation and research are input into the database of the computer accompanied by photographs. For buildings, architectural plans are drawn and reconstructions are generated on the computer, which, when relevant, include different stages of construction and renovation. An emphasis on iconography of subjects and narratives adorning objects and synagogue buildings is a significant and unique component of the Index. These recurring themes are studied and analyzed in seminars and broken down into its significant elements. The comprehensive bibliography affords further study.



The earliest depiction of the famous biblical scene “The Judgement of Solomon” (I Kings, 3, 16-28) was found in a first century dwelling in the ancient city of Pompeii. This large fresco was on loan to the Bible Lands Museum from the National Museum of Archaeology in Naples, Italy for the exhibition Images of Inspiration. Its importance and its accessibility made it a prime project for the Ancient Jewish Art Section in 2001-2002 headed by Orit Sehayek-Avital. The scene depicts the climax of the story wherein two women claim to be the real mother of the same infant, adjudicated by King Solomon and two other judges. The presence of three judges is dictated by the halakhah (Mishnah Sanhedrin IV: A). The team determined that several artists painted the scene.

Jason’s Tomb, located in the heart of Jerusalem’s Rehavia residential neighbourhood, is a tomb complex of one of the wealthy families in Jerusalem from the end of the Second Temple period (1st century B.C.E. –1st century C.E.). This complex includes two burial caves that contained the bones of about 35 people. Above the burial caves is a pyramidal structure that was reconstructed shortly after the excavations in 1956. The walls were decorated with engravings of seven-branched menorot which have been removed from the site (now exhibited at the Sir Isaac and Lady Edith Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art, Heichal Shlomo, Jerusalem) and by chalk inscriptions and drawings on the tomb’s walls, among them battleships which are almost obliterated. Thanks are due to the Israel Antiquities Authority for their cooperation.

The Ancient Jewish Art team also documented small items from the Israel Museum collection dating from the late Roman -Byzantine period. These included bronze bread stamps, clay oil lamps, glass oil flasks for pilgrims to Jerusalem and environs, and two gold glass bases from Roman catacombs bearing depictions of Sanctuary Implements.

Orit Sehayek-Avital, head of the Ancient Jewish Art section is the recipient of the Madeleine and Albert Erlanger Scholarship.
This year, Ronit Moshel, student-researcher in the section received the Cecile and Michael Greenberg Family Scholarship established by Lorna Scherzer and siblings in memory of their parents.
Galit Bennett was awarded a scholarship given by the Wolfensohn Family Foundation.




In the fall of 2000 and spring of 2001 section head Michal Sternthal and student-researcher Anna Nizza traveled to Vienna to continue the documentation of the Hebrew illuminated manuscripts in the Austrian National Library. Beginning in 1998, IJA researchers have visited Vienna four times to document this important collection of forty-nine illuminated manuscripts from Ashkenaz, Spain and Northern Italy. The items in this collection shed light upon different Jewish cultures in Europe during the Middle Ages and the 18th century. The documentation was carried out by Dr. Andreas Fingernagel and Dr. Karl-Georg Pfändtner from the Austrian National Library together with Michal Sternthal, Yaffa Levy, Anna Nizza, Alissia Fried, Guinat Spiegel and Estherlee Kanon from the CJA. Within the next year, a two-volume catalogue of this group of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts will be published by the Austrian National Library in collaboration with the CJA.

Amongst the manuscripts documented by the IJA in 2001-2002 in Vienna were nine manuscripts including six Ashkenazi manuscripts of the 14th century, one 15th century Italian manuscript, and two manuscripts from Pressburg (Bratislava) and Kittsea of the 18th century.

“Vienna Pentateuch”

Amongst the Ashkenazi manuscripts is the important “Vienna Pentateuch” which was probably produced in France c.1340 (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 28). It is interesting for its decoration as well as its contents and history. As in many Ashkenazi Pentateuchs, the main text is accompanied by haftarot and the Five Scrolls with masorah parva and magna (marginal text including the tradition of the writing and the pronunciation of the biblical text). The masorah magna is written here in micrography formed into geometric and floral motifs as well a variety of hybrids. This “Vienna Pentateuch” also includes three commentaries skillfully arranged in the margins: the Aramaic Targum, Rashi’s commentary and “Sefer ha-Gan” (the Book of the Garden). The Sefer ha-Gan was written by the tosafist (a sage of the schools of France and Germany in the 12th-14th centuries) Aaron bar Yosei bar Aaron Hacohen and rarely appears in other Ashkenazi Pentateuchs.

It is not known who copied the manuscript as there is no colophon that states the name of the scribe or patron, nor the place and date of its production. However, an inscription by the owner of the manuscript was added not long after its completion, indicating an approximate date of its creation. According to the inscription, the Pentateuch arrived in Provence after it was saved from a fire in 1348 in which all the women and children of the French community of “Malba Deshatron” perished. The owner alone was left alive since he was called to the queen of Avignon ten days before the fateful event. This Pentateuch, in addition to its beauty, bears witness to the fragility of Jewish life in 14th century Europe.

The Vienna New Year Mahzor

Another Ashkenazi manuscript documented is a mahzor for the New Year attributed to the Upper Rhine in 1344-47(Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 163). It is the first of a two-volume set for the High Holidays in which the second volume, containing prayers for the Day of Atonement, is at the National and University Library in Jerusalem (Jerusalem, JNUL, Heb. 5214, 1-3). That volume was documented by the CJA in 1995. Both volumes were written by the same scribe; the scripts, line fillers, style of writing God's name, ruling and pricking, measurement of a full page and text space are identical. The scribe was probably “Moshe” who emphasized his name in both volumes. Apparently the Vienna volume was completed by a second scribe later in the 14th century. This mahzor is attributed to the 14th century Upper Rhine School of illumination for its main decoration which consists of initial word panels on a filigree-like background of delicate, colorful scrollwork decorated with medallions encircling hybrids and various types of animals as well as some text illustrations. The panels are decorated with extending tendrils and flourishes framing the text space in the outer and inner margins. Another artist in the 15th century added a decorated initial word on the first page of the manuscript copied by the later scribe (fol. 2v).

Ka’arat Kesef and Seder Hatanim

Among the Italian manuscripts documented in the Vienna Library is a tiny 15th century manuscript (98 x 69 mm) which includes Ka’arat Kesef (The Silver Plate) by the poet Jehoseph Ezobi who lived in Provence in the 13th century and Seder Hatanim (order of marriage ceremony, Vienna, ÖNB,Cod. Hebr. 88). This manuscript which has only 16 leaves was originally part of a larger manuscript of philosophic and ethical treatises which was divided into three parts in the late 1840s by Shelomoh Gottlieb Stern of Rohoncz, Hungary. The other two parts are at the Bibliotheca Palatina in Parma (Parm. 3500, 3501).

The most important decoration of this manuscript is on the opening page (fol. 1v). The page is surrounded by a border of vegetal and floral motifs enclosing a gold panel framing the text space. The panel is divided into two compartments; the upper is an illustrative initial word panel while the lower includes the first verses of the poem. The illustrative panel depicts a father who is offering a silver plate to his child. This scene alludes to Ezobi, the poet, who wrote this poem on the occasion of his son’s marriage. The style of the decoration is typical of the northern Italian Renaissance schools of Hebrew manuscript illumination, particularly Lombardy or the Venetian school of the mid 15th century.

Gestures of Prayer

In June 2001, Michal Sternthal delivered a lecture entitled “Praying Gestures in Illuminated Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts from Italy” at the prestigious International Conference on Jewish Cultural Heritage in Ravenna. The lecture focused on praying gestures in Jewish art from ancient times until the 15th century. Various hand gestures signifying prayer appear in manuscripts, the most common being the joined hands position associated with non-Jews in prayer. Others include crossed arms and hands placed on the heart. Biblical as well as halakhic and customs literature which describe and discuss the physical manifestations of prayer was explored in relation to the depictions of the prayer in the manuscripts. One of her conclusions was that during the Middle Ages, the open gesture of raising hands to heaven as described in the Bible was replaced by new gestures such as joined hands, reflecting a more humble attitude of man towards God, characteristic of this period .

Anna Nizza is the recipient of a Tania Finkelstein scholarship.
Michal Sternthal received a Hans-Heinrich Solf scholarship.


ISRAEL: Local Treasures of Different Communities

The wealth of visual culture in Israel continues to grow with the arrival of new immigrants from around the world. The systematic documentation of Aleppan synagogues in Israel prompted Section Head Ariella Amar  and the researchers and to also undertake the documentation of Syrian, Egyptian and Karaite synagogues because of the manifold connections between these communities. In order to characterize synagogues and ritual objects in the Syrian communities, the team had to determine the similarities and differences of the Aleppo and Damascus synagogues. During the completion of the survey and documentation of Syrian synagogues and their ritual objects around Israel, the researchers found several interesting treasures: among them a group of silver dedicatory plaques characteristic of the Syrian communities which originally were attached to Torah ark curtains. Similar plaques were also found on Torah cases, including a collection of Torah cases brought secretly from Syria to Israel over the past few years. Currently being documented, they are an important additional source of information about the community’s artifacts in their native Syria.

Mexico is also part of the Syrian Jewish diaspora. While the first Jews in Mexico were conversos who arrived with the Spaniards in 1521, the majority of the current Jewish population of 40,000 derives from early 20th century immigrants from Syria, Turkey, Greece and Russia. CJA Director Prof. Aliza-Cohen-Mushlin visited Mexico this year as one of three guest lecturers of the Hebrew University and familiarized herself with the community and its synagogues. The necessity to complete our knowledge of the visual culture of the two large Syrian communities, the Aleppan and the Damascene, merits a planned expedition to Mexico.

Among the researchers working on this ongoing project is Eliad Moreh, the recipient of the Albert E. Holland scholarship and Irina Chernetsky who received a Tania Finkelstein scholarship.


Special thanks to the Vegivani Foundation which subsidized the trip to Piemonte and to Maria Modena who contributed the funds for the on-site documentation in memory of her mother Elena Mayer Levi de-Veali.

An expedition to Piemonte in Northern Italy in July 2000 was led by Ariella Amar and included researchers Einat Ron, Eliad Moreh, and Tzafra Siew, architect Boris Lekar and photographer Zev Radovan. The researchers documented three hundred ritual objects and seven synagogues in five cities: Torino, Asti, Casale Monferrato, Saluzzo and Mondovì.

While each of the seven synagogues documented in Piemonte has its own particular structure, during the documentation the team was able to define some characteristic features common to the region. For example, most of the Torah arks are within small rooms, as extensions to the back wall. These rooms are spacious enough to walk into and are surrounded by shelves on which the Torah scrolls are placed.

Six of the seven documented arks are adorned with images of Sanctuary Implements, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the seven-branched Menorah, the Shew-bread Table and the Sacrificial and Incense Altars. The implements represent both the desert Tabernacle and the Temples in Jerusalem, expressing the desire to re-establish the Temple worship.  Some of the implements appear within the ark’s doors, as seen in the Torah ark dating from 1787 in “Oratorio Israelitico” of Casale Monferrato. Other ark doors are adorned on both their inner and outer sides. An example of this is the late 17th century Torah ark of Chieri, now located in the small synagogue of Torino. The outer sides of the ark’s doors are decorated with a building representing the Temple, while the Tables of the Covenant and the Jar of Manna are depicted on the inner side. Some of the Sanctuary Implements are arranged according to their placement in the Temple; the seven-branched Menorah on the south, usually on the right-hand door, while the Shew-bread Table, on the north, is depicted on the left door. Some Sanctuary Implements also decorate ritual objects which will be discussed later.


Another interesting feature, typical of Piemontese synagogues are the octagonal bimot and their placement in the centre of the hall.  It differs completely from the bifocal synagogues of central and Northeastern Italy, where the ark and bimah are placed at the extreme ends of the hall. The 17th century synagogue in Mondovì and the former synagogue of Chieri retain the original central position of the bimah. The octagonal baldachin-like bimot are composed of a canopy supported by eight twisted columns. Some are adorned with Sanctuary Implements. In the 17th century synagogue of Asti, the bimah is now attached to the ark. In the course of CJA research, a drawing of the original ground plan from the late 17th century was discovered which revealed a large wooden bimah built in the centre of the hall, under a cupola. This discovery pointed to a change in the placement of the bimah which occurred in the second half of the 19th century in this synagogue as in other Piemontese synagogues. In the year 1848 King Carlos Alberto of Piemonte, Monferrato and Sardinia gave Jews equal rights. As a result of their new civil rights and emancipation the Jews made closer contacts with their neighbours and were influenced by them. One of those influences may have been the change in the placement of the bimah.  The bimah was moved from the centre towards the ark, creating a single liturgical focus similar to the single focus in churches. This change also resulted in a change in the shape and structure of the bimah into a large table for reading. A similar phenomenon occurred in Germany with the establishment of “Reform” synagogues.


Casale Monferrato


The earliest synagogue documented in Piemonte is the “Oratorio Israelitico” in Casale Monferrato, situated on the banks of the river Po. This magnificent synagogue, originally built in 1595, today reflects the many changes in the community and their synagogues which were implemented over the years. The first Jews in Monferrato were possibly from France, migrating to Italy after their expulsion in 1394.  It is also likely that Sephardi Jews came after the Spanish expulsion in 1492. In 1570 the Duke of Mantua and Monferrato of the House of Gonzaga awarded the Jews the privilege to build a synagogue and maintain their religious practices. As a result of the economic depression in the neighboring region of Lombardi at the end of the 16th century, the population of Monferrato grew, probably resulting in the construction of the “Oratorio Israelitico” in 1595. In 1709, after the reign of the Gonzaga family in Monferrato was terminated and transferred to the French Savoy family, the situation of the Jews deteriorated. In 1724 the Jews were forced to reside in a limited area (a ghetto) which was built around the existing synagogue.


Through our research, we discovered that this synagogue underwent a transformation, common in the region in the middle of the 19th century, as described earlier. It went from having an east-west axis, ark placed on the east wall and bimah in the centre, to a north-south axis, with both ark and bimah situated in the south, opposite the entrance in the north. Many plaques adorn the walls of the synagogue which reveal a good deal of local history. They include mention of a donation of a new Torah ark in 1787, the one which stands today.  Due to a restoration in the 1980s, some of the plaques were re-arranged, and placed in a new order. According to a community ledger whose first entry is from 1663, it was also discovered that a third floor was probably added in 1718 by order of the authorities after an emigration of Jews expelled from surrounding cities. According to a dedicatory inscription, this third floor gallery was either built or restored in 1853. It appears that the wealthy community of Monferrato built this gallery for the use of the poor immigrants because in 1866, Rabbi Leon Ottolenghy, the leader of the community declared that this gallery be for common use and not for the poor specifically. Some of these changes were researched after World War II and published by architects David Pinkerfield (post-war) and David Cassuto (in 1978).




The small 17th century synagogue in Mondovì is situated on the second floor of a dwelling house. The synagogue was renovated a few years ago, and it is currently in good condition. The synagogue is a square structure with a wooden extension used as a room for the Torah ark in the east.  It has an octagonal, richly decorated bimah in the centre. Another extension, separated by windows, was built on the north side to serve as the women’s section, although there is a small and narrow gallery for that same purpose in the west.


In Mondovì the documentation team found a wooden board which lists the names of the members called to read the Torah during the last 300 years—from 1642-1942.  This board is one of the most important historical records in Piemonte, recording an entire vanished community.


In Memoriam: Dr. Marco Levi

Six months after the CJA excursion to Mondovì, the city’s only remaining Jew passed away. Dr. Marco Levi was the last Jew of this community and for many years the only caretaker of the 17th century synagogue. His guidance was invaluable to our work and ultimately to the larger effort of keeping alive the memory of this historic community.  Dr. Levi, an industrialist and business man, survived the Holocaust and was one of the few to return to Piemonte after the war. He devoted himself in every way to the upkeep of his beloved synagogue. May his memory be blessed.




The 17th century synagogue in Asti is a complex of rooms, now partly serving as a Jewish museum. The prayer hall is a square structure enclosing four columns which divide it into a central space surrounded by corridor-like spaces. The columns support a cupola which used to be a clerestory. This community, along with Jews who settled in Fossano and Moncalvo, kept a Jewish-French liturgical tradition which was different from the Ashkenazi and Italian ones. This tradition is known as the “AFAM” tradition, a contraction of the initial letters of the cities’ names.




The impressive synagogue of Torino, built in a neo-Moorish style, is part of a complex consisting of three synagogues: the large main synagogue, the small synagogue and the synagogue in the Old Age Home (Beit Zekeinim). The Torah arks and bimot in the last two synagogues were transferred from their former locations into the large synagogue complex. The small synagogue is appointed with the furnishings of the former Chieri synagogue. Since there were no Jews left in Chieri after the Second World War, the Jewish community of Torino decided to remove the 18th century ark and bimah and place it within the complex of their large synagogue. The ark and the bimah are both adorned with Sanctuary Implements and both are the work of the same artist.  In fact, a stylistic comparison between the Chieri ark and bimah and the Torino Verchelezi’s bimah, now housed in the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, indicates that the same artist carved all of them. Unlike the arks decorated with Sanctuary Implements only, the arks of Chieri, Verchelezi and the Beit Zekainim synagogue, are all adorned with a building representing the Temple. In fact, the documentation team found the façade of a local church which was used as the visual model for the Temple façade image in the Beit Zekeinim synagogue. This Church was one of the new structures built during the 18th century near the entrance to the Jewish quarter. The ark was painted black after the death of King Carlos Alberto as a sign of mourning.




Amongst the most interesting finds of this expedition were heretofore unknown wall-paintings in the Saluzzo synagogue, built around 1700. The synagogue is a rectangular building, located on the second floor of a dwelling house. At the time of the team’s visit, the synagogue was in the process of restoration. In the course of the work, it was found that the whitewashed barrel- vaulted ceiling covered original paintings.


Since the local Italian restorers were neither familiar with Jewish topics, iconography nor Hebrew inscriptions, they had many difficulties in identifying the motifs revealed when exposing the underlying paintings. The knowledge and experience of the IJA team enabled them to identify some of the themes of the wall paintings. Those included Mount Sinai, the seven-branched Menorah, and other Sanctuary Implements. They also identified the Hebrew inscriptions including biblical verses and the names of the Four Princes among the Tribes. The team was surprised to find this type of decoration within an Italian synagogue since they are not known as characteristic of Piemontese synagogues. Their presence in Saluzzo may lead to understand the origins of the structure and decorations of the synagogues in the Piemonte region, and may help reveal similar decorations in other synagogues.

The assistance of the IJA team continued after their return to Jerusalem. Comparisons were sent to the restorers in order to assure the faithful reconstruction of the paintings and the synagogue. In particular, the IJA documentation of the 17th century Torah Ark from Saluzzo, transferred to Jerusalem in 1956 by Umberto Nachon, proved invaluable to the restorers.

Ritual Objects

During the expedition, over 300 objects in synagogues, museums and private collections were documented. Amongst them were sacred synagogue objects, as well as household ritual objects relating to the life cycle and the yearly cycle of Shabbat and festivals. The team was able to identify some shapes, iconography and styles which characterize Piemontese ritual objects. They also determined features which are common to other Italian communities. For example, the Piemontese communities use two types of Torah finials—tower-shaped finials (pinnacolo) and coronet-like finials (corona). This second type are often mistaken for Torah crowns; however they are smaller in size and always come in pairs. Both types are adorned with various Sanctuary Implements, some of which were probably cast from a single mould and added to the ritual objects. Others were designed specially by a silversmith who fashioned the entire object. Through the identification of hallmarks it was determined that some items were made in Torino and some were produced in Venice. A number of such items show an affinity to Venetian style. Some objects were produced in Christian workshops by Christian artists while others were crafted by Jewish artisans who received permission to work as silversmiths and belonged to the local guild, unlike Jews in other European countries at the time.

In documenting textiles, certain shapes and iconography were found to be characteristic of Piemonte. For example, a large collection of Torah mantles documented in Torino dating from the late 17th century to the 20th century are constructed in a trapezoidal shape with an opening in back. A large vertical band usually separates them in two equal parts. Some bear a dedicatory inscription embroidered on a plaque attached to the front of the mantle.  Sanctuary Implements adorn the earlier mantles. Many of these features differ from mantles in other parts of Italy.

Most ritual objects were donations from members of the community for special occasions, private or communal.  The inscriptions serve as important documents which record the history of the community, the members, their professions and social status.




The ongoing partnership between the CJA’s Architecture Section of the Index of Jewish Art and the Institut für Baugeschichte at the Technische Universtät Braunschweig under the leadership of Prof. Harmen Thies, has resulted in extensive architectural documentation in Lower Saxony, Sachsen-Anhalt, Saxony and Thüringia.

In spring of 2001, a joint expedition composed of German and Israeli architects Ivan Ceresnjes, Zoya Arshavsky, Simon Paulus, Katrin Kessler and Ulrich Knufinke, continued their work in Saxony where synagogues and cemeteries were documented. Of the synagogues which were researched, some are of particular interest.


One of them is the former Brody Synagogue in Leipzig (arch. Oscar Schade) which is still used by the Jewish community. The synagogue was called “Brody” since it was established by Jewish merchants from Brody who regularly came to the Leipzig fair. During the fair, they gathered in a “kloiz,” a room for prayer, and later acquired the existing residential building, remodelling the lower floor as a synagogue. The interior features a shallow cupola and is ornamented with Neo-Moorish elements.

The large old Jewish cemetery in Leipzig, established in 1864, is divided into five sections and is surrounded by a high brick wall. It numbers about 2,500 tombstones, dating from 1864 to 1901, a selection of which was documented because of interesting decorative motifs. Stone foundations of the 1864 cemetery chapel which was destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1943, also still exist.

The new Jewish cemetery in Leipzig was founded in 1901. The existing chapel, built in 1954, designed by the architect Walter Beyer, replaced an old chapel of 1928 by architect Wilhelm Haller which was burned down on Kristallnacht in 1938. Unlike the impressive chapel of Haller, topped by a 21.5 m high cupola, the chapel of Beyer is a simple one-storey building in a Neo-Classical style. Both Haller’s and Beyer’s chapel had an inscription stating: “Strong as death is love” (Song of Songs 8:6).


Moving eastward from Leipzig researchers arrived in Görlitz where a synagogue was built in 1909-1911 by architects William Lossow and Max Hans Kühne. It has an impressive monumental rectangular tower with cut off angles rising from the centre of the saddled roof.  The circular prayer hall, spanned by a shallow cupola, was designed in Jugendstil. The modernity of the building was expressed not only in its style, but by its construction of reinforced concrete. It is said that the structure was so strong that the Nazis were incapable of demolishing it and eventually refrained from attempting to do so.


 In Dresden the capital of Saxony, the old Jewish cemetery dates back to 1750 and was proclaimed full in 1869, housing about 1,250 tombstones. The new cemetery has about 4,000 tombstones dating from 1869.  The cemetery chapel was completed in 1866 and reconstructed in 1949/50 when it was converted into a synagogue.  In 2001, after the completion of a new synagogue, the building reverted to its original function as a cemetery chapel.  The exterior is dominated by a Neo-Romanesque entrance, a triangular gable, and a shallow cupola on a slightly conical drum.




In the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2002 architects Ivan Ceresnjes and Zoya Arshavsky, photographer Zev Radovan, and CJA Director Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin continued the documentation of Jewish visual culture in the countries of former Yugoslavia. For the 2000 expedition, Architectural Historian Dr. Samuel Albert joined the team in documenting synagogues in Zagreb and West Slavonia, Croatia and in Maribor, Slovenia.


Situated on the Drava River, the city of Maribor gradually grew around a fortress castle built sometime in the vicinity of the eleventh century. Its medieval synagogue, recently restored, is one of the few surviving synagogues from this era in central Europe and is one of Slovenia’s most important Jewish relics.

A Jewish community is first mentioned in Maribor in 1277. The Jewish quarter in Maribor was situated in the old town near the southwest corner of the town walls, above the river. The area is still known as Zidovska ulica (Jewish street). Adjacent to the synagogue was the Jewish cemetery, the Rabbi’s house and the school; the mikveh was located in front of the town walls, on the bank of the river. Jews were expelled from Maribor by the decree of the Emperor Maximilian I of Austria in 1496, banishing Jews from all of Styria. In 1511 after the expulsion of the Jews, the synagogue became the All Saints Catholic Church.

The medieval synagogue in Maribor survives as testimony to the Jews who lived there from the thirteenth to the late fifteenth century. The synagogue’s exact date of construction is unknown and it was remodelled on several occasions.

On the eastern wall there is a rosette window flanked by two Gothic lancet windows and a similarly shaped double window on the western wall. Under the rosette window is a Torah ark niche at a height which indicates that there was a least one step in front of it. The original entrance portal to the prayer hall from the vestibule is situated on the south corner of the western wall. It is made of grey sandstone and decorated by two thin columns. A later reconstruction on the northern side completely destroyed all evidence of the earlier structure.

Broken parts of tombstones from the Jewish cemetery were used as building materials during the reconstruction after 1496 and used as parts of the rib vaulted ceiling. The exterior and interior were remodelled at least twice before 1496. One reconstruction may have taken place after the earthquake of February 1348, when a large part of the city walls were damaged. According to an archaeological report of the Institute for the Protection of the Natural and Cultural Heritage in Maribor, an excavation to the depth of three meters revealed a Jewish cemetery on the eastern plateau between the “Jewish Tower” and the synagogue. Stairs below the building lead down to the Drava River where the ritual bath was located.

A short distance to the east, in the southwest corner of the town’s wall, is the “Jewish Tower” built in 1465. It might once have been next to the Jewish ghetto and used for the defence of that part of town. Connected to the “Jewish Tower” by a bridge is a Renaissance pentagonal water tower, dating from 1555, standing outside the city walls.


In 2001 the researchers focused their efforts on the city of Belgrade (Beograd), in the region of Vojvodina in Serbia, and Montenegro. In Belgrade the researchers documented the only synagogue still in use today. Built in 1925, it was used as a brothel for German soldiers during World War II. After liberation it was re-consecrated.


One of the highlights of this expedition was documenting the Hungarian secession-style synagogue in Subotica, Serbia. Built in 1902, its modernity reflected the Neologue (Hungarian Reform) affiliation of most Jews in Subotica. The synagogue, the last remaining example of secession-style, was one of the first to employ concrete and steel construction; eight steel columns support the vast central dome. The interior is richly decorated in a playful manner characteristic of the Hungarian secession style. The Subotica synagogue has been included in the list issued by the World Monuments Fund “100 Most Endangered Sites” for 2002 due to its urgent need for restoration.

Kosovo, central Serbia, Vojvodina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

In 2002 our expedition surveyed a region without Jews since 1941: Kosovo, central Serbia, Vojvodina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. These were old communities situated far away from the major Jewish centres, with their own particular types of synagogues, cemeteries, ritual baths, slaughterhouses, and Jewish schools. One of the oldest Jewish communities in this region is the Romaniot community of Bitola, Macedonia. Currently, only one Jew remains in Bitola where a late 15th century Romaniot/Sephardi cemetery and cemetery chapel still stand.

One of the most interesting aspects of this survey is the archaeological site in Stobi. This ancient city once housed a Jewish community, attested to by two excavated synagogues – one built on top of the other. The first is from the 2nd -3rd-century; the second is from the 4th century. A Roman basilica was constructed on top of the synagogues in the 4th-5th century.

Shabbatai Zvi: Can He Rest in Peace?

In 2001 architect Ivan Ceresnjes made a special trip to Ulcinj, Montenegro in search of the burial place of Shabbatai Zvi. The famous false messiah Shabbatai Zvi (1626 -1676) created a spiritual upheaval among Jews all over Europe, North Africa, and more distant parts of Asia by declaring himself the messiah. Eventually he was imprisoned in Constantinople in 1666, and after several months, converted to Islam. Between 1666 and 1672, he maintained an Islamic public identity while continuing to preach his messianic message to the Jews. In 1673, Shabbatai Zvi was re-arrested by the Turkish authorities and exiled to Ulcinj, a townlet with no history of Jewish life whatsoever. He died in 1676.

The location of Shabbatai Zvi’s burial place remains something of a mystery. Some claim that he is buried in Berat, Albania; others locate his final resting-place in Ulcinj, Montenegro. After researching the various theories and delving into volumes of Ulcinj history, Ceresnjes came to the conclusion that Shabbatai Zvi’s burial place is in a turbe (a Muslim one-storeyed mausoleum) in the courtyard of a house in Ulcinj. Painted green, the colour found all over the former Ottoman Empire, this turbe is regarded by the locals as the burial place of the illustrious Jewish convert to Islam—Shabbatai Zvi. Mr. Qazim Mani, now 80, is the custodian of this turbe, which is infrequently visited but regarded as a holy place for Muslims.

Ivan Ceresnjes is the recipient of a scholarship from the Cecile and Michael Greenberg Endowment Fund established by Lorna Scherzer and siblings in memory of their parents.




In spring 2002 the architects Zoya Arshavsky and Dr. Mavluda Yusupova conducted an expedition to the cities of Samarkand and Shakhrisabz where they documented cemeteries, synagogues, Jewish homes, many of which contain private synagogues. This expedition was the CJA’s third to Uzbekistan. Previous expeditions in 1992 and 2000 surveyed and documented synagogues and ritual objects in Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Tashkent, Bukhara, Katakurgan and Karmina.


The modern Jewish quarter in Samarkand, Mahalla-i-Yahudion, was established in 1843 on a plot purchased from the Emir of Bukhara. Some of the houses in the Jewish quarter (mahalla) include private synagogues. The houses are adapted to local climatic conditions, addressing such factors as aridity and heat. These houses, mostly one and two- storey structures are enclosed within walls which form two courtyards: an outer courtyard (tashkary) and an inner one (ichkary). Rooms face different directions, depending on their purpose: the summer hall and rooms face northward, whereas winter rooms face southward.

The central guestroom (mekhmenkhona) in houses of wealthy members of the Jewish community functioned also as private synagogues on Shabbat and holidays. These interiors are decorated with exuberant stucco ornamentation such as muqarnas (stalactites), polychromatic wall decoration and Hebrew inscriptions.

The Private Synagogue of Rafael Abrahamov

One of the most interesting private synagogues in Samarkand is the House of Rafael Abrahamov built in 1893-1903. Rafael Abrahamov was from a family originating in Afghanistan. The house with its many rooms is organized around an inner courtyard. The main building with a deep portico (iwan) is elongated from west to east: in the eastern part there is a two-tiered synagogue, in the northwestern part there is a two-storey residential area. The prayer hall is a rectangular elongated space oriented from north to south. In the western wall the second floor level was used as a mezzanine for important visitors and as a women's gallery (bibicha-khona). The north wall has two tiers of windows; those on the upper tier have ganch traceries (pandjara).

One of the unique features of this private synagogue is a series of painted panels depicting holy places. The south wall is devoted entirely to scenes of Jerusalem. This tradition of decorating the walls with pictures of holy places is typical of Eastern European synagogues, not Bukharan synagogues; the direction of prayer in this private synagogue is to the south-west and not to the east. Abrahamov explained that his great-grandfather brought postcards from the Holy Land which depicted a variety of Jewish holy sites which were copied by the painter commissioned to do the wall paintings. Other private houses documented include the House of Yair Zevulunov (1905), the House of Abraham ben Isaac Kalantarov (1902-1916), the House of Pinhas Abrahamov and the Mullokandov private synagogue, both from the beginning of the 20th century.

Public Synagogues

During the 19th century, thirty public synagogues were active in Samarkand, serving the general community. Today only three synagogues are functioning. Each synagogue comprises a complex of buildings surrounded by a wall forming an inner courtyard. One of the earlier public synagogues is the Kaniso-i Kalon, the Great Synagogue, which was built between 1870 and 1900 and currently functions as a music school and library. This synagogue complex originally included six separate prayer halls built around the courtyards from donations by private individuals including several butchers. Currently, three synagogue halls are preserved.

One of the remaining functioning public synagogues in the Jewish quarter of Samarkand is the complex of Kaniso-i Gumbaz, namely “the dome synagogue” in Judeo-Bukharan. The complex was built between 1882 and 1891 from funds donated by Rafael Ben Moshe Nosi Kalantarov in memory of his wife, Tzporo (Zipporah). The architect was David Ben Avraham. The “large Gumbaz” synagogue is situated in the southeast corner of the courtyard complex. A small rectangular synagogue known as the “small Gumbaz” is in the northeast corner. An iwan with two columns connects these two buildings. Auxiliary Jewish public buildings, such as one housing an oven for baking matzot, occupy the western part of the yard. The “large Gumbaz” synagogue is a square hall with a dome. The entrance is from the northeast on the side of the iwan. The heikhal, formed by several Torah Arks set within niches, is situated along the south wall. The blue interior of the dome is decorated by a web of star-like geometrical ornaments (girikh). In the centre of the hall, below the dome is a raised wooden teivah decorated by carvings and surrounded by a carved wood balustrade.

In the 1980s a one-storey women's section was added on the west side of the synagogue. During a restoration in 1990-1991 under the guidance of architect R.M Issakharov a Jewish artist named Robinov decorated the walls of the synagogue with stucco ornamentation. In 1992 he was murdered by anti-Semitic Muslim extremists.

The Synagogue of Shalomo Sofiev

Alongside the architecture and decorations done according to the local Jewish tradition some synagogues and houses were influenced by the decorative tradition brought from European Russia with the Russian conquest in the 1860s. An example is the Synagogue of Shalomo Sofiev built in the beginning of the 20th century in the new, “European” part of Samarkand. The walls of the building and all its decorative elements are made of brick in characteristic Russian style.




The three-year project of documenting Jewish architecture in the Ukraine, which was financed by a grant from the Getty Grant Program in Los Angeles, has successfully been completed. In the past year, 14 synagogues in western Ukraine - Volhynia, Podolia, Bukovina and Galicia – were documented and researched with the assistance of the Western Ukrainian Restoration Authority. The important early 17th century synagogue in the town of Ostrog, Volyn ( see documentation), merited a virtual reconstruction of a three dimensional CD-ROM. The roster of synagogues documented includes the synagogue in Shargorod, probably the earliest one preserved in Podolia. It was built in 1589 and remodeled at the beginning of the 18th century. In Soviet times the building was used as a juice factory.


Czernowitz, the capital of historic Bukovina, now Chernivtsi in Ukraine, passed from one country to another during the last three centuries and was a melting pot of different cultures-- Ukrainian, Romanian, German and Jewish. Of the almost 50 synagogues existing in Czernowitz prior to World War II, only several buildings survived. Four of the more interesting of them were documented in the city, as well as two synagogues in the former town of Sadgora, now a suburb of Czernowitz. In Czernowitz, the Neo-Classical “Great” Synagogue of 1853 ( see documentation), the Neo-Moorish “Temple” of 1877 ( see documentation) and a small synagogue on Sadovskogo St. ( see documentation) retain only their exterior. The most important and still functioning synagogue called “Beit Tefilah Binyamin” was built in 1923 ( see documentation). The small oddly-shaped trapezoidal building has many wall paintings depicting holy places as well as Biblical episodes.


The townlet of Sadgora was the haven of Rabbi Israel Freidman, the rich, controversial “Rabbi of Rhuzin,” who had a palace and a kloiz there after he ran away from imprisonment in Russia in 1840. It became the centre for the Sadgora Hassidim, which spread quickly to other areas. The kloiz, built in the second half of the 19th century was used as a vehicle repair shop since 1950 and was abandoned in the 1990s. The town synagogue in Sadgora, built at the beginning of the 19th century, was remodeled at the beginning of the 20th century and converted in the 1950s into a sewing factory. The documentation of the synagogue of the Tsaddik of Sadgora caused the team to venture into the Galician town of Chortkov, where the brother of the Sadgora rabbi erected a similar building.


Dr. Haya Friedberg, head of the Modern Jewish Art section and researcher Iris Abramovici have been working with Sotheby’s Tel Aviv for the past three years to document 19th century paintings prior to their sale at auctions. This has given the Modern Art section rare access to works which might be inaccessible in private hands after their sale. Documentation and research of these works trace the transformation from a mainly religious iconography to a secular iconography which gained prominence in the art of the 20th century.
Emancipation also encouraged Jews to perform civil duties as an expression of their newfound equality. One of these duties was army service. The image of the Jewish soldier who fought for his motherland was quite frequent in post-Emancipation paintings, reflecting pride as well as conflicts of identity among emancipated Jews. It gave expression to a contemporary dilemma of the time: to what extent could a Jew be a national patriot while maintaining identification with his native community. The image of a Jewish soldier was sometimes used to underscore the conflict and to bring out the fact that anti-Semitism was still in force despite the newly legislated freedoms. In those instances, the figure of the Jewish soldier is often juxtaposed with pogroms and images of persecution. In other paintings, the image of the soldier is presented as an ideal, thereby supporting assimilation and local patriotism.

In addition to this ongoing project, Iris Abramovici documented the German printed edition of The Book of Jonah (Das Buch Jona) written by Zimpel, illustrated by the Viennese -born Uriel Birnbaum (1894-1956). Severely wounded during World War I, Birnbaum created this work in 1921, during his recuperation.

Both Friedberg and Abramovici are recipients of scholarships from the Cecile and Michael Greenberg Endowment Fund established by Lorna Scherzer and siblings in memory of their parents.


The Greek Jewish community is made up of a rapidly dwindling elderly population. The local caretakers of the synagogues and their ritual objects are dying out and increasingly objects and sites are being sold off. Like other European communities, most of the Greek Jewish communities did not survive World War II. A staggering 87% of the community was decimated, the greatest percentage of Jewish losses of any occupied country during the Holocaust. Fortunately, some of their rich artistic heritage has survived.


The goal of the Center’s most recent expeditions to Greece in the summer of 2001 and spring 2002 was to document the remnants of this rich visual Jewish culture and to interview the elders of the community in order to trace lost traditions. The various local traditions are also explored; the diverse non-Jewish cultural and visual environment within which the community resided influenced their crafts and customs. All these findings are compared with other Jewish communities in Turkey, Bulgaria and others who also lived under the Ottoman Empire.


The Jewish population in Greece is comprised of two main groups. The Romaniot Jews trace their roots to the Byzantine era and make up the earliest Jewish community. They speak Greek and have their own liturgical tradition, which has endured particularly in the communities in Ioannina, Corfu, Previzia, Arta, and Trikala. Only twenty Jewish families still live in Ioannina today. On the eve of the Holocaust there were about 2,000 Jews.

The second community is that of the Sephardi Jews who immigrated to Greece at the end of the fifteenth century, after their expulsion from Spain. The Spanish community spoke Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), and continued with their Sephardi rite and traditions. The Sephardi Jews spread throughout Greece, but the vast majority lived in Thessaloniki, Vollos, and Trikala. Unlike most Jews expelled from Spain who maintained their own traditions, these émigrés merged with the local Romaniot communities.

Jews from Sicily, Venice and other Italian communities, immigrated to Greece and established their own small communities. The Sicilians came after the Spanish expulsion in 1492 and brought some of their traditions which influenced the Romaniot communities. For example, the Jews of Ioannina celebrated “Purim of Saragossa” which had been a local Sicilian feast celebrating a miracle that occurred to the Jews during the reign of Alphonso V. Historical documents record the existence in 1914 of a small Jewish Sicilian community in Ioannina comprising 30 families. And indeed during the documentation we found some traces of this community.

Unlike other communities in Greece, most of the Jews of Corfu followed the Italian tradition.  Since the island of Kerkira was occupied by the Venetians for 400 years beginning in 1386, the local people as well as the Jews absorbed the Italian culture and combined it with their own Greek culture. However, unlike the surrounding population, a large group of the Jews in Corfu actually originated from Italy, especially from Venice.


One of our main goals was to observe whether the Romaniot, the Sephardi and the Italian communities who kept different liturgical traditions also had different synagogue architecture and decoration and different ritual objects.




The origin of the synagogue architecture of each of those communities is still obscure. However, their characteristic architectonic features can be defined. The common components and similarities in shape and liturgical orientation shared by the Romaniot communities in Thessalia and Epiross, may attest to a common visual tradition, while traces of the features characteristic of the synagogue in Corfu, may suggest an Italian influence.



Ioannina had been part of Albania until 1913, the year it was joined to Greece. The city was the capital of the district of Epiross, in northwest Greece and is named after Ioanis Yanis, namely "Saint John." The majority of the Jews of Ioannina were part of the Romaniot community. This community was one of the oldest and most important in Greece.  According to some scholars their origin can be traced back to the ninth century, based on the fact that the Ioannina Jews spoke an ancient Greek dialect. However, the earliest document known is from the fourteenth century, granting the Jews protection by the Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (1282-1328).

The only synagogue remaining in Ioannina is also the earliest one remaining in the regions of Epiross and Thessalia. Its structure and components may shed light on the characteristic features of the synagogues in the area. Unfortunately three of the four synagogues which stood in the city of Ioannina no longer exist, and only this one is left. However, during our documentation we discovered unexpected ritual objects which formerly belonged to all four synagogues. Their importance and extent were heretofore unknown to the members of the community or to scholars.

It appears that there were two large synagogues before World War II: the Old Congregation synagogue, which still stands, and the New Congregation synagogue, which was entirely destroyed during the War. Each of these consisted of a compound with a large prayer hall and a small one called the Minyan, all surrounded by a wall creating an inner courtyard with a well and a place for erecting a sukkah. The large prayer halls were used on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Holidays when the Torah portion was read, while the Minyanim were used for daily prayers. The Minyanim were especially remembered by the present members of the community as having been used for the special liturgy of Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath on Friday evening).

Kahal Kadosh Yashan

The Old Congregation - Kahal Kadosh Yashan - situated within the city walls, was built during the Ottoman rule. After the rebellion of the Christian community, which began in Trikala in 1430, most of the churches in the region including in Ioannina, were destroyed and the Christians were forbidden to live within the walls. Since then, the Jews, who lived near the city gate, were allowed to live within the gates, while the Muslims who immigrated to Greece with the Ottoman rule also established a community there. Unlike the Christians, the Jews did not oppose the Ottomans and some of them were civil servants. They were protected by the wall and felt secure enough to build up and conduct their own communal life.

The contemporary Old Congregation synagogue was established in the middle of the 18th century. It is a compound, consisting of a large prayer hall which still stands and a destroyed small prayer hall called “Minyan Beit Avraham.” Both are surrounded by an outer wall which encloses an inner courtyard with a well, and a sheltered yard used for a sukkah. The high wall, which surrounds the compound, was probably built in 1877, as marked on the dedicatory plaque attached above a simple arched entrance that can be reached from the western alley. It is certain that an earlier building stood in the same place as the current one, probably from the 16th century. A renovation of the building in 1851 is mentioned on the dedicatory plaque attached to the facade wall. An additional plaque indicates that another renewal took place in 1869. It is possible that the later renovation took place after a big fire in 1860, which destroyed part of the old city including the bazaar and the Jewish quarter, as testified by an inscription engraved on a “shada'iah," a unique kind of silver plaque documented during our expeditions (no. 279). This fire had been deliberately set and severely damaged the economy and social situation of the Jews in the city and forced them to change their occupations, from craftsmen to merchants.

The large prayer hall is a rectangular broad house structure two storeys in height. It is divided into three broad sections by three arcades, which create a longitudinal nave flanked by two aisles. The Torah ark and the large Reader’s Desk (teivah) are built within niches situated on the east and west walls opposite each other, creating a liturgical bifocal synagogue. On the same axis, below a blue cupola that adorns the centre of the nave, is an additional small moveable table, used as a second teivah.

The ark is built within a rectangular niche which extends towards the outer eastern wall. The contemporary wooden cupboard dating from the end of the 19th century replaced the original earlier ark. It comprises a deep cupboard, used for storing the Torah scrolls. Two arched Tablets of the Covenant adorn the ark and are flanked by fence-like edges. In the opposite western wall is a large trapezoidal and elevated teivah, built within a rounded niche, which extends towards the synagogue facade. On both sides of the elevation are two staircases for reaching the table used for reading the Torah portion. This large teivah was used on Saturdays and Holidays when the synagogue was full, while the small teivah was used for daily prayers.

Similarly organized spaces can be seen in Trikala and Volos, in the region of Thessalia. The commonality of form shared by synagogues in Ioannina and the Thessalia region -- broad house structures, liturgical bifocal orientation and elevated teivot, may suggest common visual and liturgical traditions. However, in Trikala and Volos an additional large teivah built in the middle of the synagogue may indicate different and additional traditions which influenced them. Likewise, it is still unsure whether the moveable small teivah in Ioannina represents the same tradition noted in Thessalia or was a table moved into the synagogue for practical reasons after the war.

This arrangement of two teivot within one synagogue has been documented by the Center researchers in other congregations around the world, such as Provence, Turkey, Cochin in southwest India, and Georgia. The fact that all these congregations are composed of descendants of Spanish exiles may suggest that this feature is a Sephardi liturgical custom, which was transferred by the Sephardi Jews into their new places of residence. It is also possible that this bifocal arrangement in Ioannina was ad hoc, resulting from purely local circumstances.

The main entrance to the Old Congregation synagogue is situated beside the teivah, to the south, while an additional side entrance is located in the extreme northeast corner, for the use of the Jews who lived in the eastern part of the neighborhood. Six pairs of elongated and arched windows are located on the south wall, while the north part is divided into two floors. The upper one contains the women’s gallery, situated atop the side aisle, which can be reached from an outer staircase built in the southern wall. A separate and later entrance is on the northern side of the outer wall, probably dating from the late renovation in 1877. The synagogue has seating for about 700 people-- eloquent testimony to what was once a large, thriving community. Marble plaques, attached to the north, east and western walls further commemorate the life of this community. The exterior is painted in blue and white.


The Minyan


The only remnants of the small synagogue (Minyan), which was situated in the northeast corner of the Old Congregation compound are the north and east walls, which shared the exterior wall surrounding the compound and the ruins of the south wall.


The name and the use of this building became clear while documenting some ritual objects with dedicatory inscriptions which mentioned a certain small synagogue. A dedicatory plaque revealed that the Minyan was built in 1868 and was called “The House of Abraham,” (Minyan Beit Avraham) after the patron who donated the funds to build it. A dedicatory plaque, which probably originally belonged to this Minyan had been attached to the facade of the Old Congregation synagogue and indicates the year 1874 as the year it was established. It also commemorates the soul of Abraham Salomon (Avraham Shlomo) by his wife Sarah. An additional marble plate found in the back yard revealed the whole story. It appears that Abraham Salomon died in 1868, leaving a debt to the Old Congregation synagogue. His wife Sarah had to pay the debt through a guardian and thus she was obliged to build the small synagogue (Minyan) which she named after her husband. The building was completed after three years, in 1874 – the year indicated on the plaque. Several years ago the Center documented an Ioanninan community synagogue built in 1920 in Jerusalem bearing the same name – a fragment of tradition which immigrated with the Ioanninan Jews to Israel.


During the war the Nazis destroyed the entire compound of the New Congregation synagogue, which was built outside of the Ottoman’s city walls. The only remnants of the structure are archival photographs, historical documents, and interviews with the elders of the community. They all suggest that the New Congregation synagogue shared a common plan with the Old Congregation synagogue, and featured the same components. Thus it was built as a rectangular broad house structure divided into three broad sections by three arcades. The Torah ark and the large Reader’s desk (teivah) were built within niches creating a liturgical bifocal synagogue. Dedicatory inscriptions engraved on various ritual objects documented during our expeditions and some rabbinical responsa also revealed the circumstances and the date that the new compound was built.

The New Congregation

It seems that as a result of the Sephardi Jewish immigration during the 16th century, the disparate communities were forced to pray in the same synagogue. Despite their different customs and liturgy, two of the rabbinical leaders, Rabbi Benjamin son of Shemaria and Rabbi Samuel from the house of Kalai, of the city of Arta, forbade the members of the community to pray in different synagogues. In spite of the rabbinical opinion, dedicatory inscriptions engraved on shada'iot indicate that during the beginning of the 18th century a certain New Congregation was established. It is obvious that a synagogue designated as "new" underscores the existence of an old, already existing one. Hence, the sole synagogue in Ioannina gained its name the "Old" Congregation synagogue as a result of the new one. The earliest evidence indicating the New Congregation dates to 1725. It is not the only evidence. According to the marble dedicatory plaque found in the back yard of the Old Congregation building it appears that in 1874 a new synagogue was built and in 1859, a new Talmud Torah was established by an Italian Jewish family named Batinno. Whether it marks the construction of a new building, a renovation or an entirely different structure, is still unclear.

It is also not known who made up the congregation that established the synagogue and under what circumstances. The appearance of some Italian names may suggest that it was an Italian community. Some of the members of the community who still live in Ioannina are Italian speakers and share some Italian customs and traditions. Although the names of some of the members of the New Congregation were Italian, it seems that they merged within the local community, and eventually may have adopted the Romaniot rite and customs. The formulas of the dedicatory inscriptions and the variety of the ritual objects that belong to the synagogue indicate Romaniot rites and customs. The minyan of the New synagogue was called “Minyan Hadash”, a new minyan.



The only surviving Romaniot synagogue on the island of Corfu also has a liturgical bifocal configuration, although within a different structure. The seventeenth-century rectangular synagogue is three storeys high, one of the highest buildings within the quarter. On the first floor are communal rooms and an inner courtyard used for a sukkah. The elongated rectangular prayer hall is on the second floor. The ark and teivah are situated at opposite ends of the rectangle – in the southeast and northwest respectively. The women’s gallery, probably an eighteenth-century addition, is built along the northeast and northwest sides. The gallery is not accessible today since its door is blocked and the staircase was demolished. The seating arrangement of the main hall is along the side walls.

The Jewish communities living in Corfu, the northern island in the Ionic Sea, were divided into three main congregations. Each prayed in its own synagogue and conducted different customs and rites. Out of the three synagogues, only the Greca synagogue, conducting the Romaniot rite, remained. The members of the Scoula Italiana originated from Venice and Spain, while the Sicilian Jews prayed in Scoula Corfiuty. The Greca synagogue is built within the former Jewish quarter, which at present is inhabited by local Greeks. Although the basic liturgy and customs in this synagogue were Romaniot, the members of the community absorbed the Italian culture and combined it with their own Greek culture.


Their Italian Jewish tradition is noticeable in the shape and style of their ritual objects as well as in the structure of their synagogue. The Torah ark in Corfu dated 1786 is a massive decorated wooden cupboard, extending into the inner space and situated in the middle of the southeast wall.  It is a polygonal structure consisting of a facade with six wooden pillars supporting an entablature, and a drum, topped by a cupola. Evidence of repairs in the exterior wall corresponding to the location of the ark, may suggest that the original structure of the ark protruded beyond the present wall, although the few members of the community who still reside on the island do not recall whether this was the case. The teivah is located on the northwest wall opposite the ark, and placed upon a high podium that can be reached by two side staircases.

Despite the resemblance in the bifocal structure and the high built podium, the Greca synagogue also reflects Italian influences. The teivah is a baldachin-like structure composed of a cupola supported by four columns emerging from a wooden balustrade. The wooden structure is adorned with golden acanthus leaves and with openwork carving. The ceiling is marked with an oval contour. These contours, as well as the design of the ark and teivah, and their bifocal placement are characteristic of central Italian synagogues, notably similar to the seventeenth-century Scuola Italiana and Spaniola in Venice. However, unlike the rich Baroque decoration of the Venetian synagogues, the one in Corfu reflects a local Greek decorative concept of simplicity with an almost undecorated interior.


Ritual Objects

The features which distinguish each community can also be seen in their ritual objects, their shape, variety and dedicatory inscription formulas.

Shada’iot and other Dedicatory Plaques

Amongst the most important finds of the Romaniot community are silver dedicatory plaques from the communities of Ioannina, Arta and Previzia dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. The plaques are called shada’iot, after shadai, the name of God engraved on most of the plaques. The name Shadai and most of the inscriptions were believed to have apotropaic powers. The source of this special custom is still obscure; although it may well have its roots in Italy, tracing its source requires in-depth research.

The shada’iot were donated to the synagogue for a variety of reasons, some private, such as an appeal for a better livelihood, a cure for an illness or for God’s protection of a newborn baby. Some inscriptions were dedicated for the exaltation of the soul of a parent or a child who died. Others bear communal information that also serve as historical documents: for example, the death of members of the congregation during pogroms, a fire in the Jewish quarter, a burglary of sacred objects and their return to the synagogue. A specific example of such an event is seen in twin shada’iot (Inv. 98.54; 98.55) dedicated in gratitude to God for the rescue of a family and the town’s citizens during the Greek war of independence against Turkey in 1913. A relatively large number of plaques mention deaths of infants and children, which may attest to a high child mortality rate, which might have been the result of poor health care, a disease or an epidemic.

A special group of plaques bearing the Priestly Benediction (Numbers 6:24) are donations made in honor of living youths. It is still unclear whether these were dedicatory plaques marking a Jewish life cycle event – perhaps a rite of passage such as becoming a bar mitzvah, or perhaps a special custom that was related to the youth of the community.

The inscriptions are engraved in Hebrew, in most cases clearly written in square letters by a silversmith who was familiar with the language.  Some of the inscriptions reflect the local pronunciation of Hebrew.  For example, instead of pronouncing “sh” the Greeks pronounce “s”; instead of the guttural “ch,” they pronounce “k."  Thus "taksit" replaced the word "tachshit," which means ornament. Other inscriptions are crudely engraved. Some engravers seem to have copied inscriptions without understanding their meaning. Thus words are at times not divided correctly. These differences in the inscriptions may indicate the work of different silversmiths, possibly non-Jews or artisans not familiar with the language.

The silver plaques are designed in several shapes; some have a drop-like shape, others dating from the end of the nineteenth century, are shaped like an eight-pointed star. Several inscriptions were engraved upon segments of silver belt links. Of special interest are the plaques shaped as a double-headed eagle, the emblem of the Greek-Orthodox Church (also adopted as the Jewish Museum emblem). Since most of them were cast, it is possible that members of the community bought them at the local market and used them for this exalted purpose.


The plaques dedicated to the synagogue were sewn to the Torah ark curtain according to the Romaniot tradition. Although dedicatory plaques are known from other communities, they were hardly ever donated as mere plaques, but usually as attachments to other ritual objects. The Romaniot plaques are unique, since they are objects unto themselves.


Four different dedicatory plaques also originating in Ioannina were documented in the Jewish Museum of Greece. These plaques do not have the word “shadai” which characterizes “shada’iot.” They are pear-shaped, topped by an arch with a round medallion in their centre enclosing a dedicatory inscription written in ink on paper. It appears that they were used as Torah case plaques. Since such plaques were not seen in the Ioannina synagogue itself or elsewhere, and the fact that three of the donors of these plaques are members of the same family, leads us to believe that this type of plaque is a specific local object and does not reflect a tradition.


Alongside the shada’iot, which display a uniquely Romaniot custom, other objects found among the Romaniot communities, differ from their counterparts in the Sephardi communities.


Torah Cases and Mantles

Unlike the Sephardi and the Italian communities, who keep the Torah scrolls in textile mantles, the Romaniot Jews, including those of Corfu, cover their scrolls in wooden cases in keeping with Eastern Jewish custom. The cases consist of several types, the most common being a polygonal case with ten to twelve facets. It has a flat roof and is surrounded by coronet-like crenellations. The earliest case found dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Most cases of this type are painted with foliate motifs in various colors.

Different features characterize the place of origin within Greece of these Torah cases: for example, the front and back openings of most cases originating in Corfu are accentuated by protruding wooden bars, which are lacking on the other Romaniot cases. A unique type is the faceted Torah case with a flat top, enclosing an additional inner cupola. The lace-like carved cupola resembles the structure and decoration of the teivah, which stands within the synagogue. Most of these cases are decorated with stucco attachments of foliate motifs, mostly painted in gold, blue and red. This type was found only in Corfu, and it is still unclear whether it resulted from local traditions or reflects a Venetian influence.

Mappot – Torah Case Wrappers


Additional artifacts used by the Romaniot communities are Torah case wrappers, put upon wooden cases, and named “mappot" (mappah-singular). Most wrappers documented originated in Ioannina, (although they were documented in the Jewish Museum), while a few others originated in diverse places. The Torah case wrappers can be divided into several groups: the first is a rectangular cloth enclosing a central section usually made of a costume in a secondary use. Above this central section, a long narrow strip is attached in a "ח" shape. The strips bear dedicatory Hebrew inscriptions containing the donor’s name, the occasion, and the date. At times the name of the New congregation synagogue appears. (It should be noted that no mention of the Old congregation synagogue in Ioannina is made on these wrappers. It is still uncertain whether the wrappers are a custom developed in the New congregation synagogue or whether the wrappers from the Old congregation did not reach the museum.) Most of the donors are women, although a few are men.


The wrappers reflect the impact of local customs and crafts on Jewish objects. Hence, the hand-made woven strips are traditional non-Jewish artifacts made by local women in the Ioannina region (the technique is named kaltsodeta in Greek). The strips were part of a man's costume and served to hold up the men's socks. From comparisons the team found that the sock strips also bear inscriptions, the name of the sock's wearer. Since this woven work was considered women's work, Jewish women in all likelihood crafted the wrapper’s strips. The strips are one example of traditional local crafts which were assimilated into Jewish life. Another example is a decorative strip named “ieratiki tressa” which literally means the priest's braid. These strips were originally woven for garments worn by the Christian priests. It is possible that some of the strips were bought in the local market.


The second group of mappot share the same structure and shape, but lack the strips and the inscriptions. A few wrappers are rectangular cloths with or without inscriptions, probably originating in places other than Ioannina. An example is the wrapper with Hebrew and Greek dedicatory inscriptions, given to the museum by the synagogue in Patrass at 1978 (78.224). The dedication indicates a donation by Miss Bond Elhdi, in 1913 to a congregation called “Kandia” (Heracleion). Strangely, most wrappers are dated to the mid-nineteenth century, especially the years 1847 - 1949. The reason for this is still unclear.


Me’ilim - Torah Mantles


As mentioned previously the Sephardi communities use Torah mantles. Most mantles were documented in the Jewish Museum, and were made after the war. They can be divided into two groups. The first are trapezoid mantles with a “soft” top, while the second are cylindrical mantles with stiff wooden tops. Both groups have Ladino inscriptions along with Hebrew dedications.


A few cylindrical mantles were dedicated to members of the congregation who were executed in Nazi extermination camps. An example is the mantle donated to the Holy congregation “Beit Shalom” in Athens for the eternal memory and repose of the family members Hayim (and) Elijah Ha’elyon, who died in concentration camps in Poland. (Dedicated in) Athens the month of Shvat 5707 = 1947” (81.17).


Unfortunately World War II and the Nazi acts against the Jewish population of Thessaloniki almost succeeded to annihilate the Jewish visual culture of one of the largest and most important communities of Greece. In the museum, there are no mantles originating in Thessaloniki.  It should be mentioned that the only surviving ritual objects which were carried by victims of the Nazis from Thessaloniki to Auschwitz, were found and documented by a team of researchers from our Center in 1992, at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.


Rimonim - Torah Finials


Unlike the objects which characterize the Romaniot or the Sephardi communities, Torah finials are used by both communities. They differ due to various factors, such as Italian or Ottoman design influences. The characteristic features that were found can define the city of origin as well as the style of its crafts. For example finials crafted in Ioannina are bulbous-shaped, common among Jewish communities which lived under Ottoman rule. They differ however, in proportion and decoration. Their elongated shafts are faceted and usually engraved with dedicatory inscriptions. Their body forms slices decorated with foliate motifs.

Among the Torah finials used by the Greca community in Corfu, was a pair of eighteenth-century finials originating in Venice. These tower-shaped finials are composed of three diminishing tiers with several arched niches in each tier. The Sanctuary Implements, which are usually attached to the niches in Venetian finials, are missing. They were found attached to the back wall of an eighteenth century Venetian-type Hanukkah lamp. Joining them are other Implement motifs, such as the Four Species which do not commonly appear on Venetian finials or Hanukkah Lamps. The donors of the lamp must have commissioned additional elements to fill the space of the lamp’s back wall.

Dedicatory Inscriptions


The plaques and other ritual objects donated by the Romaniot communities share the same dedicatory formulas. One of the most common is the biblical paraphrase: “In the day that he goeth into the sanctuary” (Exodus 28, 29; Leviticus 10, 18; 16, 23; Ezekiel 44, 27).  The biblical verse relates to the Temple sacrifice of purification, but here it relates to the donation to the synagogue, which may serve as a replacement for sacrifice of purification.


Another formula is the Mishnaic phrase, which appears only on Torah finials: "(Rabbi Simeon said: there are three crowns) the crown of the Law, the crown of Priesthood and the crown of Kingship; the crown of a Good Name excels them all" (Mishnah Avot 4:13). This phrase is not unique to Greek ritual objects; it appears on ritual objects such as Torah crowns, mantles and Torah ark valances from other Jewish communities.

Led by Ariella Amar, Head of the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section of the Index, the team consisted of researchers Ya’arah Morris, Einat Ron and Irena Chernetsky, architect Boris Lekar and photographer Zev Radovan. Four synagogues and six hundred ritual objects were documented as well as the collection of Jewish ritual objects in the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens.

The Jewish Museum of Greece was established in 1977 by Nikos Stavrolakis in order to preserve the Greek-Jewish visual heritage. The current director is Zanet Battinou who assisted us greatly in our work at the museum. Over the years, the museum has collected objects from different communities around Greece. Some of the objects exhibited here are the only remnants of many local communities.


The Iconography and Reference database offers a comprehensive view of subjects as depicted throughout the ages in various Jewish visual arts –in architecture, paintings, manuscripts and ritual objects. In bi-monthly seminars, each subject is defined and analyzed through its visual and literary components. The results of this research enable us to see the development of a subject from ancient times to contemporary and to note the particular emphasis given to the story in each community or period. The last subject IJA students dealt with was "David and Goliath," a narrative depicted in art from ancient times through the medieval era to the contemporary period. For example, during the Middle Ages the subject is usually depicted as a straightforward illustration of the story in various manuscripts such as the London Miscellany (c.1280) while during the Zionist period (end of the 19th century) David and Goliath was one of the subjects which emphasized the victory of the few over the many (Zeev Raban's David and Goliath). This narrative was often accompanied by depictions of other stories such as Judith and Holofernes, the Maccabees and others.


David & Goliath: A Case Study in Iconography and Reference

The story of David and Goliath is recounted in Samuel I, Chapter 17. The text serves as one important structure around which a visual depiction is constructed. Midrashic sources offer yet another layer of interpretation, which offer up symbols and imagery.

To study the iconography of this story, each section of the Index provides examples of visual depictions of subject matter from its own database. The best examples from each section are chosen and are then studied by the entire group. Iconographic components are isolated and their meaning crystallized. The work culminates in the production of an “Iconography and Reference Document.”

The process of looking, discussing, and refining ideas on a broad range of subjects helps to define the iconography of Jewish art. It is this aspect of the Index which potentially will make it so valuable to researchers and students of Jewish art.

David and Goliath

Lexical definition

Samuel I, 17

 See also:

David struggling with the lion and the bear
Judith and Holofernes

Iconographical Components:

Confrontation between David and Goliath:


facing Goliath (Samuel I, 17:40-42, 48)

approaching Goliath (Samuel I, 17:48)

looking at:
· Goliath
· the shield bearer

holding the sling (Samuel I, 17:40, 49-50)
· with a pebble in it (Samuel I, 17:49)

about to brandish sling

brandishing the sling (Samuel I, 17:49)
· over his head
· from behind his back
· in front of his body
· with a stone in it

hurling pebbles (Samuel I, 17:40)
· one
· three

sling only

represented as
· a lad (Samuel I, 17:33, 42)
· smaller than Goliath (Samuel I, 17:4, 23)
· with a shepherd’s rod (Samuel I, 17:40, 43)
· with a shepherd’s bag (Samuel I, 17:40, 49)

· a crown
· a helmet (Samuel I, 17:36)

accompanied by
· rams (Samuel I, 17:34)
· a harp (Samuel I, 16:23, 18/18:10)
· a dog (Samuel I, 17:43)


facing David

approaching David (Samuel I:41, 48)
· an old man

Goliath’s shield:
  decorated with:
· goat’s head

Goliath’s sword
  A shield bearer (Samuel I:17:7)

David and Goliath Struggling:


strangling Goliath



standing (Samuel I, 17:51)
· on Goliath (Samuel I, 17:51)
· left leg on Goliath

brandishing Goliath’s sword (Samuel I, 17:51)
·  with Goliath’s head skewered on it (Samuel I, 17:54)
· blood lingering from the open wound
· holding Goliath’s head (Samuel I, 17:54)


lying on the ground

head pulled back, neck exposed without head/headless (Samuel I, 17:51)

surrounded by:
· mountains (Samuel I, 17:3)
· both armies (Samuel I, 17:2-3, 19-21)


· Samuel I, 17

· Opening panel of " Ashrei" (Psalms I)

· The hymn "and you recite Passover sacrifice" in the Passover Haggadah

· In the Mishneh Torah, illustrating "Book Seven" dealing with the laws of gleaning, and alluding to the gleaning of Ruth, David's ancestor, while Orpah was, according to the Midrash, Goliath's mother



On Board: New Index Student-Researchers

In November 2001, a reception for potential student-researchers was held at the Hebrew University's Beit Meiersdorf. It brought together all current students and staff of the Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art with candidates for CJA scholarships. Prof. Bezalel Narkiss opened the event followed by a musical interlude of Ladino songs sung by Kokhava Levy accompanied by Betty Klein on harp and mandolin. Ariella Amar, Section Head of the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section delivered a lecture “Tracing the Past” using the “Menorah of Zechariah" to illustrate the Index of Jewish Art’s approach to iconographic material and diverse traditions.

Candidates chosen from this group were given a 2-week course which included excursions and a survey of Jewish art through the cycle of life and the Jewish year. Advanced students in the Index prepared and delivered these lectures. Five new student-researchers were accepted into the program and have begun their work in various sections of the Index.



Eleven Years and Thriving: Seminars for Russian-Speaking Educators

Since 1991 annual seminars on Jewish art have been offered in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Jewish University, alternating venues between Jerusalem and St. Petersburg. They are organized by the CJA and the Society for Jewish Art and sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee. In spring 2000 CJA lecturer Boris Khaimovich taught a full-semester introductory course on “Ashkenazi Visual Tradition” to 40 students at St. Petersburg. He was joined by Dr. Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig of Bar-llan University. In addition Boris taught a full-semester course on Jewish art at the University of Minsk in spring 2002 in Belarus.

In summer 2001, the ninth seminar in Jerusalem that brought together 20 artists and educators from the CIS and 30 Russian-speaking artists and educators living in Israel. The theme of the seminar was “Symbol and Narrative: Biblical Images in Jewish Art.” A follow-up symposium explored “Jewish and Israeli Identity in Art,” and featured among others, a one-woman performance by Russian actress Rachel Spector on the topic of cultural identity.

In autumn 2002, our seminar for Russian artists and educators took place in Kiev and Czernowitz as a joint venture with the Chase Center for the Study of Russian for Jewish Art. It was entitled “Towns, Palaces and Roads” and the organizers were Ilia Devorkin and Ariella Amar. Czernowitz was chosen because it has an active Jewish community, several synagogues and a good central location, allowing for travel and fieldwork to local shtetls. It is situated in a multicultural region where Hasidic and Mitnagdic movements flourished amongst other cultures and nations. This year, the scope of the courses was also enlarged to include Jewish history, mysticism, music, and theatre. Two exhibitions were shown in the CIS, offering the visual impressions of places visited by the artist-participants and one in Jerusalem at Beit Shmuel with a reception at the President’s house. It took place on December 23 to coincide with a daylong follow-up conference. Next year’s seminar will deal with the cultural ties between Ancient Rome and Jerusalem.

For more information, please contact Amia Boasson, Director of the Society for Jewish Art, tel. 02-5882280.


Seminar in Alsace: Jewish Life at the Crossroads of Europe

Situated in the Upper Rhine region, Alsace is the product of two overlapping cultures: German, and French. The Alsatian Jewish community, in existence since medieval times, is a unique amalgam of French and German-Jewish cultures reflected in its customs and art. In the fall of 2001 the Center for Jewish Art conducted a successful ten-day symposium in Alsace for thirty-five people. It was the eighth in a series organized by the CJA every second year.

Lectures and tours highlighted the visual and cultural legacy of Alsace, led by Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Ruth Jacoby and Cindy Mack. Among the guest lecturers were Prof. Yom-Tov Assis and Prof. Shalom Sabar of the Hebrew University, Prof. Freddy Raphael and Dr. Anny Bloch of the Marc Bloch University, Dr. Katia Guth-Dreyfus from the Jewish Museum of Basel and Lawrence Sigal of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. The contribution of the scholars and the hospitality of the local Jewish communities made this symposium particularly spirited and stimulating.

In the course of viewing hundreds of sacred and ceremonial objects and visiting what remains of synagogues and communities in this region the group gradually came to recognize the hard facts. When Hitler annexed Alsace, most of the Jews were annihilated; those who returned after the war could only partially reconstruct this special culture of Jewish life. What remains of the Alsatian visual legacy is rapidly disappearing and the CJA is planning an in-depth documentation of the art and architecture of Alsace following the survey.



“Once Upon a Picture”

An interactive educational multi-media program for children was produced in collaboration between the Center of Jewish Art and the Melton Center of the Hebrew University’s School of Education. The CD-ROM entitled “Once Upon a Picture” created by Ariella Amar, Gabi Fletcher and Debbie Katz, was presented by Ariella Amar (CJA) and Dr. Zvi Beckerman (Melton) at a conference in Columbus, Ohio in July 2002. The CD utilized the Biblical subject of “The Flood” to explore how pictures enhance our experience and understanding of Judaism. This CD showcased the approach of the Center for Jewish Art and Hebrew University’s Melton Center to Jewish education through the visual arts for a web-site currently being planned by the Melton Institute. Cultural and educational institutions were represented at the conference including Ohio State University, Columbus, various local museums, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Jewish Museum, NY. Ariella Amar delivered a lecture “Sacrifices: Test Case for a New Identity.” Founder Florence Melton participated in this event, energizing the proceedings with her enthusiasm for excellence in Jewish educational projects.



Preservation and Restoration

The Center for Jewish Art is often called upon by local and international groups for advice on preservation and restoration of Jewish sites and art objects. This is an important bi-product of our work for the Index of Jewish Art.


The pursuit of reclaiming objects and sites in Vilnius, a community known for the famous Rabbi Eliahu, the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797) has been an ongoing one. In July 2000, CJA Director Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin participated in an international seminar in Vilnius devoted to “Problems and Protection and Reconstruction of the Vilnius Jewish Ghetto.” It brought together members of the Lithuanian Parliament, notably Emanuelis Zingeris, architects and heritage protection specialists to discuss the proposed reconstruction of three areas in the Vilnius Jewish ghetto. At this time, the reconstruction is successfully underway. In 1993 the Center documented the collection in the Jewish Museum in Vilnius (see CJA Newsletter 9, Spring 1994).


Coincidently, the IJA was called upon by the Landmark Preservation Committee in 2002 to a synagogue in Tel Aviv established by a community of Mitnagdim originating from Vilna. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Beit Knesset HaGaon MiVilna has wall paintings made by a local artist. Like the structure itself, the paintings are in need of preservation. Ariella Amar, Head of the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section offered her recommendations for preservation and restoration.

Ariella Amar is currently involved in consultations with the Landmark Preservation Committee on restoring the wall-paintings of the Yeshiva Ha-Gedolah in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood and Jewish ritual objects in Safed’s Abohab Synagogue.



Three papers were presented at the third international conference on Tunisian Jewry at Bar-Ilan University May 17-19, 2000 based on Center expeditions to Tunisia. Prof. Bezalel Narkiss spoke on "Synagogues in Djerba." Ariella Amar, Head of the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section delivered a paper entitled: "Between Tunisia and Livorno: A Comparative Study." Efrat Assaf-Schapira, a master’s student in the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section presented a lecture on "Tunisian Torah Cases."

“Identity and Memory: Achievements and Goals in the Study of Oriental Jewish Communities on the Verge of the Twenty-first Century” was an international conference co-sponsored by the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem May 22-25, 2000. It included a presentation made by Ariella Amar entitled “Documentation of Synagogues in North Africa.”

CJA Director Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin was featured as a distinguished speaker at a “Cathedral Workshop” sponsored by the Council of Europe and its Heritage Committee in Ireland. The October 2000 conference was entitled “The Sacred Art of Calligraphy and Illuminated Manuscripts – The Challenge of Promoting Liturgical Book Arts at the Dawn of the New Millennium.” Prof. Cohen-Mushlin's topic was “Scribes and Artists in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts.”


Since Hanukkah of 1988, the Center for Jewish Art has designated this festive time of year as a fitting opportunity to honour the memory of Mordechai and Nassia Narkiss. Mordechai Narkiss, a scholar of Jewish art, was the founder of the Bezalel Museum which later became the Israel Museum. Nassia his wife was a prominent early childhood educator. The highlight of this event is the presentation of the annual Mordechai and Nassia Narkiss Prize to an individual from the Center or outside it who has made a significant contribution to “Achievement in Research on Jewish Art.”

In 2000 this prize was awarded to Architect Dr.Sergei Kravtzov. Dr. Kravtzov, a native of Lvov, received his doctorate in the history of architecture from the Institute of History and Theory of Architecture and Town Planning in Moscow. He immigrated to Israel one year later. Working in the Index’s Architecture section since 1994, Dr. Kravtzov is responsible for creating the CJA’s state-of-the-art three-dimensional computerized documentation of synagogue architecture.

In 2001 the prize was awarded to the renowned architect David Cassuto, a longtime friend of the Center and a passionate scholar of Italian Jewish art and architecture. Born in Florence, Italy, Cassuto made aliyah in 1945. After his military service he studied architecture and town planning at the Technion. In addition to notable contributions in his field including the design of numerous synagogues, Cassuto was very active in establishing the Italian Jewish Museum and Research Center of which he was Chairman for many years. He was one of the founders of the Society for Jewish Art and has published extensively on the subject.

In addition to awarding the annual prize, the four-week Narkiss lecture series gives an accounting of the work done by the various sections of the Index in the previous year. In 2000 the series featured lectures on synagogues in former Yugoslavia (Dr. Samuel Albert, Architectural Historian), a hidden decoration program in Piemonte (Ariella Amar, IJA Section Head), the community of Alsace (Ruth Jacoby, CJA Deputy Director). The 2001 series featured lectures on gestures in prayer (Michal Sternthal, IJA Section Head), Romaniot and Sephardim in Greece (Ariella Amar, IJA Section Head), the story of Jonah in the work of Uriel Birnbaum (Dr. Haya Freidberg, IJA Section Head).

This lecture series was sponsored with the generous support of Sotheby's Israel.


Wooden models of fifteen German synagogues, some destroyed on Kristallnacht, some still standing, were featured in an exhibition entitled “Synagogues in Germany: From Baroque to Modernism” in June 2000. The exhibition in Braunschweig was organized by architects Katrin Kessler, Ulrich Knufinke and Simon Paulus and supported by the Niedersächsische Lottostiftung and the Stiftung Nord/LB-Öffentliche. An address on “Jewish Identity through Art” delivered by Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Director of the Index of Jewish Art, opened the lecture series devoted to the topic of Jews, Judaism and architecture which ran concurrent with the exhibition. Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin spoke about “The Documentation of an Endangered Heritage: Jewish Art and Architecture throughout the World.” On this occasion, the Senate of the Technical University of Braunschweig bestowed an Honourary Professorship to Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin. Some of the architectural models were later displayed in Görlitz, Saxony, Hannover, and Leipzig and at the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum. The students built additional wooden models which are permanently exhibited at the new Berlin Jewish Museum and at the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum. In March 2002 they were exhibited at the Niedersächsischen Landtag.

Ariella Amar, Head of the Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section, served as researcher and consultant for “Between Israel and the Nations,” a traveling exhibition sponsored by the Jerusalem Fairs and Conventions Bureau. Curated by Muli Ben Sassoon and Ori Reshef in cooperation with the World Center for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University, the exhibition opened in Jerusalem at the Judaica Fair in May 2000 and traveled to the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv in August-September 2000. It revealed connections between Jewish rites, art and culture and the Christian, Moslem and Hindu environments.


In collaboration with the World Center for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University, Index researchers and section heads Ariella Amar and Michal Sternthal have helped produce a publication --“Nehar De’ah” (River of Knowledge) -- devoted to the weekly Torah portion, parshat haShavuah. This beautifully produced circular provides an arena for commentaries on the weekly sidra and is distributed through the Ministry of Education to teachers. The Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art provided year-long visual material with commentaries for each of the parshiot which added a new dimension to the commentary of the Torah portion.


The Society for Jewish Art is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting the knowledge of Jewish art in Israel through courses, teacher education programs, seminars and conferences. Since its establishment in 1979, the Society for Jewish Art has initiated many outreach and educational programs which continue to grow and develop. In addition to its various activities, the Society for Jewish Art publishes numerous items, notably Rimonim, the only Hebrew periodical of its kind devoted solely to Jewish art and culture. The Society organizes yearly seminars for Russian artists and educators and has cultivated a steadily growing community of individuals educated in Jewish art. The venue for these seminars alternates between Israel and the Commonwealth of Independent States. See "Education" for more on this program.

Every year, the Society for Jewish Art holds a two-day conference featuring lectures, performances and presentations organized around a particular topic. The annual event attracts both the professional and the lay audience.

In 2000-2001, the conferences took place at the Bible Lands Museum. The 2000 seminar, coordinated by Prof. Bezalel Narkiss and Ariella Amar, was devoted to “Customs and Beliefs in Jewish Art.” Scholars in a variety of disciplines explored different aspects of folk beliefs through the lens of Jewish art. Prof. Yair Zakovitch, Dean of Humanities at the Hebrew University opened the conference and spoke about "Folk Beliefs within Religion in the Bible," Other sessions were devoted to Magic, the Dybbuk and Satan, and Amulets and Rituals.

Praise Him with Tambourine and Dance,” the 2001 seminar, was organized by Dr. Naomi Feuchwanger-Sarig. It featured art historians, musicologists, ethnographers and architects who gathered over the two-day period to explore the effects of the art of music and dance on various Jewish arts media such as synagogue design and book illumination. Prof. Eliahu Schleifer of the Hebrew Union College opened the conference with a lecture on "The Role of Music in Judaism." Other sessions explored visual depictions of music-making and musical instruments in the works of Chagall, illuminated manuscripts and ancient coins. Presentations were made on dance and synagogue music--choral and instrumental-- in different communities and the effects of music on synagogue design.

“My Heart is in the East and I am in the Uttermost West”-- Yehudah HaLevi’s (c.1080-1141) famous words, was the title of the 2002 conference, thirty-fourth in the series, which focused on the effects of Spanish and Oriental art and music on contemporary Jewish culture. The conference, coordinated by Prof. Bezalel Narkiss and Ariella Amar, took place at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and featured a musical performance of Ladino songs by Kokhava Levi and an exhibit of paintings by Elisheva Shitrit entitled “Memories of Morocco.” The fifth President of Israel Yitzhak Navon, a well-known ambassador of Sephardi culture, welcomed all the participants. Dr. Ariel Hirschfeld opened the conference with a lecture on "Agnon and Zionist Orientalism."

In the final forum, several institutions presented their recent work combining Jewish art with education. For example Nurit Bank from the Israel Museum, Moshe Za'afrani, Dr. Naomi Yaffe, Dr. Naomi Cassuto and Rachel Sabag from different units of the Ministry of Education.

Annual Conference on the Hebrew Word

In May 2000 the Society for Jewish Art joined the Emunah’s Department of Communications, the Ministry of Education's Department of Religious Culture and in co-organizing the Ninth Annual Conference of the Hebrew Word. Focusing on “The Prayerbook and its Design, Past, Present and Future,” the conference brought together both artists and scholars devoted to Jewish book arts. In 2001, this conference focused exclusively on megillot.

For more information about the Society, its publications and activities contact Amia Boasson at 02-588-2280 or by e-mail.



North America

The North American Jewish community has become increasingly aware of the importance of Jewish culture in enriching and perpetuating Jewish identity in the Diaspora. In response to these concerns, representatives of the Center visited several communities in the United States and Canada in the past two years. Groups in Atlanta, Cleveland and Sarasota hosted several events which highlighted the work done at the Center.

A most significant visit was made to Vancouver in February 2001. Having planted the seeds the previous February, Prof. Bezalel Narkiss and Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin came back to discover that the visit had borne fruit. Speaking in a variety of venues – an art gallery, the University of Victoria, its faculty club, the Jewish community center, and a private home - Bezalel Narkiss and Aliza Cohen-Mushlin reached a broad audience. Inspired by the Center’s work, a new chapter of the Canadian Friends of the Center for Jewish Art was founded in Vancouver with Gerry Growe as its Chairman. Victoria resident Jack Gardner, a generous donor to the Center, donated a fund to help document abandoned synagogues in the Ukraine. The new group resolved to enlarge upon this work. Until now the Center has documented one-third of three hundred synagogues there. The initiative of the Vancouver Friends will assist in completing this task. Special thanks go to all the organizers headed by Dvori Balshine.


Every year, a lecture series sponsored by the Women’s Chapter of the Mexican Friends of the Hebrew University brings three scholars from the Hebrew University to Mexico. The scholars lecture in various local universities and synagogues and help raise money for student scholarships. In March of this year, CJA Director Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin joined Prof. Dalia Ofer and Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson in addressing the community. Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin spoke about the Center’s efforts to document art and architecture of communities worldwide. Community members expressed interest in documenting the synagogues of Mexico. The community of 40,000 Jews is made up of Ashkenazim, Syrian Jews and Sephardim from Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. The planned documentation in Mexico would be another piece in the mosaic of the Syrian Jewish diasporas being documented by the Index.

Two scholarships were given by Reyna and Enrique Grunstein to CJA students Irina Chernetsky and Vladimir Levin.

Scholarship Dedicated in Memory of Hans-Heinrich Solf

Dr. Sabine Buchler-Solf, the former Director of Research at the Herzog August Bibliotek in Wolfebüttel, has dedicated a CJA Scholarship in memory of her husband, Dr. Hans-Heinrich Solf (1910-1987). Hans-Heinrich Solf was born into a distinguished German family. His father served in various top diplomatic roles. During World War II, his mother established the “Solf Circle,” a resistance group opposed to Hitler and National Socialism for which she and her daughter paid dearly with their lives. Hans-Heinrich Solf studies law at the end of WWII he was appointed by the British Military Governor as a government officer in Göttingen. In 1951 he joined the Council of Europe as the first German European civil servant in Strasbourg and retired from that position in 1971. He was a distinguished freemason who was renowned as a Masonic scholar.


In the 2000-2001 academic year, three graduate students from abroad studied at the Center for Jewish Art:

Magda Veselska from the Jewish Museum in Prague was here for a two-semester internship to study the documentation techniques used by the researchers at the Jerusalem Index of Jewish Art. She will utilize them in her work at this historic Jewish museum. The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Rich Foundation for Education, Culture and Welfare generously provided the funds for her work at the Center.

Maros Borsky received his master’s degree in Art History from Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. In 1999 he received his MA in Jewish Civilization from the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University. He was granted a Research Internship at the Center for Jewish Art in preparation for leading a synagogue documentation project in Bratislava. The project began in 2001 and is in progress.

Janez Premk, a graduate student in art history from Slovenia, was at the Hebrew University for one semester to complete his MA thesis on “The Medieval Marpurg (Maribor) Community Seen through Extant Documents.” His concurrent tutorial at the Center for Jewish Art encompassed both architecture and manuscripts. Upon returning to Slovenia, he surveyed what remains of Jewish architecture and in 2002 he joined up with a CJA expedition team working in the region.

Prof. Harmen Thies of the Institut für Baugeschichte at the Technische Universtät Braunschweig shared his approach to architectural history here in Israel as a visiting professor in the Art History Department at the Hebrew University in 2001. Since 1994 he has been involved in a collaborative project with the CJA to document synagogues in Germany.


Hannelore Künzl, author of Jüdische Kunst, professor of Jewish Art and teacher at the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg. An enthusiastic teacher and significant researcher, Prof. Künzl educated a new generation of art historians specializing in the field of Jewish art. Ms. Kunzl attended many Center conferences. We all mourn her untimely death.

Zussia Efron (1910 - 2002) co-editor of Jewish Art (with Cecil Roth, 1957), former director of Mishkan le'Omanut art museum at Kibbutz Ein Harod, researcher, writer and lecturer on Eastern European Jewish art. Born in Vilna, Efron immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. A well respected scholar on Jewish art, Efron was instrumental in establishing Judaica collections and museums in, among other places, Warsaw, Belgrade and Vilna. As an army of one person, Zussia traveled for many years in the former Soviet Union and its satellites to survey Jewish art treasures, synagogues, their decorations, furniture, ritual objects and cemeteries.

The vast photographic and slide collection which he kept at his studio and was not known until now was donated by his wife Irene and son Ariel to the CJA to be used by the researchers, teachers and students on the premises.

Mendel Metzger, art historian who dealt exclusively with Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. His Ph.D. thesis was published as a vast volume of l’Haggadah illuminé. In collaboration with his art historian wife Thérèse, he wrote the well-known Jewish Life in the Middle Ages .He worked until his untimely death, struck by a car while on a bicycle, returning home from the library of the University of Strasbourg.

Elie Borowski (1913-2003) whose vast collection of Middle Eastern artifacts forms the bulk of Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum. Born in Warsaw, Borowski was educated in Poland’s leading Jewish seminaries before enlisting in the Polish division of the French army at the outbreak of WWII. After the war, he studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Sorbonne in France, and elsewhere in Europe. He became an expert on ancient Biblical art and moved to Switzerland where he became an antiquities dealer. Over a period of fifty years he assembled an important collection of Ancient Near Eastern art reflecting the cultures and civilizations of the biblical period. Encouraged by former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Borowski and his wife Batya created the Bible Lands Museum. They have mounted several important exhibitions focusing on Ancient Jewish art. Batya Borowski is the Director of the Museum.