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News Update –
Spring 2011


Wishing our friends a Happy Pessach
Research at the Center
Ritual & Ceremonial Objects Section
Head of Section Ms. Ariella Amar with researcher Ms. Einat Ron are preparing for publication via the internet the documentation and preliminary research of the arts of Tunisian Jews. 150 synagogues and their ritual objects will reveal the Jewish visual legacy documented in Tunisia and among the Tunisian communities in Israel. Through the objects, the publication will expose special customs conducted by the three communities who lived in Tunisia: The Tuensa (native Jews), Leghorn (Sephardi and Italians) and the community in the island of Djerba. The project is funded by Misgav Yerushalayim, the Center for Research and Study of Sephardi and Oriental Jewish Heritage at the Hebrew University.

Architectural Section
Dr. Sergey Kravtsov, Dr. Vladimir Levin and Architect Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky are conducting a documentation and research of 37 synagogues in Volhynia, Ukraine. They are preparing for the production of a catalogue which will commemorate the lost communities in that region,  This project is supported by the Machover Trust.

Synagogue in Zhitomir in Volhynia (Photo: Sergey Kravtsov, 2007)

Activities based on Research Carried out at the Center

  • Dr. Sergey Kravtsov, Research Fellow at the Architectural Section was invited in December 2010 by the Lviv Municipality to be a member of a jury for the International Design Competition for the Sites of Jewish History in Lviv.  The topics of the competition relate to the life of the Jewish community before WWII, its destruction during the Nazi occupation, and neglect in all the years after the war.
1st Prize. Synagogue Square Site. Franz Reschke, Frederik Springer, Paul Reschke (Berlin, Germany)

For more details, please visit


Dr. Vladimir Levin headed an expedition in the summer of 2010 in the Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanisławów) region in Ukraine, where the participants collected oral history and surveyed Jewish monuments .

The remains of a Jewish cemetery dating to the 16th century in the Ukrainian village of Solotyvn.  (Dina Kraft)
The remains of a Jewish cemetery dating to the 16th century
in the Ukrainian village of Solotyvn  (Photo: Dina Kraft)
  • Architect Zoya Arshavsky delivered a lecture "Mahala without Jews – Changes in the Jewish Quarter in Samarkand from the Large Immigration of the Nineties up to the Present," at the Begin Center in Jerusalem in November 2010.
  • Ms. Ariella Amar, Head of the Ritual & Ceremonial Objects Section served as consultant to the exhibition "Lights and Shadows: the Story of Iran and the Jews" mounted by the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.
  • Also at the Diaspora Museum, Ms. Amar delivered a lecture: "Ardashir Nama: a Megilah in a Purim Costume". Ardashir Nama are illuminated Judeo-Persian Manuscripts of the 17th century, telling the story of Queen Esther in a local interpretation. The poetic text was composed by the poet Shahin Shirazi in 1333.
  • At a conference held in April 2011 titled "The Collective Memory and the Narrative of the Egyptian Jews" held by the Dahan Institute at Bar Ilan University Ms. Amar discussed: "The Palm Tree: A Modern Identity of the Egyptian Jews."    
  • Ms. Ilona Steimann of the Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Section gave a lecture: "The Story of One Acquisition: Ulrich Fugger and his Collection of Hebrew Candiote Manuscripts" at an international research workshop entitled "Minorities in Colonial Settings: The Jews in Venice's Hellenic Territories (1400-1800)", which took place at Tel Aviv University in March 2011.  

The Society for Jewish Art
In November 2010, the Society held a seminar "Customs of Childbearing" in the Old Yishuv Court Museum in Jerusalem.


News Update –
Winter 2010

Latest News

Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin was awarded an Order of Merit  (Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens) by the President of the Republic of Germany Dr. Horst Köhler.  The award was bestowed upon her for her groundbreaking research of Latin and Hebrew manuscripts in Germany, for her life achievements in the preservation of Jewish Art and for establishing – together with Prof. Harmen H. Thies of the Technische Universität Braunschweig – the Bet Tfila Research Unit.  Bet Tfila is a research unit for the documentation of synagogues by German and Israeli students at Braunschweig University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The Award was presented by His Excellency, Ambassador Dr. Hararld Kinderman, in the presence of Prof. Menahem Ben Sasson, the President of the Hebrew University, Prof. Cohen's colleagues and her students. This Order of Merit is an acknowledgement of her outstanding personal contribution to the understanding between nations.  For more details please visit the Center's website http://cja.huji.ac.il.

The first volume of Synagogues in Lithuania – A Catalogue, comprising entries from A to M, has just been published in Vilnius (see details below under Publications).
Etz Hayyim Synagoge in Hania, Crete was set on fire twice by arsonists, on the night of 5th-6th January 2010 and again early morning of the16th. During the first incident Nikos Stavroulakis' office in the newly constructed Ezrath Nashim was destroyed along with some 1800 books, two computers and other materials. In the second fire, the main office together with the entire archive of the synagogue, were ruined; fortunately the Hechal was untouched. More on the Etz Hayyim synagogue can be viewed on their website http://www.etz-hayyim-hania.org.  This sad incident proves, once again, how important documentation of Jewish heritage is.
On the 14th of December 2009, on Tzali's birthday, we lit the fourth Hanukkah candle during our traditional ceremony of awarding the Narkiss Family Prize for outstanding research in Jewish Art. The recipient this year was architect Zoya Arshavsky, who immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan in the mid-1990s.  Mrs. Arshavsky delivered an enlightening lecture on the synagogues of Bukhara and Samarkand.  Next was Dr. Sergey Kravtsov's lecture on Jozef Awin, a Jewish architect and theoretician from Lvi'v, followed by Ilona Steimann's lecture on a Jewish workshop in Venice initiated by the Christian humanist Johann Jakob Fugger.

Research at the Center
Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Section
While documenting a 15th century Pentateuch housed in the National Bavarian Library in Munich, an interesting "piece of history" was found hidden among its folios. It is a piece of paper glued to one of its parchment pages, on which appears the full German text of the "Jewish Oath" (Judeneid) (fig. 1).  This Pentateuch, originally in the possession of the court of the Nuremberg Council, probably served as the official Pentateuch on which Jews were made to take oath in the civil court (fig. 2). 
Such Jewish oaths are typically found in legal texts such as the Saxonian Codex of LawsSachsenspiegel, written in Saxony in 1220-1230, or the later Swabian Schwabenspiegel, written in Augsburg, Germany around 1275.  The case of the Munich library Pentateuch is a rare example in which the object – the Hebrew Pentateuch – and the text of the oath have been found together. 
            The oath, as it appears in the Munich Pentateuch, includes certain elements already known to us from previous versions appearing as early as the 9th century: the oath must be made in the name of the God of Israel, mentioning the Hebrew name “Andonay” in transliteration. The text lists the curses to be inflicted upon one who gives false testimony, referring to curses mentioned in the Bible, and especially those inflicted on Sodom and Gomorrah.
            At this stage of research it is not yet clear how the Pentateuch was exactly used in the Nuremberg Council in the 15th century, whether the Jews of Nuremberg were required to stand on a pig’s skin while reciting the oath (fig. 3), or if they were made to wear a special garment for this particular ceremony, as was sometimes the case in certain German cities during the Middle Ages.

Fig. 1:
Jewish Oath, 15th century, Germany (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,
Cod. hebr. 212, fol. 52.
Fig. 2:
Jewish Oath, Tengler, Laienspiegel,
Augsburg, 1509 (Cecil Roth Collection).
Jewish Oath, Breslau,
17th century.


Ritual & Ceremonial Objects Section
Section Head Ms. Ariella Amar is working on the findings collected during a recent expedition to Moldavia (August 2009). Her research is focused on the synagogues and ritual objects of Bacau. Ms. Einat Ron is continuing her research of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Shumen and ritual objects in Sophia, both in Bulgaria.
Another project conducted by Ms. Amar is the research of the Greek ritual objects confiscated by the Nazis during WWII. The collection, now housed in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, originally belonged to Greek Jews, primarily those who were sent to Auschwitz from Thessalonica.

Architectural Section
On the invitation of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, Dr. Vladimir Levin participated in December in a small group of experts who discussed the preservation of the Jewish cultural heritage and took part in an international seminar (see below); he used this opportunity to advance our research on synagogues in Vilnius for the catalogue Synagogues in Lithuania, just published (see below). During his short stay in Vilnius, Dr. Levin found four more synagogue buildings in the city.
Architects Dr. Sergey Kravtsov and Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky went on the third and last expedition to Latvia in September 2009 thus completing documentation of Jewish ritual buildings in the Latvian provinces of Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme.
Research continues on synagogues of the Reform Movement, a joint project of Bet Tfila Research Unit involving the Center's and TU Braunschweig researchers.

Scholars and Researchers Present their Research Based on the Center's Material
Dr. Levin and a former Center researcher Dr. Boris Khaimovich headed a summer field school of the Sefer Center in Moscow and the Internet Project “Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina” ( www.jewishgalicia.net) in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine (August 2009). Using the methodology developed at the Center, the participants of the field school documented about 2,000 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in the small town of Solotvyn (Sołotwina). The processed data will later be made available to the Center. In October, Dr. Levin was invited to St. Petersburg, Russia, to deliver a public lecture, “The St. Petersburg Jewish Community and the Capital of the Russian Empire: an Architectural Dialogue.” Also, together with Mr. Benjamin Lukin from the Central Archives of the History of Jewish People in Jerusalem, he guided a tour through the Jewish cemetery of St. Petersburg. In November he gave a lecture “The Synagogue and its Place in the East European Jewish Society” at the conference New Voices, organized by the Cummings Center for Russian and East European Studies at the Tel Aviv University. ” At an international seminar Vilnius – World Heritage Site: Values of Jewish Heritage and its Commemoration he delivered a paper, “Synagogues in the Urban Fabric of Vilnius" and participated in the opening of an exhibition “Synagogues in Lithuania” (December 2009).
Mrs. Zoya Arshavski delivered a lecture "Remains of the Jewish Community in the Fergana Valley" in a seminar organized the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on the Jews of Bukhara, History and Culture (January 2010).
Ms. Ilona Steimann lectured on: "Illustrating the Yom Kippur prayers in an Ashkenazi Medieval Mahzor" at a seminar entitled Yom Kippur in Art organized by the Society for Jewish Art and held at the U. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art (September 2009); she also gave a paper on: "The illustrations in medical Hebrew manuscripts in the 15th century: The Avecenna Canon" at the Society's seminar "Ma'aseh Tuviah" – a Jewish Doctor in the Courts of Kings and Counts which took place at Sergey's Court in Jerusalem (November 2009).
Using her years’ long expertise as researcher at the Center, Ms. Amar also acts as professional consultant for the forthcoming exhibition on the Jews of Iran to be mounted at the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv at the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011.  In addition she consulted the Jewish Italian Museum in Jerusalem and the municipal museum in Ramla. The latter displayed an exhibition on Hanukkah lamps titled: "In Those Days at This Time."
Ms. Amar delivered several lectures recently: "The Cemetery as Living Museum: The Moldavian Tombstones" at a conference The End of the Road: Death in the Visual Arts and Culture, held at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (December 2009); "Changing Direction: The Synagogues in Piedmont before and after 1848" at Italia Judaica Jubilee Conference, held at Tel Aviv University (January 2010); "Hidden Collectors and Collections in Poland", held at the Diaspora Museum (January 2010); "The Prophet Ezekiel and his Banner: Shiite Customs in a Jewish Garment", in Pilgrimages in Arts, the 19th Motar Conference held at Tel Aviv University (February  2010).

Recent and Forthcoming Publications by the Center's Researchers

  • Amar A., "The Visual Legacy of the Syrian Jews," Syria, in Jewish Communities in the East in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Yaron Har'el (ed.) (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Ben-Zvi Institute for the study of Jewish communities in the East of Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2009). (In Hebrew).
  • ______, "Tradition and Innovation in Moldavian Synagogues: Structure and Decoration." Studia Hebraica, The Goldstein Goren Center for Jewish Studies 9, Felicia Waldman (ed.) (Romania, Bucharest – in print).
  • ______, "Tradition and Innovation in Moldavian Synagogues: Structure and Decoration." Studia Hebraica, The Goldstein Goren Center for Jewish Studies 9, Felicia Waldman, ed. (Romania, Bucharest) (forthcoming).
  • Kravtsov S., The Turei Zahav Synagogue in L’viv (Petersberg: Michael Imhof Publishing House) (forthcoming).
  • _____“Józef Awin on Jewish Art and Architecture,” in Jewish Artists in Central and Eastern Europe from the 19th Century to World War II, The First Congress of Jewish Art, Kazimierz on Vistula, 27-29 October, 2008,  edited by Jerzy Malinowski (Warsaw: DIG Publishing House) forthcoming).
  • _____“Jewish Identities in Synagogue Architecture of Galicia and Bukovina,” Ars Judaica: The Bar-Ilan Journal of Jewish Art, 6 (forthcoming).
  • Synagogues in Lithuania. A Catalogue, A-M, Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, Giedrė Mickūnaite and Jurgita Šiauciūnaitė-Verbickienė (ed.), (Vilnius: Vilnius Academy of Arts Press, 2009).


News Update – Autumn 2010

Research at the Center

Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts Section

Our researchers, Michal Sternthal and Ilona Steiman together with Prof. Aliza Cohen Mushlin, Head of project, have now reached the final stages of documenting and researching 85 Hebrew illuminated manuscripts housed at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (BSB) in Munich. The following are some interesting results following the research of two manuscripts:
One manuscript is a multi-lingual Miscellany which includes the treatises Bellifortis on War Machines by Konrad Kyeser, the Firework Book by an anonymous author as well as fate calculations and magical incantations. It was created in South-Germany at the end of the 15th century in four languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, German and Latin (BSB, Cod. hebr. 235; figs. 1-3). The illustrations were carefully drawn though often misunderstood if compared to similar bellifortis manuscripts of the same century. However, the explanations to the drawings as well as the text pages were crudely and carelessly written by the scribe-artist. Moreover, the numerous additions written along the margins, filling up every empty space, suggest that he wrote this work for his own use only.

Attacking a fortress
(Munich, BSB Cod. hebr.235, fol.65v)
Marching to battle
(Munich, BSB Cod. hebr.235, fol.90)

The first two treatises are lavishly illustrated with technical drawings of military machines and other solutions for the protection or destruction of fortresses. The War Machines (Bellifortis) treatise follows in essence the illustrated Latin manuscript of Konrad Kyeser written in 1405 (Göttingen, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. philos. 63; fig. 4).

A ram horn
(Munich, BSB Cod. hebr. 235, fol. 25)
A ram horn,1405 (Göttingen, Niedersächsische Staats- und  universitäts-bibliothek,
Cod. philos. 63, fol. 27)

The second manuscript is a collection of stories in Yiddish copied in Tannhausen, Germany between 1580 and c.1600 (BSB, Cod. hebr. 100). It was decorated by the Jewish scribe Yitzhak Yuda Reutlingen with pen drawn text illustrations within panels: eighteen illustrations for the text of Kaiser Octavian (fig. 5) and three for the twenty-two Maisses (Jewish stories; fig. 6). The story of Till Eulenspiegel, also included in this manuscript, is not illustrated. Although the model for the story of Kaiser Octavian is unknown, our manuscript resembles in part the complete version printed in Augsburg in 1568 by Matthäus Franck. These two manuscripts are among the earliest known illustrated Yiddish manuscripts.

Fig. 5:
The Empress falsely accused of adultery kneels before Octavian with their babies begging for mercy. Tannhausen, 1580-1585; 1600 (Munich, BSB Cod. hebr. 100, fol. 3)
The story of Susanna and the elders. One of the 22 Maisses. Tannhausen, 1580-1585; 1600 (Munich, BSB Cod. hebr. 100, fol. 87)

 The target audience for Yiddish illustrated literature such as the Jewish Maisses and the Octavian story (BSB, Cod. hebr. 100), were men and women in the middle ranks of Jewish society, rather than only women, youth or children as was erroneously presumed. If such illustrated Yiddish books were written for people not well versed in German, the Munich Bellifortis is proof that erudite Jews could read and write German as well as Latin, and be interested in warfare and engineering.

Architectural Section

  • Architect Zoya Arshavsky participated in an expedition to Uzbekistan in May 2010 to search archives in Tashkent and Samarkand for documents of the Jewish built heritage, and to document the remaining Jewish sites in Khatirchi (Samarkand). Unfortunately only a cemetery with old tombstones and a chapel remain, while the synagogue is no longer standing. Measurements and photographs were taken of the cemetery chapel; photographs were taken of the sites where the Jewish Mahala and the synagogue stood.
  • Research is continuing by the Architectural team in preparation for the following publications:

- A chapter in the volume Reform Synagogues in Central Eastern Europe, in the framework of our cooperation with Bet Tfila Research Unit in Braunschweig (Dr. Sergey Kravtsov);
- volume 2 of the catalogue  Synagogues of Lithuania (Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Dr. Sergey Kravtsov and Dr. Vladimir Levin of the Center for Jewish Art, Dr. Giedrė Mickūnaitė of the Vilnius Academy of Arts and Dr. Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė of the Vilnius University, eds.);

 Further Activities by the Center's Researchers
 Dr. Vladimir Levin was a visiting scholar at the Emmy Noether research group "Finding Justice in the Ethically-Religiously Mixed Societies" of the University of Leipzig. During his stay (June 2010) he gave a lecture: "The Jewish Community as an Integral Part of European Cities? Architectural Dialogue in the Capital of the Russian Empire”.

  • In his capacity as director of the project “Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina,” Dr. Levin headed the summer field school in the Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanisławów) region in Ukraine in late July and early August 2010. The participants of the school documented Jewish cemeteries, collected oral history and surveyed Jewish monuments in this region . Within the framework of the summer school, Dr. Levin also delivered a lecture: “Jewish Culture and History of East Central Europe” at the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in L’viv.
  • Dr. Kravtsov gave a lecture: “Studies of Jewish Architecture in Central–Eastern Europe in Historical Perspective” at the international conference “The History of Art History in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe," at the Center of Contemporary Art in Toruń, Poland in September 2010.
  • In a three day conference at the Israel Museum in October 2010, Dr. Kravtsov delivered a lecture: "The Israelite Hospital in Lemberg/Lwów/L’viv, 1898–1912: ‘Jewish’ Architecture by an ‘International’ Team."  
  • In the same conference, Dr. Levin discussed: "Hebrew University Initiatives in Israel and in Ukraine Aiming to Advance Knowledge about Jewish-Ukrainian History and Relations."

The Society for Jewish Art
The Society for Jewish Art held several seminars in Jerusalem this year:

  • "Dialogue on Art between Fathers and Sons " on the relationship between poetry and painting in the works of the poet Abba Kovner and his painter son Michael Kovner, at the Artists House (April 2010).
  • "Jewish and Muslim Headwear" at the Old Yishuv Courtyard in the Old City (April).
  • "Interdisciplinary Artists," on Leah Goldberg's paintings, illustrations, poems and stories, at Beit Ott HaMutzar (May 2010).
  • The Society's 41st annual conference, "Art from the Height of our Years," was held at the same location (June 2010).
  • A seminar "The Sources of Purity" on Mikvaot took place at the same location (also in June).

Recent and Forthcoming Publications by Center Researchers

  • Kravtsov S., “Jewish Identities in Synagogue Architecture of Galicia and Bukovina,” Ars Judaica: The Bar-Ilan Journal of Jewish Art, 6 (2010), 81–100.
  • _______, “Gothic Survival in Synagogues of Eastern Europe,” in Aliza Cohen-Mushlin and Harmen H. Thies eds., Jewish Architecture in Europe (Petersberg, 2010), 101–107.
  • _______, "Stanislaviv in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Spatial Composition and its Symbolism," in Ivan Bondarev and Zenovy Fedunkiv eds., The Fortress of Stanislaviv (Ivano-Frankivs’k, 2010), 44–63 (in Polish).
  • ______, “Studies of Jewish Architecture in Central–Eastern Europe in Historical Perspective,” in The History of Art History in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, ed. Jerzy Malinowski (Warsaw, 2011).


News Update –
Winter 2009


The Center’s Research
The Section of Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts is now documenting and researching some fifty Hebrew illuminated manuscripts housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. While working on this new project our researchers are also concluding their research on our previous project at the Austrian National library in Vienna. The following are some of their research results:
A missing part of a mutilated manuscript, which is now named the Tripartite Miscellany, was found by Anna Nizza in the Biblioteca Casanatense (MS 2916) in Rome. Until recently only the parts housed in the British Library, London (MS Harley 7586a) and in the Austrian National library, Vienna (Cod. hebr.197) were known to scholars, while the third part in Rome, now identified by Anna, was not associated with them. It is quite a find!
Another interesting manuscript researched by Estherlee Kanon is a miscellany (Austrian National Library, Vienna, Cod. hebr. 12a) from the end of the 14th century. It presents an unusually complex layout of intertwining commentary text.  These texts were copied by over 10 scribes and embellished by scribal pen-work decorations.


Vienna Miscellany, Ashkenaz, end of 14th century (before 1403) (Austrian National Library, Cod. Hebr. 75), fol. 164v
Vienna Miscellany, Ashkenaz, end of 14th century (before 1403) (Austrian National Library, Cod. Hebr. 75), fol. 264

According to Estherlee, the dimensions of the codex and its complex text-decoration system testify to an owner who was both well-to-do and a learned scholar who wished to have a commentary selection incorporated in a single volume.
Also worth mentioning is a Pentateuch from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek collection (Cod. hebr. 212), which was owned in the 15th century by the Council of Nuremberg. The Pentateuch is bound in a unique leather binding signed by the scribe and binder Meir ben Israel Jaffe who wrote: "The Pentateuch for (Nurenberka) may he live Meir Jaffe hametsayer (he who paints)".  A search through the leaves of the book by Michal Sternthal revealed that each two facing pages open with the Hebrew letter vav.  It is possible that this Pentateuch served as a model for writing Torah scrolls, where each column starts with the letter vav.  Apparently, this exceptional manuscript appealed to the members of the Council of Nuremburg, who then also commissioned a special binding for it.
Ilona Steimann documented an interesting group of eight Hebrew manuscripts from the Munich collection, including Pentateuchs and Prayer Books previously owned by the physician, humanist and bibliophile Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514).  Schedel is best known for his book World History, or the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in Nuremberg in 1493.

Most of Schedel's Hebrew manuscripts, four of which are illuminated, were produced in Franconia at the end of the 13th–beginning of the 14th century, as can be concluded from their palaeographical traits and the decoration which appears mainly in the initial word panels.

The burning of Jews, repeated several times
in the Schedel's Chronicle, Nuremberg, 1493.

In his Chronicle Schedel describes how Jews and heretics will be burnt at the End of Days (see picture).  This was due to occur, according to different calculations and according to the Chronicle, around 1500, during Schedel's lifetime. In this context, the fact that Schedel collected all his Hebrew manuscripts within a short period around the year 1500 is of high importance.
Although Schedel did not know Hebrew, he collected Hebrew codices as part of a general interest in Hebrew literature among German humanist circles, for polemic reasons intended to prove the supremacy of Christianity over Judaism.
Hebrew manuscripts may have served Schedel in his writing of the Chronicle, although he may have intended them to remain as testimony to the Jewish people after their demise at the End of Days.

Synagogues and Ritual Objects Section
 Research of Jewish Tombstones in Bulgaria
“Woe unto me!” Jacob lamented bitterly his deceased daughter Sahal, who died young in 1857. His eulogy is chiselled on her tombstone in Karnobat, one of the three Jewish cemeteries documented by the Center in Bulgaria (the other two are Shumen and Provadia) and researched by Einat Ron.
            Sahal's grave is a rectangular horizontal tombstone, one of the typical shapes of the gravestones throughout the Ottoman Empire.  The tombstones are inscribed with epitaphs in Hebrew and Ladino and decorated with attributes representing the virtues of the deceased, their occupation, gender and marital status.
The rhymed inscriptions are interlaced with paraphrases on biblical verses and exegesis, as well as midrashic interpretations demonstrating a profound knowledge in Jewish literal sources. The epitaphs allude to eschatological aspirations, emphasizing the reward of the righteous in the next world. Sahal’s tombstone and many others convey not only the story of the dead, but also that of her community.

Expedition to Piedmont
In September 2008, the Center sent a second expedition to Piedmont, North Italy. The team led by Ariella Amar, included researcher Einat Ron, Architect Zoya Arshavsky and photographer Zev Radovan. They documented about 150 ritual objects, five synagogues and three cemeteries in seven cities: Biella, Vercceli, Alessandria, Nizza Monferatto, Saluzzo, Cherasco and Cuneo.
Ariella Amar points to some interesting facts revealed during their expedition: Four out of the five documented synagogues were renovated after the emancipation of Piedmont in 1848 by King Carlos Alberto. One of them is the lavishly decorated synagogue in Cuneo. The prayer hall in the second floor is part of a large compound of communal buildings, including a mikveh, public oven and communal gathering hall. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1884 on the foundations of a former 17th century synagogue. The façade was decorated and a Hebrew Biblical citation (Ex. 25:8) was inscribed on the wall. As with all post-emancipation synagogues, the central bimah was relocated and is now enclosed within a fenced platform facing the Torah Ark.
More evidence regarding the earlier building came to light while documenting the ritual objects in the present synagogue. A small wooden cabinet and an Alms box with a dedicatory inscription indicate that the first synagogue existed already in 16ll. In addition, an old dedicatory plaque attached a pair of Torah finials made in the 18th century reveals two different building stages of the destroyed synagogue. The donation of the plaque in 1697 for “the fifth anniversary of the synagogue” indicates that the synagogue was re-built or renovated by 1697. Another plaque hung on the wall mentions a dedication made to the “Old Synagogue” at the end of the 17th century, before the renovation of the present synagogue. The name "Old Synagogue" implies the existence of a "New Synagogue", suggesting that there were at least two synagogues in Cuneo in the 17th century. In the near future the team hopes to address the question to which of the two synagogues the objects were dedicated, and where they were made.

Cabinet, Cuneo, 1611     
  Torah Ark, Cuneo, late 17th c.

 Cochin Community
During the past month Ariella Amar delivered two lectures concerning the synagogues' architecture, ritual objects and customs of the Cochin communities in South India. The lectures were part of the collaboration between the Zalman Shazar Institute and the Center, training students before they travel to a survey expedition.

The Architecture Section
The joint project of the Vilnius Academy of Arts and the Center for Jewish Art to document the 82 existing synagogues in Lithuania is coming to a close. The participants, Prof. Giedre Mickunaite and her architectural students and Drs. Vladimir Levin, Sergey Kravtsov and Katrin Kessler, are preparing a publication with a catalogue of these synagogues. Unfortunately, some of the wooden synagogues which we have documented in the 1990s have been sold by the Jewish community and are being demolished for their wood.
Since most Jews of Uzbekistan left the country, it was imperative to document as fast as possible the synagogues and buildings before they vanish forever. Zoya Arshavsky, a leading expert on Jewish architecture in Uzbekistan, continues to go on expeditions to save as much information as possible before another chapter of Jewish life and culture is coming to its close.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Reform Movement established in 1810 in Seesen, Lower Saxony, the Bet Tfila (a joint research unit of Braunschweig University and the Center for Jewish Art), has a project on former Reform synagogues in the region. Ivan Ceresnjes is gathering comparative material relating to the Neologue synagogues in “Historic Hungary” which may have primarily been influenced by the German Reform Movement.
Another project of Bet Tfila, carried out by Dr. Katrin Kessler, is Buildings of the Jewish Communities of Berlin until 1945 done in cooperation with Centrum Judaicum Berlin. The planned publication with a catalogue will include unknown monuments which were rediscovered by our researchers.
Two conferences were held in October in which Dr. Sergey Kravtsov participated. One conference, “Jewish Artists and Central-Eastern Europe: 19th Century to World War II,” was held in Kazimierz, Poland; the second, “Urban Jewish Heritage and History in East Central Europe,” was held in L’viv, Ukraine.

Prof. Bezalel Narkiss. Photo by Dan Porges, Photo SchwartzWalking in his Footstep
On the 21st of December 2008 and a week after his 82nd birthday, the Center for Jewish Art held a one-day conference in memory of Prof. Bezalel Narkiss. The lectures were delivered by Tzali’s students and colleagues and were all in the spirit of his intellectual legacy.  Here are some of the highlights: Dr. Sarit Shalev-Eyni talked about the heroism of Jewish women martyrs as it is expressed in the text and illustrations of a Piyyut for Hanukka in the Hamburg Miscellany of about 1434; Michal Sternthal presented a 15th century Ashkenazi Pentateuch which might have served as a model for copying Torah scrolls; Dr. Andreina Contessa discussed the collaboration between Christian Artists and a Jewish Patron in 15th Century Spanish Imola Bible and Prof. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin described how identification of scribal traits may lead to the discovery of a monastic school of scribes. Other topics included Prof. Anat Cherikover’s new research on the Basilica Ambrosiana; Dr. Ruth Jacoby’s analysis of the custom of having two Tevot in Sephardi synagogues; Ariella Amar discussed the depiction of Elijah’s Ascension in Jewish Art; Dr. Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig talked about a unique iconography in German presentations of The Angels’ Visit to Abraham and Prof. Shalom Sabar talked about symbolism in Hanukka lamps produced in the first decades of the State of Israel.
It was a proper tribute to a distinguished teacher!


News Update –
Autumn 2008


With deep sorrow we part from our beloved Tzali (Prof. Bezalel Narkiss), founder and first Director of the Center for Jewish Art, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Israel Prize laureate for 1999.
For more about Tzali, please visit our website http://cja.huji.ac.il and see the eulogy by Tom L. Freudenheim of the Foundation for Jewish Cultureand the article by Anshil Pepper in the Haaretz Newspaper (both attached)


The Synagogue in Dushanbe has been demolished
In June 2008 the only synagogue in Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan – was demolished.  The decision to raze the Synagogue – actually a complex of three prayer halls situated in the city center – was taken about two years ago by the authorities of Tajikistan who designated the territory for a new government building complex.  At the time, numerous inquiries by the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as to the fate of the Synagogue, as well as requests to UNESCO to reverse that decision, were turned down. Only the intervention of the famous Israeli millionaire Lev Levaev postponed the destruction for a couple of years.  The decision to raze the synagogue was not abandoned, however, and the demolition was suddenly scheduled for May 18th 2008.
Architect, Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky,  from the Center of  Jewish Art, was notified about the demolition just  two days beforehand and was able to organize, through direct contacts previously established by the Center,  a last-minute group of local architects   to document the compound. The documentation was carried out with Zoya giving instructions via telephone.  On the appointed day they drafted sketches, measured and photographed each wall, with a bulldozer trailing them and subsequently destroying what they have documented. While the demolition was going on, Jews from the small community accompanied it with prayers and lamentations.
 The razed compound, built about one hundred years ago, included three prayer halls: two for Bukharan Jews, and one for the Ashkenazim. It also included three courtyards – one separating the prayer halls, the second with a communal kitchen and a mikveh, and the third one with the premises of the burial society.  The whole compound was one storey high with the exception of a lofty room in one of the Bukharan halls.  That room contained an elevated women’s section which must have been added at a later stage.

Dushanbe synagogue before demolition,
May 2008, façade

Dushanbe synagogue before demolition, May 2008,
Ashkenazi prayer hall


Dushanbe synagogue after demolition,
May 2008

Currently the Dushanbe Jews have no synagogue; the plot of land, proposed to them by the authorities is situated in a remote suburb, inaccessible for elderly people.  
Our documentation, when completed, will include a ground plan, major sections, and about 100 photographs. Zoya is currently interviewing former Dushanbe citizens, who still remember this synagogue, in order to collect additional information about its appearance and structure.

Further projects by the Center

  • Dr. Sergey Kravtsov and architect Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky documented Jewish ritual buildings in Latvia.  The work was carried out in co-operation with the Jewish Museum of Riga and the Ministry of Culture of Latvia and included one mikveh in Aizpte, one wooden synagogue in Subate, and 10 masonry synagogues in the Latvian province of Kurzeme (Courland).
  • Dr. Kravtsov has completed the research project on the Temple - the Progressive Synagogue in Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), Ukraine.  The project resulted in a DVD film prepared for the Jewish Museum of Chernivtsi. It was first screened at the inauguration of the Museum on August 24, 2008.  The Ukrainian, English and German versions of the film were presented to the donor, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine.
  • At present Dr. Kravtsov and co-author Dr. Vladimir Levin are continuing work on the catalogue of synagogues in Lithuania.  The work on the catalogue is carried out in co-operation with the Lithuanian Centre for Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews, Polytechnic University and Academy of Arts of Vilnius; so far 29 articles have been written.
  • An expedition to document synagogues and ritual objects took place this month in Piedmont, Italy, headed by Ms. Ariella Amar, head of Ritual and Ceremonial Objects Section; the expedition team included researcher Ms. Einat Ron, architect Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky and photographer Zev Radovan.  

Scholars and Researchers of the Center Present their Research

  • An international conference “Jewish Art in Context: The Role and Meaning of Artefacts and Visual Images” took place in January 2008 at the Tel Aviv University, in which scholars and researchers of the Center participated: Prof. Bezalel Narkiss took part in a roundtable on “Jewish Art and Visual Culture: A Century of Academic Achievement”; Ms. Ariella Amar delivered a lecture on: “Re-reading the History and Genealogy of an Ancient Community through its Ritual Objects”; Mrs. Michal Sternthal elaborated on her research in a lecture “Exposing New Discoveries in the Regensburg Pentateuch”, while Dr. Simona Gronemann delivered a lecture on: “German Manuscripts at the Service of a Sephardi Text: The Case of Meshal HaKadmoni by Isaac ibn Sahula”.
  • Bar-Ilan University and the Romanian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv held an international Conference in February 2008 where our researchers delivered lectures based on their research at the Center: Dr. Sergey Kravtsov on: “Synagogue Architecture in Eastern Europe, 17th-19th Century; Dr. Vladimir Levin on:  “ Methodology of Historical Investigations in the Research of Synagogue Art”, and Dipl.-Ing. Ivan Ceresnjes on: “Sephardi Synagogues in Sarajevo”.
  • The 7th annual conference of Asian Studies in Israel was held at the Hebrew University on May 22nd.  At the conference our architect Mrs. Zoya Arshavsky delivered a lecture on Synagogues in Bukhara.

The Society for Jewish Art 

  • The Society for Jewish Art, in co-operation with the Center and with the Old Yishuv Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem held an exhibition on Arieh Allweil, Prints and Calligraphy: Books 1939-1949, at the Old Yishuv Court Museum.  The exhibition will stay open from 14th March  – 30th November 2008,  during which time the Society offers a series of lectures and seminars based on various topics and themes of the exhibition: 
    • Megillat Esther, in March 2008, with lectures on the artist’s unique style and other Megillot Esther.

Arieh Allweil,
The Anonymous Jew Touring the Land
  • A Different Look at Haggadot, in April 2008, with lectures comparing the illustrations in Allweil’s Haggadah to those of Yaakov Steinhardt’s.
  • Megillat Ruth, in June 2008 with lectures on Alweil’s illustrations to Megillat Ruth and on other topics relating to Hag Hashavuot.
  • Megillat Eicha ­– from destruction to redemption, in July 2008 with a comparison between prints on destruction and Shoa by Arieh Alweill and Miron Sima and other lectures relating to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.
  • Calligraphy, in September 2008, with lectures on calligraphic styles in writing Torah books, on the new morphology of the Hebrew letter and on the relation between Calligraphy and Typography.


Wishing you all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year