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Synagogue and Communal Life
The representation of synagogue and communal life is one of the major strengths of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Since its inception, the collection has focused on documenting the public sphere of Jewish ritual. The thousands of ritual objects in the collection originate from the entire Jewish Diaspora, including Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas, and present a unique opportunity to study the dynamics of Jewish life from a variety of perspectives. Considered in the social and historical context that presided over their making, ritual objects often open new windows on the understanding of everyday life, social structures, gender roles, beliefs, practices and their relationship with normative religion, aesthetic currents, and the interactions between the makers of these objects, who were often non-Jews, and the communities or individuals that commissioned them.
Synagogue and communal life is represented in the collection by a wide spectrum of item types, including architectural fragments (such as stained glass windows, lamps and Torah Arks) from synagogues in Europe, Asia and the United States, Torah scrolls and objects used to read them and embellish them (such pointers, binders, mantles, plates, finials and cases), and other objects specifically created to be used in performing a variety of rituals, from daily prayer to specific celebrations marking the Jewish calendar.
Beyond typology, which is often uniform across the Diaspora, ritual objects also help highlighting how synagogue life differs greatly in each community, thus providing detailed insights in the specific characteristics of the many cultures of the Jews. The dynamic set of ritual behaviors that govern synagogue life in general, and the performance of ritual in particular, offer a full-fledged representation of a given Jewish community as a whole, and the material cultures involved in the making of ritual objects constitute a primary source in understanding each community's unique cultural history.
An expanding item list (with approximate item counts, when available) includes:
- Torah and other Ritual Objects and Texts
- Torah Scrolls: 20
- Torah Arks: 15
- Torah Mantles: 75
- Torah Binders: 200
- Torah Finials: 50
- Torah Pointers: 60
- Hebrew Bibles: n/a
- Prayer books and manuscripts: n/a
- Shofar horns: 15
- The space of the synagogue:
- Mizrach, Shiviti and other devotional plaques (synagogue wall hangings): 150
- Synagogue architectural fragments and furnishings: 35
- Synagogue lamps: ca. 200 (estimated from a total of ca. 400 lamps in the museum collections)
- Communal Life
- Memorial plaques
- Honorific awards
- Depictions of Synagogue and Communal life
- Prints and drawings
- Documentary photographs
In-depth descriptions of individual items and item are available in the pages listed below.
A "Scroll of Esther" (Heb. מגילת אסתר, megilat ester) is a manuscript copy of the biblical Book of Esther, which recounts the story of the salvation of the Jews in the Persian Empire, read in ...
The etrog (Heb. אתרוג, citrus fruit) is one of the "Four Species" used during the rituals relating to the Festival of Sukkot (or Tabernacles). Following rabbinic interpretations ...
Painted manuscript of the Book of Esther, rolled for use on the holiday of Purim. The Hebrew text, in Ashkenazi squared Hebrew script (without Masoretic punctuation), is set in 15-line sections ...
The detailed description of Jewish ceremonial customs by Kirchner, a Jewish convert to Christianity, first published in 1717, was re-edited by the Christian Hebraist, Sebastian Jugendres ...
Knives of different size and shape (and their cases) are used for ritual purposes,such as cutting bread (challah) at festive meals, ritual slaughtering (shechitah) of animals ...
Dr. Guy Benveniste, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, donated a Hebrew manuscript and four photographs of his family in Salonika (today Thessaloniki, Greece) to The ...
A "Torah binder" is a Jewish ceremonial textile used to keep a Torah (Hebrew Bible) scroll closed tightly when it is not being used for synagogue reading. In some Jewish communities in ...