The biggest part of the Jewish museum and Tolerance Centre collection consists of unique documents and objects telling us about the Jewish community in the Russian Empire since the reign of Peter the Great up to the present day. It also includes several masterpieces of Jewish literature as well as a large archive of Soviet Yiddish culture.
One of the temporary exhibitions focuses on pieces of Judaica applied arts: household items, objects of religious cult that represent traditional patterns of Jewish life. Despite the fact that the exhibits belong to various epochs, all of them are grounded in ancient laws and norms of Jewish culture. The large part of them are works of art with the purpose of “decorating mitzvah”. It was a particular important part in life of every Jew during a number of centuries, whether at the synagogue service or during private prayer at home.
The majority of Eastern European synagogues along with the treasuries were either consumed by the fire of two world wars or destroyed during religious persecution by soviet government; Jewish everyday living tradition and its material culture were also annihilated. This makes those rare testimonies and monuments of lost East European Jewish world, which are displayed at the exhibition in the Jewish museum – Tolerance centre in Moscow almost unique and invaluable.
Simchat Torah – the most jubilant day in the Jewish calendar. Translated from Hebrew it means “Rejoicing of the Torah”. It is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle, thus symbolizing the Torah’s eternal nature. Anyone willing can be summoned to read the Torah this day. The worshipers dance with the scriptures in synagogues and have festive meals. The celebration was particularly popular among the Jews in the Soviet Union.
Mizrah (Hebrew “east”) is a decorative tablet hung on the eastern wall of a house to show the praying the direction to Jerusalem. Apart from serving as a compass such tablets bore an ideological and spiritual significance reminding one of living in exile and the holy nature of the Israeli land and Jerusalem. The imagery of Mizrah was to ferment the associations of the believer with the holy places in Israel and the events which took place there.
On this particular Mizrah the central figures are Moses with the testimonies and his brother Aaron wearing the high priest’s garments and scenes depicting Moses’ life (the rescue from the river and the display of the Tablets of Testimony granted by God to the Jews). Also depicted are the main Temple symbols (the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah)
The Aron Kodesh – “sacred closet” contains Torah scrolls. It is an alcove or a special container placed on the eastern wall of the synagogue and is a crucial religious and decorative element of the synagogue’s interior.
(on the right) House Aron Kodesh are usually pretty expensive to manufacture, and it is a sign of a family wealth to have it in a house.
Menorah is a special lamp used for the central ritual of the eight-day Festival of Hanukkah. It has receptacles for eight lights, one for each night. A ninth receptacle, called the servitor or shammash, is often included in the lamp as well. The festival began in 164 B.C.E., when Judah Maccabee liberated the Jerusalem Temple from Greek control, re-sanctified it, and declared an eight-day celebration of “joy and gladness” (I Macc. 4:26–59).
The candles themselves are one of the most used objects for Jewish rituals. For example, it was counted a special mitzvah to hold the candle while the Torah was being read. In some parts of the world, candles still accompany the Torah when it is taken to a special place in the synagogue, to symbolize the light of the law. Although technically not a commandment specified in the Torah, kindling lights to usher in the Sabbath and festivals was transformed into an obligation by the rabbis.
Kindling lights is a positive time-bound commandment, a category of obligations from which women were traditionally exempted in Jewish law. However, from early rabbinic times, lighting Sabbath and festival lights was considered one of three mitzvot (commandments), together with hallah and niddah, which women were obligated to perform even if men were present in the household.
This exhibition has been created by — Uri Gershovich, Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Moscow, 2013