In Honor of the Torah

The collections of the Jewish Museum Vienna include Torah scrolls. However, only the objects that decorate the Torah are visible to visitors.

By Jewish Museum Vienna

Torah fragment (1900/1910)Jewish Museum Vienna

Torah fragment, around 1900

The Torah scroll is a key element in the synagogue. For its protection and adornment, it has certain attributes that tell us a lot about customs and life in the Jewish community.

Torah scroll with Meil (Torah mantle) and belt (1900)Jewish Museum Vienna

Meil (Torah Mantle)

The parchment of the Torah attached to the shafts is covered with a mantle for protection and decoration. From New Year's Day (Rosh Hashanah) until Simhath Torah, the Torah textiles must be in bright colors. Sometimes a belt holds the scroll together.

Torah Scroll with belt and mantleJewish Museum Vienna

This cream-colored silk Torah mantle was used for the autumn high holidays. The Torah mantle features only decorative elements and no dedication inscription.

On the belt of dark red silk, the dedication inscription "Frauenverein Salzburg" (Women's Association) is embroidered in Hebrew letters.

Torah-Mantle frontJewish Museum Vienna

Dr. Sigmund von Hofmannsthal, descendant of Issak Löw Edler von Hofmannsthal, donated this prestigious silk meil (Torah mantle). In 1835, the Hofmannsthal family had been nobilized by Emperor Ferdinand for their involvement in the founding of the Austrian silk industry.

"Gift from the hand of the noble-minded doctor from the people of God with our teacher and Raw Shalom, son of our distinguished teacher and Raw Yizchak Arie Edler von Hofmannsthal, his memory be blessed, with his wife Fredl from the house of Dormitzer, in honor of the Torah, in the year 618 (...)"

The embroidered crown is flanked by the letters "K" and "T." They stand for "Keter" and "Torah," i.e. "Crown of the Torah".

Torah-Mantle backJewish Museum Vienna

The back, like the front, is elaborately embroidered with metal and silk threads and glass stones. The coat of arms of the Hofmannsthal family is emblazoned in the center.

The merchant Isaak Löw Edler von Hofmannsthal was an important figure in the Viennese Jewish community and was committed to the construction of the Viennese City Temple. His great-grandson was the Austrian writer and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Torah-Mantle (1900/1910)Jewish Museum Vienna

This Torah mantle from the early twentieth century is rather simply crafted, with no dedication inscription. The silk fabric patterned with roses could well have been a garment before it was converted into a Torah mantle.

Apart from the Star of David embroidered with gold braid, it is impossible to identify any use of the mantle in the context of Jewish religion. The synagogue in which it was once used can no longer be determined.

Torah-Mantle from the Turkish Synagogue frontJewish Museum Vienna

Decorated with red velvet and gold tassels, the front displays a graphic representation of curtains. They are reminiscent of the tabernacle covered with valuable textiles, which is described in the Fifth Book of Moses.

Mordechai Adutt, scion of one of the oldest Sephardic families in Vienna, donated this opulently decorated meil (Torah mantle) to the Turkish Jewish community as early as 1847. Later it was in use in the Turkish temple, founded in 1885.

Torah-Mantle from the Turkish Synagogue backJewish Museum Vienna

On all sides the Torah scroll is surrounded by elegant textiles.

Tas (Torah shield) dedicated by the Königswarter family (1857)Jewish Museum Vienna

Tas (Torah Breastplate)

The Torah breastplate is attached with a chain to the two wooden shafts at the top so that it is centered on the Torah mantle. The Tas is reminiscent of the breastplate of the High Priest in the Temple.

Tas (Torah breastplate) (1857/1857)Jewish Museum Vienna

This Torah breastplate is designed in the form of a Torah shrine that can be reached via three steps. The silversmith Franz Zeitler, like most of his colleagues, was not Jewish.

"This is a gift from the noble Mrs. Zartel Cäcilie Königswarter in memory of the soul of her beloved husband Moshe Chaim Königswarter, and in memory of her deceased parents, R. Feivelman and Mrs. Ella Wertheimer of blessed memory (...)."

A lion, the heraldic animal of the tribe of Judah, watches over the rectangular recess for the interchangeable holiday indicators. These indicators function like bookmarks: they mark the position from which the Torah scroll is currently being read.

The inspiration for the pillars are the two pillars Boaz (Hebrew "He founded") and Jachin (Hebrew "in Him is power") at the gate to Solomon's Temple.

In the center, the Stone Tablets can be seen with the beginning of the Ten Commandments.

Tas (Torah breastplate)Jewish Museum Vienna

This Torah breastplate made in 1806 tells a lot. The master's mark "FLT" refers to Franz Lorenz Turinsky, who made several silver objects found in the collections of the Jewish Museum.

The imperial crown with the double-headed eagle, decorated with foliage, unmistakably testifies to the loyalty of Austrian Jews to the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, who had proclaimed the Austrian Empire in 1804.

With a height of 37 cm, a width of 30 cm, and a weight of 3 kg, this Torah breastplate demonstrates a patriotic awareness of the Jewish community in Vienna.

Rimonim (Torah finials) (1855)Jewish Museum Vienna

Rimonim (Torah Finials)

The Hebrew term "rimonim" means "pomegranates." The finials, which always appear in pairs, are placed at the top end of the scroll shafts.

Rimonim (Torah finials) (1855)Jewish Museum Vienna

The idea of pomegranates as finials is linked to the number of seeds in the fruit - supposedly 613, which equates to the very number of commandments and prohibitions in the Torah. The sweet taste of the fruit also refers to how reading the Torah is as sweet and pleasant as the fruit.

The Viennese physician, writer, and revolutionary Ludwig August Frankl brought this pair of rimonim back from a journey to Palestine

Ludwig August Frankl probably had the dedication inscription added later in Vienna: "Sandalwood from Eretz Israel, brought by Doctor Abraham Elazar Frankl in 1856."

Rimonim (Torah finials), probably from the Turkish Temple (1900)Jewish Museum Vienna

These partially gilded Torah finials from 1900 are a typical work of the floral Art Nouveau style. The Vienna hallmark for 800 silver indicates that it is an alloy with a fairly high silver content.

The bell ornament is no longer complete. Most likely these Torah finials were in use in the Turkish Temple. In the Sephardic tradition, the Torah mantles are cylindrical, and the rimonim are placed as a pair on this corpus.

Keter (Torah crown) (1900)Jewish Museum Vienna

Keter (Torah Crown)

In Judaism, the law is crowned; therefore, the Torah wears a crown as the last decoration. When no rimonim are used, only the keter serves as the final adornment.

This keter from the early twentieth century probably comes from a Viennese synagogue. Since there is neither a dedication inscription nor an inventory number that would identify it as belonging to a particular place of worship, its story cannot be fully told.

Keter (Torah crown) (1900)Jewish Museum Vienna

The unexplained origin applies to many objects in the collection and is a consequence of the violent dissolution, dispersion, and destruction of the Viennese and Austrian Jewish communities from 1938 to 1945.

Is this spectacular sculptured bird with spread wings and erect crest possibly a cockatoo?

Keter (Torah crown) (1650/1700)Jewish Museum Vienna

This delicately rendered and comparatively small crown was probably last used in the City Temple. However, it was already made in the seventeenth century and is thus much older than the house of worship in Seitenstettengasse.

Before the Viennese tolerated Jews used the City Temple in Seitenstettengasse as a place of worship in 1826, they prayed and celebrated in the Dempfingerhof at the same address or in the synagogue "Zum weißen Stern" in today's Sterngasse.

The Lviv hallmark testifies that the gilded keter was made in Lviv and brought to Vienna - by whom and when exactly, we do not know today due to the lack of a dedication inscription.

Mappah (1740)Jewish Museum Vienna

Mappah (Wimpel)

Not too well known in Austria is the custom of attaching a pennant to the Torah scroll, called mappah or wimpel. A mappah is made from circumcision diapers that are sewn together and sometimes elaborately embroidered. At a Bar Mitzvah, the mappah arrives at the synagogue as a gift.

The motifs and scenes illustrate the world of the embroiderer as well as the content of the equally embroidered inscription: "Nathan son of Yizchak Katz Shalit was born under a good star on Wednesday, the 10th of Adar of the Lesser Era (i.e.: March 9, 1740). May the Lord let him grow to Torah, chuppah and good deeds. Amen. Sela"

Mappah (1740)Jewish Museum Vienna

Two crowned, blessing priestly hands flanked by two rising lions at the beginning of the sash symbolize the father's socio-religious status as a "Kohen."

The two encircled fish depict the zodiac sign of the newborn.

Vines, flowers, and various animals reflect the diverse creation, as the embroiderer most likely knew them from her immediate surroundings.

A long snake however...

...and a unicorn refer to the world of stories and fables.

Above the open Torah scroll are the Stone Tablets with the beginnings of the Ten Commandments.

The mappah concludes with a wedding ceremony under a chuppah at the time of the handing over of the ring. Two witnesses attend the wedding ceremony, while the rabbi holds the Kiddush cup ready. Above the bride and groom, we read the beginning of the phrase, "Hereby are you wedded to me."

The clothing of the wedding party corresponds to the fashion around 1740.

Yad (Torah pointer) (1875/1925) by Donation President Heinz FischerJewish Museum Vienna

Jad (Torah Pointer)

The Hebrew word for the Torah pointer is "Jad," which means "hand." One must not touch the precious parchment and the holy letters of the Torah with the bare hand. Therefore, a reading aid is always one of the features of the Torah.

Yad (Torah pointer) (1875/1925) by Donation President Heinz FischerJewish Museum Vienna

The left hand is unusual. Of the more than 140 Torah pointers in the collection of the Jewish Museum Vienna, there are only three jadaim with a left hand. Were they made specifically for left-handed people?

Ivory Jad

Federal President Dr. Heinz Fischer received this object as a gift in the mid-1990s from Leon Zelman (1928-2007), the founder and director of the Jewish Welcome Service. In memory of Leon Zelman, the Federal President presented the Torah pointer to the Jewish Museum in 2011.

The ornamentation consists of archaic patterns in scrimshaw technique, which is a specific kind engraving on organic materials such as ivory or horn.

Yad (Torah pointer)Jewish Museum Vienna

Is this Jad a case of recycling? Jewish tradition teaches that "when sanctifying, one may only increase but not diminish." This means you can make something out of almost anything to honor the Torah.

Clearly visible are the different materials that have been joined together to form the arm, hand, and fingers of one single Torah pointer.

The dedication states that in 1918 the Torczyner couple donated this Torah ornament to the synagogue of the Polish Association in Leopoldgasse in memory of their daughter who died at the age of 27.

Torah curtain, donated by Zwi Hirsch Todesco for the City Temple (1833)Jewish Museum Vienna

Parochet (Torah Curtain)

When not reading from the Torah, the decorated scrolls are kept in the Torah ark (Aron Kodesh in Hebrew) in the synagogue. A Torah curtain is placed in front of the ark. During the High Holidays in the fall, the curtain must also be worked in bright colors.

Torah curtain, donated by Zwi Hirsch Todesco for the City Temple (1833)Jewish Museum Vienna

Parochet, donated in 1833 by Zwi Hirsch Todesco

In the dedication inscription, Zwi Hirsch Todesco lists all the family members close to him in whose memory he donated this parochet. Remarkable is the affectionate mention of his "wife, best of all women, Fanni."

Furthermore, the inscription states that the parochet was donated on the occasion of the edlest daughter's wedding. The extraordinarily delicate and precious material for a Torah curtain suggests that the parochet was made from the wedding dress of the newlywed.

The fine fabric with metal embroidery is typical of the gowns worn in the first half of the ninetheenth century by the ladies of the upper class at gala receptions and special festivities.

Donating modified women's dresses to the synagogue was not unusual: Fromet Mendelssohn from Hamburg had already had a parochet sewn from the train of her wedding dress in the eighteenth century. The Rothschild women in Frankfurt also followed this custom.

The donation of such a magnificent parochet to the synagogue community was done not least for the purpose of self-representation. Every community member knew from which prestigious and wealthy family the highly visible curtain in front of the Torah ark came.

Parochet (1830/1900)Jewish Museum Vienna

Even modest parochot can cover the Torah ark. The fabrics used in this patchwork are from the Biedermeier period.

The crescent moon rising at the top center and the Hebrew letters "Rosh Chodesh" visible below indicate the context of use: Rosh Chodesh is the beginning of a month that coincides with a new moon in the Jewish calendar.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps