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Judaica & Israeli Art

Early collections of Judaica consisted mainly of Hebrew texts and books collected by Jewish bibliophiles and Christian Hebraists interested in the Jewish language and culture. This manner of collecting expanded in the 19th century with collections of Jewish ceremonial objects by figures such as Alexander David (1687-1765) who left their cloistered confines and entered public museum holdings in the later half of the 19th century. The first major collection of Judaica was displayed in 1878 at the Exposition Universelle at the Palais du Trocadero in Paris. This consisted of objects collected by musician Isaac Strauss. The frequency of these traveling shows increased with the approach of the 20th century and a Judaica collection owned by Ephraim Benguait which was shown at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. This collection is now owned by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

With the rise of ethnographic museums and exhibitions came the creation of societies whose mission was to preserve ritual objects and mass culture while promoting awareness of Jewish art. These organizations were created in Europe as well as in the United States and amassed important collections that were housed in Jewish museums through out the European Continent. With the beginning of World War II these museums disappeared and much of the material was sent to the United States. Strangely, the Nazis amassed the largest collection of Judaica in order to form a ‘museum to an extinct people.’ Housed in old synagogues of Prague, these holdings eventually became the State Jewish Museum in Prague.

Since World War II, many Jewish museums have appeared all over Europe again, and the number of Judaica collectors has increased.  Since the formation of the state of Israel, the country has become one of the leading collectors and has pursued a wide-ranging campaign of Biblical Archaeology in Israel that has dramatically added to the holdings.  Art associated with Judaica consists of Hebrew texts, Torah scrolls, Menorahs, and other ritual objects that celebrate among other holidays Hanukkah, Purim, and marriage.  Less rigid definitions have come to encompass art created by Jewish artists. The Jewish Museum in New York, for example, has works by the photographers Man Ray and Weegee as well as by artists Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall in its permanent collection.

Works Cited:
Goldberg, David J. “Jewish Art: Museums and Collections,” on Oxford Art Online.



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