exhibition in the prayer hall of the Spanish Synagogue
This year marks the centenary of the infamous Leopold Hilsner Trial.
Leopold Hilsner was a Jew from the small Czech town of Polná, who was
sentenced to death for involvement in alleged ritual murder. The verdict
was confirmed by an appeal court in October of the same year. It was
only later that he was granted a reprieve, the death penalty being changed
to life imprisonment. Leopold Hilsner was given a general pardon in
1918, almost twenty years later.
The Jewish Museum in Prague has prepared an exhibition, Murder in
Polná, to mark the anniversary of this event. The exhibition presents
a number of interesting period documents and illustrations, which not
only clearly reflect the intensified anti-Semitic atmosphere of the
trial, but also the attitudes of the then Austrian and Czech society
towards the Jewish minority.
The curator of the exhibition, which runs until October 1999, is Dr.
Unique Jewish Museum acquisition
A rare work was acquired by the Jewish Museum in Prague at the end of
1998: a Passover Haggadah (Haggadah shel Pesach) illustrated manuscript.
Although there is no colophon and the author is not as yet known, it
can be said with certainty that the manuscript dates from the 18th century.
This is attested by the characteristic ornamentation and models used,
the binding, and indirectly by the ownership inscriptions on the endpapers.
manuscript on vellum has 21 folios (196 mm x 160 mm) in 6 gatherings.
The Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Passover Haggadah is written in Hebrew
square script with instructions in Yiddish in ze’ena ur’ena letters
and is accompanied by decorative motifs, initials and full- and half-page
pen- and ink - illustrations.
The decoration of the title page is copied from the frontispiece of
a Passover Haggadah printed in Sulzbach in 1711. The illustrations of
this edition, which are otherwise based on the copperplates of the Amsterdam
Haggadah of 1695, were not, however, the only models used by the author
of the manuscript. The manuscript contains several other illustrations
(e.g. Elijah leads the Messiah riding on a donkey to Jerusalem), which
derive from other sources. All the illustrations and initials (e. g.
archer, soldier, postillion, musketeer and cherub figures) literally
draw from the typical Pesach iconography used in printed exemplars.
Naturally, a number of decorative features were added by the author:
for example, incipits, which were executed in decorative folded ribbon
letters (possibly directly modelled on the Prague machzorim of the 17th
century), were flanked by heraldic animals characteristic of Jewish
symbolism (deer and griffin) or by floral decoration and rocaille. The
author made use of contemporary art styles and sometimes employed folkish
The contemporary binding, which is somewhat atypical for its striking
ornamentation, is a work of art in itself. The parchment cover, which
is light brown and cream in colour with complex blind tooling ornamentation,
is decorated with coloured cut-out Chinese motifs, which were applied
at a later stage.
The manuscript is among the works which were made in the 18th century
by Jewish folk scribes and illuminators for wealthy commissioners. This
revival of the manuscript tradition initially occurred in Moravia (with
the so-called “Moravian Penmen School”) and later in Vienna, Berlin
and elsewhere. Although it is not as yet possible to locate the origin
of this rare Museum acquisition, it is evident from endpaper records
and other data that the book belonged to a Moravian Jewish family from
Loštice and Olomouc, at least from 1812 to the second half of the 20th
century. (prepared by the curator of manuscripts and rare prints,
Origin of the Museum’s Library holdings
In this and the next Newsletter issues we would like to familiarise
our readers with the basic historical events linked to the founding
of the contemporary library of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The following
information is based on extensive material prepared by Museum Library
staff member Mgr. Andrea Braunová.
The Jewish Museum Library contains approximately 100,000 books. These
extensive holdings originated and grew in close connection to a number
of specific historical events, in particular the Second World War and
the post-war development in the former Czechoslovakia. The
Jewish Museum Library is based on the following sources:
1) library holdings of the pre-war Jewish
2) library holdings established within the framework of the
wartime Central Jewish Museum,
3) wartime transfer of books from Terezín (Central
Bohemia), Mimoň and surrounding districts (North Bohemia),
4) acquisitions (purchases, donations, exchanges),
Jewish Religious Community Library
The Jewish Community (JC) Library was established in 1857 and opened
to the public in 1874. Its holdings came from bequests and material
left by prominent Prague personages. The predominant means of acquisition
later became purchases. In 1938 the JC Library contained around 15,000
books. It was neither part of the pre-war Jewish Museum nor part of
the Nazi-established Central Jewish Museum, which came into being after
the Library had been seized by the German authorities. According to
archive material, the JC Library holdings were kept in the Oriental
Seminary of the Prague Law Faculty (then the SS Standart
They were later transferred to the Golden Crown Monastery in Southern
Bohemia, from where in 1946 they were sent back to the Jewish Museum
At present, the Prague Jewish Community Library holdings form part of
the Jewish Museum in Prague Library and consist of around 13,000 volumes.
Approximately 2,000 books disappeared both during and after the war.
Library holdings of the wartime Central Jewish
From its inception in 1906 until 1939, the Museum was managed by
the Society for the Establishment and Maintenance of a Jewish Museum
in Prague. The Society was dissolved in 1939, after the occupation
of Czechoslovakia, and the Museum was transferred to Prague Jewish Community
management. The Central Jewish Museum was established in 1942 on the
initiative of Jewish Community representatives and only after difficult
negotiations with the German authorities. It was not, however, open
to the public.
The Central Jewish Museum was established as part of the Prague Jewish
Community and consisted of the following items: collections of the pre-war
museum, in addition to Prague Jewish Community cultural relics, synagogue
objects, books and paintings that had been confiscated by the German
authorities from the liquidated Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia,
and donations and deposits left by individuals. A total of 213,096 items
were sorted and registered by May 1945. All items came from the area
of the former Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, to be more precise
from Jewish owners - institutions or individuals in the Protectorate.
Although certain artefacts and books may have originally come from various
localities, the fact is that they belonged to people living in this
region before the outbreak of the war. Evidence for this is provided
by the central card catalogue of the Central Jewish Museum, which indicates
the provenance of each item.
According to Jewish Museum material, the library holdings in the Central
Jewish Museum mostly consisted of traditional Jewish literature - rabbinic
and legal writings in Hebrew, prayer books, scholarly Jewish texts,
specialist literature and fiction by Jewish authors. There were very
few early prints. (to be continued in issue 3/99)
Regional exhibitions on Jewish themes – Boskovice
The Moravian town of Boskovice is situated 170 km south-east
of Prague and north of Mikulov, which we featured in the last issue.
The earliest written report mentioning the presence of Jews here dates
from the 14th century. Along with Mikulov, Holešov and Třebíč, the Jewish
community of Boskovice is one of the largest Jewish communities in Moravia.
major Talmud research centre was also established in this town, where
a number of prominent rabbinic authorities were based, such as Samuel
ha-Levi Kolon (b. 1724 - d. 1806) and the Frankfurt born Chatam Sofer
(1762 - 1839). The Jewish community was revived for a short period after
the Second World War, but was later attached to the Jewish community
of Brno (the main county town of South Moravia) due to a lack of congregants.
As with other Jewish settlements, the demographic development of the
Jewish population in Boskovice was influenced by the process of emancipation.
While there were 1,603 Jews living here in 1804 and as many as 1,973
in 1848, there were only 395 in 1900.
Most of the original Jewish quarter, which was developed from the 15th
century, has survived to this day intact and is now a heritage preservation
area. Of the prominent buildings here should also be mentioned the synagogue,
known as Synagogue Maior, which took form in 1698 through the
complete reconstruction of an existing 16th century building. In the course of many years the synagogue underwent
several alterations. Services were held here until the beginning of
the Second World War. During the Nazi occupation it was closed down
and used as a storehouse for furniture, clothing and books confiscated
by the Nazis from the Jewish inhabitants. After the war the synagogue
continued to be used as a storehouse and from the 1960s has been in
Following an ambitious reconstruction project in the 1990s, an exhibition
on the history of the local Jewish community was installed in the synagogue.
A number of synagogue items, dating mostly from the late 19th and early
20th centuries, were loaned by the Jewish Museum in Prague to the exhibition
organised by the Boskovice Museum.
Music in the Spanish Synagogue
On 20 March 1999 a concert was given in the Spanish Synagogue by the
world renowned cantor Joseph Malovany, who was accompanied by
the Czech organist Jaroslav Tůma. This performance marked the
launch of a regular series entitled Music in the Spanish Synagogue,
which is organised by the Dana Drtinová music agency. This series includes performances by distinguished
classical music performers (soloists and chamber ensembles) from both
the Czech Republic and abroad. The quality of the programme is guaranteed
by its being decided upon by a group of leading Czech musicians and
music specialists: the harpsichordist Professor Zuzana Růžičková,
pianist Professor Ivan Klánský and Professor Hana Arie Gaifman,
the organiser of the Musica Judaica music festival.
New issue of Judaica Bohemiae, XXX-IV published
For information on how to purchase Judaica Bohemiae, you can write to:
The Jewish Museum in Prague,
110 00, Prague 1,
fax: +420 2 2310681, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
postcards write to:
Židovské muzeum v Praze,
110 00 Praha 1,
fax: 004202 2310681