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Hanukkah Menorah

Forged iron
Unmarked, undated, Bohemia, 2nd half of the 18th century
Height 1075 mm, width 742 mm
Inv. No. JMP 12.566

This lamp retains the traditional shape of the Menorah’s curved branches. It is mainly of interest to the viewer, however, on account of its material – forged iron, which is very rare for such an item. In synagogues, iron tends to be used only for grilles and various structural elements; the most frequent material for Hanukkah menorahs is brass or bronze. The community for which this menorah was intended probably lacked the financial resources to commission a menorah made from more valuable metal, which is why a less expensive material and technique were used. Its lack of prestige in the eyes of its subsequent users was probably the reason why it was transferred to the museum’s collections.

There is a reason behind our surprising choice of a Hanukkah menorah as our object of the month for January. It is because this particular item appears as the central motif on the cover of Magda Veselská’s book “Archa paměti. Cesta pražského židovského muzea pohnutým dvacátým stoletím” [Ark of Memory. The Jewish Museum in Prague’s Journey Through the Turbulent Twentieth Century] with an epilogue by Leo Pavlát, which was published by the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Academia Publishing House at the end of 2012. This menorah was selected for its aesthetic quality and because it was part of the museum’s pre-war collection. In addition to covering the history of the Jewish museum – from the modest beginnings of the pre-war museum association and the efforts of the Prague Jewish Community during WW2 to place in safe keeping the property of Protectorate Jewish communities after the war, through to the museum’s existence in the unfavourable conditions of the anti-Semitic Communist regime – this book provides the first detailed description of the attempts of museum staff to preserve the Czech Jewish cultural heritage – both material and spiritual – and also deals with the museum’s contacts with the Czech Jewish community, whose identity it significantly helped to preserve and define in the twentieth century. The text is based mainly on extant archival materials which to date have been insufficiently researched. It also includes a number of completely new pieces of knowledge relating to this chapter of Jewish history in the Bohemian lands.

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