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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – October 2010

Max Švabinský (1873¬–1962): Portrait of Gustav Sicher (1880–1960), Chief Rabbi of Prague and Czechoslovakia, 1935 Lithography on Pannekoek Holland paper, print field: 152 x 108 mm (sheet: 396 x 186 mm) Signed LR in pencil under the print: M. Švabinský; signature with date also on the upper right corner on the stone: M. Švabinský / 1935 Provenance: acquired by the JMP in 1996 JMP 176.951

This year we honor the memory of the distinguished Chief Rabbi of Prague and Czechoslovakia, Gustav Sicher, by noting two important dates: the last day of August marked 130 years since his birth and October 6 is the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Gustav Sicher was born on August 31, 1880 in Klatovy, a town in southwest Bohemia. He studied philosophy at Charles University in Prague while also devoting himself to rabbinical studies. Sicher’s first post as rabbi was in the town of Náchod, though he mainly served in Prague. After WWI, he became rabbi of the municipality of Royal Vinohrady (a district of Prague since 1922), which during the time of the First Republic was the country’s largest Jewish community, and at the beginning of the 1930s he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague. Sicher managed to leave the country after the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands. Settling in the British Mandate for Palestine, he established a synagogue for Czech Jews. He returned to his homeland in 1947. As the chief rabbi for Prague and the country at large he tried to revive religious life in a community that had been decimated by the murderous policies of the Nazis. After the war, a total of 153 Jewish communities had ceased to exist and only 51 communities in Bohemia and Moravia were able to reconstitute and continue. Sicher thus played a leading role in organizing Jewish religious life. He contributed to maintaining and strengthening local Jewish traditions as a translator as well. From 1932 to 1939 he collaborated with Rabbi Isidor Hirsch on a translation into Czech of the first four of the five books of Moses. The translation of the fifth was published in 1950. A selection of Sicher’s writings, titled Volte život (Choose Life), was published posthumously in 1975. Rabbi Sicher died in Prague fifty years ago, on October 6, 1960. He was succeeded by another legendary Prague rabbi, Richard Feder.

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