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OBJECT OF THE MONTH


Synagogue curtain, inv. no. 020.221
Silk, passement (braiding), appliqué in metal and metal thread
2130 x 1700 mm

Translation of the Hebrew inscriptions: (in the upper part of the curtain): Crown of Torah. Crown of Priesthood. Crown of Kingship. This is a gift of the holy society performing acts of mercy of the holy community of Osoblaha in the year 533 according to the minor era (= 1773). (in the central field): ‘Is not this a brand plucked from the fire’ (Zechariah 3:2) in the year 562 according to the minor era (= 1802) by means of the prince, KH Jacob Joseph and his wife Rachel, [and] also a kapporet and three crowns.

As with other items in the museum’s collection, the most important information about this textile’s origin and history is contained in its Hebrew dedicatory inscription. This tells us that the curtain was made for the burial society (Hebrew: chevra kadisha, holy society performing acts of mercy) in Osoblaha (German: Hotzenplotz) – one of 52 permitted Jewish communities in Moravia, but the only one outside the historical territory of Moravia, in the so-called Moravian Enclave in the area of Austrian (later Czech) Silesia.

Osoblaha was suitably located at a natural intersection of trade between Moravia and Silesia, which local Jews made use of (when the political situation permitted) to develop their business and other activities. The Jewish community of Osoblaha was also influenced by the distinct religious and cultural customs of Silesian (Polish) Jews. This synagogue curtain is an example of such an influence: in its upper (earlier) part – comprising the inscription with information about the donation from the Osoblaha Burial Society – the Hebrew text is executed using an appliqué of metal-stamped letters and appliquéd to the fabric using an ornamental technique that is characteristic mainly of synagogue textiles from Eastern Poland and Galicia.

The heyday of the Osoblaha Jewish community came at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries – when about 850 Jews were living there – and lasted until the 24th of August 1802. Through the carelessness of a housemaid, Magdalena Mayerová, a fire broke out in the Osoblaha Jewish Arenda (leased land) which later engulfed the entire town, including the Christian and Jewish quarters. The damage was enormous; the synagogue (containing 32 Torah scrolls and the local Jewish community archive, as mentioned in historical records) was reduced to ashes, as were the wooden tombstones in the Jewish cemetery. The damage to this synagogue curtain was undoubtedly serious; as mentioned in its more recent Hebrew dedicatory inscription, all that remained of it was a fragment that was rescued from the flames. This textile is also a unique record of one of the worst disasters of its kind in this region; the total cost of the fire damage to the Christian and Jewish quarters at the time was incredibly high – 540,973 gulden. The fragmentary state and the many patches on the original material, however, prove that exceptional attention was paid to restoring this textile, which was miraculously rescued after coming close to destruction and was then donated to the Osoblaha Jewish community for the rest of its existence.









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