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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – November 2004

Torah mantle (at Spanish Synagogue)

This mantle is from Sušice and dates from the early twentieth century. It is remarkable mainly for its atypical dedicatory inscription in Czech, which was transcribed with Hebrew letters. It demonstrates a radical change in dedicatory texts, which occured in connection with the gradual emancipation of the Jews and the spread of Reform Judaism. From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, German written in Hebrew letters or roman characters became a standard part of inscriptions, alongside Hebrew. Shortly later, in connection with the spread of the Czech-Jewish assimilation movement at the end of the nineteenth century, the Czech language appeared in dedicatory texts. Usually, however, it was transcribed in roman characters; transcription in Hebrew letters, as seen on the dedicatory inscription of the Sušice mantle, was very unusual. The transcription of the text is phonetic; it adheres to the rules governing the transcription of consonants, as established in Yiddish, and even retains the Czech diacritics for the letters ‘ř’ and ‘ž’. The mantle is a valuable example of the social and cultural development of Czech Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century, including their knowledge of language, which is interestingly illustrated by the somewhat clumsy style of the inscription: “Donated by the husband and wife, Heřman and Kamil Barthů.”






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