Archive of press releases2014
Prague, 9 December 2009
May God Let Him Grow
Ceremonies for a Child's Birth in the Culture and Customs of Bohemian and Moravian Jews
Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1 (rear wing of the Spanish Synagogue) , tel. 221 711 553
every day except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays 9 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.
Exhibition curator: Dr. Dana Veselská
The birth of a child is one of the most important events for a family and community no matter what the culture or religion. Parents the world over wish for nothing more than to bring into the world a healthy child whom they will be able to properly raise in a stable and safe community. The Jewish community views childbirth as fulfilling the primary mission of marriage (in Genesis the Lord instructs the first couple, Adam and Eve: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’) as well as fulfilling the covenant between God and Israel, for which the Lord blesses His people and propagates them. In a new exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery, the Jewish Museum in Prague will be featuring, for the very first time, the rituals associated with childbirth in the culture of Bohemian and Moravian Jews and showcasing the characteristic objects that relate to these rituals, such as amulets, instruments, registers and curtains. This show will also feature a number of unique synagogue textiles made from the fabric a child was swaddled in during the circumcision. The exhibition will be on view until 28 February 2010 and is accompanied by an extensive book and guided tours that have been organized by the museum.
“For a Jewish community it was very important to anticipate the child’s sex. If a boy, then there was very little time to arrange for a mohel, who performs the ritual circumcision,” explains the exhibition curator Dana Veselská. “Any number of amulets might be worn to ensure that the birth goes well. Several particular rituals are performed shortly after the birth of a child. A boy is circumcised, during which he receives his name. A girl receives her name in the synagogue on the first Sabbath after birth when her father is called to the Torah, and the name chosen for the girl is then ceremoniously announced to the congregation.
In Judaism, the circumcision is an important ritual of initiation that entails removing the foreskin of the penis. The ritual is performed eights days after a boy’s birth, but only if he is healthy and able to undergo the operation. The circumcision is never performed on a child from a family with a history of blood-coagulation disorders, such as hemophilia.
The precise performance of the circumcision ritual is described in detail in this exhibition. The circumcision chair or bench is prepared in the synagogue. One of the two seats is reserved for the prophet Elijah, whom God has appointed witness to the consummation of this especial covenant; the other is for the sandek, who is usually one of the highly esteemed members of the community, such as the rabbi. The baby boy is carried in by the kvatters and is greeted by the congregation saying barukh haba (Blessed Is He Who Comes). He is then given to the mohel, a professionally trained circumciser, who places the infant on a special pillow on the seat for Elijah and then puts him in the lap of the sandek. A circumcision blessing is then recited, ending with: "Just as he has entered into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage, and into good deeds." After that the mohel takes his instruments – a protective guard and knife – and performs the circumcision. He uses a special tube to suck some blood from the wound, and then the boy’s diaper is changed and he is clothed. A blessing is then said over a cup of wine, after which the mohel pronounces the boy’s Hebrew name. The ceremony concludes with a few drops of wine placed on the boy’s lips and the mohel recites the following words from the prophet Ezekiel: ‘When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you: Live in spite of your blood.’
It was customary to use the particular fabric a child was swaddled in during the circumcision to make an object that was then donated to the synagogue. It took either the square form of the original swaddling, which was then made into a cover for the bimah (the reading table), or it was cut into strips that were sewn together into one long band to be used to bind the Torah scroll. Both types were embroidered, painted, or printed with a long Hebrew inscription, which identified the boy and gave the date of his birth. The boy ceremoniously dedicated his circumcision object during his first visit to the synagogue. This customarily took place at the age of three or four when the boy could act relatively independently and was able to learn simple texts. Another opportunity appropriate for donating a circumcision object to the synagogue was at the first haircut (Hebr. halakah), which generally takes place at the age of three. This ritual symbolizes the cutting of the child from the mother, a rite of passage from infancy.
Today there are extant from Bohemia and Moravia over 1,000 circumcision Torah binders, 160 covers, and around 70 other types of textile objects on which appears the characteristic dedicatory inscription giving information about the birth. The oldest come from the latter half of the 17th century while the most recent come from right before the Second World War. Torah binders and covers from circumcision swaddling are a unique form of historical document whereby their embroidery records the births of hundreds of Jewish children. A number of these are on display at this exhibition,” adds the curator Dana Veselská.
Guided Tours of the Exhibition:
Tuesday, 29 December 2009 at 4.30 p.m.
Sunday 3 January 2010 at 4.30 p.m.
Sunday 24 January 2010 at 4.30 p.m.
Photographs from the exhibition are available for download at
Public Relations and Development Department
tel.: 221 711 581; GSM: 603 867 285, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prague, 1 December 2009
Hanukkah Lamp from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague to be lit at the White House
On Tuesday 1 December, the Jewish Museum in Prague handed over a rare Hanukkah lamp to Mary Thompson-Jones, Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America. This unique item will be lit during a special ceremony hosted at the White House by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and First Lady, Michelle Obama, on the sixth day of Hanukkah, which this year falls on Wednesday 16 December. Around 500 guests are expected to attend.
The Jewish Museum in Prague is loaning the Hanukkah lamp on the basis of a request from First Lady Michelle Obama, who visited Prague’s Jewish Town (the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue and Pinkas Synagogue) in April during an official visit to Prague by President Barack Obama.
Dating from 1873, this Hanukkah menorah is the work of the Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger and was originally probably dedicated to the congregation in Prostějov. It has been selected from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague to once again shed its light to symbolize the victory of good over evil, freedom over oppression, knowledge over ignorance.
“We are pleased that we could loan this Hanukkah lamp from our collections for the Festival of Lights at the White House,” said Leo Pavlát, the director of the Jewish Museum in Prague. “The First Lady’s visit to the Jewish Museum in April was exceptionally successful and we are now following on from this in the best possible way. The menorah symbolically connects Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia with our friends in the United States. I believe that the candles on the menorah that will be lit at such an important venue will be a reminder for the whole world of the time-honoured Jewish longing to live in a world of tolerance and mutual respect.”
Photographs from the ceremonial handover of the menorah will be available for download on the afternoon of 1 December 2009 at http://126.96.36.199/zmp/chanukahpress/. These photographs may be used with copyright attribution: © Jewish Museum in Prague.
Contact: Noemi Holeková, Jewish Museum in Prague, Public Relations and Development Department, tel.: 221 711 581; GSM: 603 867 285, e-mail: email@example.com
The Story of the Hanukkah Lamp
Master CS (Cyrillus Schillberger ?): Hanukkah Lamp, Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1873
Silver: repoussé, pierced, traced, and cast; Height/width/depth: 13.6 x 15.4 x 3.7 inches; Hallmark: Austro-Hungarian Empire after 1872; Maker’s mark: CS [Cyrillus Schillberger, master’s title since 1853]; Provenance: acquired by the Central Jewish Museum between 1942-1944; collection point Prossnitz [Prostějov], Moravia
This silver bench Gothic Revival Hanukkah menorah (Heb. hanukkiah) was presumably donated to a congregation in the Moravian town of Prostějov [Ger. Prossnitz] by the children of Gabriel and Pearl Spitzer. It is a rare piece of craftsmanship from the Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger and a superb example of the Gothic Revival style (embellished with ogee arch, pinnacles, and traceries), which was far less common in Central European Jewish ceremonial art of the 19th century than other revival styles, such as Neo-Baroque.
On the menorah’s back plate is a medallion garlanded with two olive branches held on each side by a heraldic lion (a widespread symbol in Judaism for the tribe of Judah). The medallion is topped by the crown of the Torah (Heb. keter Torah, symbolizing majesty and sovereignty) and bears the Hebrew dedicatory inscription:
menorat ha-kadosh[ah] ha-zot / nedavnu / l’zkhut nishamat avinu ha-tzaddik / mh"r [morenu ha-rav]/ gabriel brp"t [ben rabbi PT] spitzer / z"l [zikherono li-vrakhah] / ve-imanu ha-tzenu’ah m" [marat] perl n"a [nishmetah eden] / shenat / kumi ori ki ba orekh lp"k [li-frat katan]
We have dedicated this holy menorah to the merit of the soul of our righteous father, our teacher, master Gabriel son of the Rabbi P. T. Spitzer / of blessed memory / and our virtuous mother, lady Pearl, may her soul rest in Eden / in the year / 633 according to the small count 
The dedication clearly indicates that the menorah was a gift made by the children to the memory of their deceased parents, Gabriel, the son of Rabbi P.T. (or P.D.) Spitzer (1772–July 31, 1856) and his wife Pearl (1788–March 19,1872). It was donated either directly to the Jewish community or to one of the Jewish associations in Prostějov, shortly after the death of Pearl, who survived her husband by sixteen years, which was their exact difference in age. Both lived to the age of eighty-four and were buried beside each other in Prostějov’s old Jewish cemetery, where a number of prominent Jews from the town were laid to rest. The headstones, however, are not to be found. During the Second World War the cemetery was destroyed and the Nazis had all the headstones removed and turned the site into a military training ground. After the war it became a playground and later a school was built on the site, but the memory of those who had been buried there would have been entirely forgotten if it were not for the fact that the inscriptions on most of the headstones had been painstakingly documented and deposited in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague, where they are located today.
The story of Gabriel and Pearl’s menorah is as dramatic as the fate of those headstones, yet its ending is certainly happier as it points us to the hope in spiritual survival. Like most of the ceremonial objects sent to Prague from the Jewish communities and associations of the Czech lands that were abolished immediately after Nazi Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, this Hanukkah menorah was saved, too, by being included in the Jewish Museum’s collection.
Now nearly seventy years later, this menorah has been selected to once again shed its light to symbolize the victory of good over evil, freedom over oppression, knowledge over ignorance. On the sixth day of Hanukkah, which this year falls on Wednesday, December 16, six candles on the menorah will be lit during a special ceremony hosted at the White House by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and First Lady, Michelle Obama. Around 500 guests are expected to attend.
Let us hope that its light will bring joy and enchantment as well as inspiration, that it transmits its appeal through the acrostic for the year 633, which on the menorah is composed by paraphrasing a line in the fifth stanza of the poem Lekha dodi (Come, my beloved) that is traditionally sung in synagogues around the world to welcome the Sabbath: “Rise up and shine, for your light has come.”
Prague, 14 October 2009
Paintings and Drawings
An exhibition for the artist’s 80th birthday
Jewish Museum in Prague – Roberta Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Praha 1 (rear wing of the Spanish Synagogue), tel. 221 711 553
From 15 October until 29 November 2009
The exhibition is open every day except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays from 15 until
23 October 9 a.m.–6 p.m., from 25 October until 29 November 9 a.m. –4.30 p.m
Exhibition curator: PhDr. Arno Pařík
Helga Hošková-Weissová (b. 1929) is one of the very few survivors among the children who were interned in the Terezín ghetto. She is known throughout the world for her unique set of drawings from the ghetto. The exhibition curator Arno Pařík says: “The Jewish Museum in Prague is holding a retrospective of Helga Hošková-Weissová’s work at the Robert Guttmann Gallery between 15 October and 29 November. This show is being held to mark the artist’s 80th birthday and includes drawings from the Terezín ghetto and examples of her series of paintings from the 1960s with motifs from concentration camps and from Israel, as well as her later works. These artworks document the horrific experiences of her childhood, which influenced her whole life and artwork. The current exhibition, therefore, is not just a retrospective but also a message and a warning.”
At the age of ten, Helga was expelled from school along with the other Jewish children on ground of race and in December 1941 she and her parents were put on one of the first transports to Terezín. From July 1942, she lived in Room 24 in the Girls’ Home L 410. In her free moments, she continued her diary and drawings. She produced a unique and particularly effective group of documents, which differ from other Terezín artworks in terms of their power to convey and their authenticity. Examples of these drawings can be seen at the exhibition. The Weiss’ incarceration in Terezín ended in 1944, when Helga and her mother were also deported to Auschwitz, from where they were sent to Freiberg near Dresden, to work in an aircraft factory. “We were evacuated from there in mid-April 1945. We were taken in open coal wagons, almost without food or water, via Most, Pilsen, Klatovy and České Budějovice to Mauthausen. On the verge of complete exhaustion, we were liberated in the gypsy camp by the U.S. army on 5 May 1945...,” recalls Helga Hošková-Weissová.
Soon after her return to Prague, Helga put everything that had happened since leaving Terezín in her diary and tried to depict these experiences in her art. She supplemented her education and from 1950 attended the School of Decorative Arts under Prof. Emil Filla; she then studied under Alois Fišárek, graduating in 1955. In the early 1960s she began to come to terms with the wartime persecution through art. In a series of large and expressive paintings, entitled Calvary, she conveyed her experiences of the ghetto, Auschwitz, Freiberg, the death transport and Mauthausen. She went to study in Israel on a scholarship in the autumn of 1965. “She started to use brighter colours in her palette. In addition to several paintings, she made dozens of watercolours depicting Ein Hod, Haifa, Jaffa, seaside beaches and the Negev Desert. After returning, Helga incorporated her studies and recollections in a series of paintings of biblical landscapes and figurative motifs depicting the world of Orthodox Jews in Mea Shearim,” says the curator, Arno Pařík. The Jewish Museum in Prague hosted an exhibition of these paintings, entitled Pictures from Wandering around the Holy Land, at the Spanish Synagogue in the spring of 1968. A selection of paintings from the above two series is also included in the current exhibition.
After the Soviet occupation in August 1968, Helga was not able to exhibit and she did not paint anything for several years. “She started painting again at the end of the 1970s, mainly non-figurative paintings with motifs of destruction and decay – a series entitled Disasters. She fully returned to painting and traditional Jewish motifs in the 1980s. These can also be seen at the Robert Guttmann Gallery,” adds the curator.
After November 1989, Helga Hošková-Weissová exhibited many times in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the USA. Her work has been featured in many foreign publications and several documentary films. A monograph has been published on her childhood drawings from Terezín and a Czech Television documentary (Maluj dokud vidíš – Paint As Long As You Can See) has been made about her life. In 1993 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. By visiting schools and talking to young people at home and abroad, Helga is actively helping to educate young people towards democracy and tolerance. As a tribute to her lifetime work, she was awarded the Josef Hlávka Medal in 2009.
The exhibition images can be downloaded at http://188.8.131.52/zmp/hoskovapress/.
Contact for journalists:
tel. 221 711 581; 603 867 285
rague, 14 October 2009
The Society of Friends of the Jewish Museum in Prague
The Society of Friends of the Jewish Museum in Prague aims to help preserve and to provide the broadest possible access to the unique monuments of Prague’s Jewish Town. Joining the Society of Friends will familiarize its members with the richness of Jewish history, the attraction of Jewish traditions and the uniqueness of Jewish art. Being a member, one will be invited to special cultural and social gatherings and will get to meet interesting people, establish new contacts and make new friends.
The members will have unlimited free access to the permanent exhibitions of one of the largest Jewish museums in the world and to the temporary exhibitions at the Robert Guttmann Gallery. They will be able to freely attend the evening programmes at the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre and they will receive free tickets to concerts at the Spanish Synagogue, among other advantages. Joining at a higher membership category will enable them to visit the Jewish Museum’s depositories that are closed to the public and to meet major artists and personalities that are supported by the Museum.
An independent institution that takes care of the monuments of one of the oldest and most important centres of Jewish life in Europe, the Jewish Museum in Prague is consistently the most visited museum in the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1906 in response to the extensive redevelopment of the area of Prague’s Jewish Town and with the aim of preserving monuments that were irretrievably disappearing. The largest expansion of the Jewish Museum’s collections occurred during the Second World War, when selected items confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia were deposited there. The Jewish Museum is also a memorial to the victims of the Shoah from Bohemia and Moravia.
The Jewish Museum has significantly contributed to the development of Jewish culture and to the furthering of education about Jewish history, Jewish customs, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The members of the Society of Friends of the Jewish Museum in Prague too have an opportunity to influence the future of this institution, which is unique in terms of its history and the character of its collections.
Please find more detailed information about the membership categories at http://184.108.40.206/zmp/spolecnostpratelpress/.
Contact for the media:
tel. 221 711 581; 603 867 285
Prague, 1 October 2009
The CINEGOGUE cinema concert in the Spanish Synagogue
THE Jewish MUSEUM IN PRAGUE & THE BERG ORCHESTRA invite you to the music and film event of the year – a screening of the 1922 silent classic Hungry Hearts (directed by E. Mason Hopper) with a new score by the young Czech composer Jan Dušek performed by the most progressive ensemble on the contemporary Czech music scene, the Berg Orchestra, conducted by Peter Vrábel.
14 October 2009 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
The CINEGOGUE cinema concerts will take place on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Part of the CINEGOGUE project (an irregular film series held by the Jewish Museum in Prague to provide viewers with an opportunity of getting to know interesting works from the field of Jewish film and video art which are otherwise rarely shown in the Czech Republic) and BERG 09 – BRÁNY SVĚTŮ / GATES OF WORLDS (a concert series with world premieres of works by young Czech composers, emphasizing the merge of inventive dramaturgy and unusual spaces), both presentations will be set in the unique space of the Spanish Synagogue (Vězeňská 3, Prague 1), which belongs to the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Previously unscreened in the Czech Republic and with the original new score, the presentation of this jewel from Hollywood’s Silent Era produced by Samuel Goldwyn – a combination of romance, slapstick, court drama and documentary (featuring original footages of New York’s Lower East Side, which in the first decades of the 20th century was inhabited mainly by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe) – is a world premiere. Undertaking the difficult restoration of the original copy of this film, the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) at Brandeis University has also produced a digital transcript that enables the film to be seen again by a wide audience, including the audience of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Financial support for the project was provided by:
Embassy of the United States
Prague City Hall
Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic
John Caulkins, www.moffom.org
Prague Jewish Community BEJT PRAHA, www.bejt-praha.cz
Contacts for media:
Berg Orchestra, Eva Kesslová, firstname.lastname@example.org, 604 205 937
Jewish Museum in Prague, Noemi Holeková, email@example.com, 221 711 581, 603 867 285
USA, 1922, 80 min., B&W, DVD
Silent with English and Czech intertitles
Director: E. Mason Hopper
Restoration and transfer to DVD: The National Center for Jewish Film
Based on the short stories of Anzia Yezierska, the first writer to bring stories of American Jewish women to a mainstream audience, Hungry Hearts focuses on the members of the Levin family who emigrate from Eastern Europe to New York City’s Lower East Side. Abraham, the pious father learned in religion but with little interest in secular matters and business affairs, has difficulty making a living and helping his family to adjust to life in America. His daughter Sarah scrubs floors in the tenement where they live to earn some money and to “become a somebody” in America. The mother Hanneh, a noble matriarch, scrimps and saves to improve her modest household, as she believes this will help to marry off her eldest daughter. She decides to paint her dingy kitchen white and it is precisely at this moment when a grotesque drama starts to unfold... Filmed on authentic locations on New York’s Lower East Side, this bittersweet classic captures the hopes and hardships of Jewish immigrants in the New World.
COMPOSER JAN DUŠEK is the youngest composer to regularly collaborate with the Berg Orchestra. Their collaboration was initiated by a commission to write new music for the short avant-garde film Ballet Mécanique by Fernand Léger. Working on this extremely demanding commission gave Dušek valuable experience with the specific genre of silent film music and proved to be a tremendous success. His series Chalomot Yehud’im, which was produced for the orchestra last year, deservedly received the audience award at the NUBERG contest. The Berg Orchestra performed another new work, Personas – Dušek’s graduation composition – in collaboration with the National Theatre Ballet and choreographer Sylva Nečasová this May at the Estates Theatre. Laureate of two composer contests, Dušek receives commissions from festivals, foreign soloists and chamber groups – recently, for example, from the famous Nederland Blazer Ensemble.
THE BERG ORCHESTRA represents a breath of fresh air in the Czech music scene. Composed of young musicians, BERG focuses on contemporary and 20th century music in combination with dance, pantomime, film, video art, etc. Performing outside of traditional concert halls, BERG presents musical works in an uncommon context. By commissioning new works from Czech composers, particularly from the younger generation, the orchestra is helping to create new artistic values and is investing in the future of music and art. It has already had dozens of world premieres, as well as many Czech premieres of works by international composers. The Berg Orchestra collaborates with a host of renowned artists and organizations, such as the National Theatre and the Strings of Autumn Festival. It also focuses on promoting music among the younger generations and for several years has been organizing popular concerts for children.
CONDUCTOR PETER VRÁBEL is the chief conductor and artistic director of the Berg Orchestra. Born in Slovakia but based in Prague, he specializes in presenting contemporary music. As a tireless and inventive promoter of new music, he closely collaborates with leading contemporary Czech and international composers and through various projects creates an inspiring space for outstanding young artists. Despite having a very broad artistic range, he focuses mainly on 20th century and contemporary music. Involved in period interpretation of various works, he supplements concerts of new music with music from earlier periods. His versatility is evidenced by his wide-ranging recording activity for the Czech Radio, an album of American jazz pianist Frank Mantooth, and a number of films. He collaborates with the National Theatre (Goldilocks; Ibbur, or Prague Mystery) and holds the Gideon Klein Award.
The Spanish Synagogue was built in a Moorish style to a design by Vojtěch Ignátz Ullmann and Josef Niklas in 1868. The rich interior décor, inspired by oriental fantasies and patterns of Mozarabic architecture, dates from 1882-1883 and was designed by two Prague-based architects, Antonín Baum and Bedřich Münzberger. It is not without interest that the construction of the synagogue, whose style reflects the emancipation process of Jews in the Czech lands, was undertaken more-or-less at the same time as that of the historic National Theatre building – the pride of the Czech Revival Movement. The Spanish Synagogue stands on the site of the former Old School (probably dating from the 12th century), the oldest synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Town, which, in 1837, was the first to introduce reform services in Prague. Inspired by German Protestantism, the Jewish reform service emphasized the musical component of the liturgy. Between 1837-1845, its successful development was overseen by the composer and conductor František Jan Škroup, who also composed the Czech National Anthem. The Old School was pulled down in 1867. The synagogue built on its site was to meet the needs of the reform liturgy: a spacious, airy structure with galleries on cast-iron columns, an organ and excellent acoustics. Apart from religious services and a museum installation (it houses the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibit The History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia from Emancipation to the Present and Synagogue Silver from Bohemia and Moravia), the synagogue is also used as a concert hall.
Path of Life
Rabbi Loew (ca. 1525–1609)
An exhibition organized by the Prague Castle Administration and the Jewish Museum in Prague for the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel
Imperial Stables, Prague Castle
5 August – 8 November 2009
open daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Exhibition Commissioner: PhDr. Eva Kosáková
Exhibition curators: PhDr. Arno Pařík and PhDr. Alexandr Putík
The 7th of September (18th of Elul 5769 by the Hebrew calendar) this year is the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned rabbi Judah Loew (Löw) ben Bezalel, known in the Jewish world as the Maharal. To mark this occasion, the Prague Castle Administration and the Jewish Museum in Prague have prepared a major prestigious exhibition, entitled Path of life. Rabbi Loew (ca. 1525–1609), which will be on view at the Imperial Stables until 8 November 2009. In addition, the Jewish Museum and the Academia Publishing House have published an extensive catalogue to accompany this show.
The religious, pedagogical and philosophical legacy of Rabbi Loew, the famous scholar of Rudolfine Prague, remains a lively inspiration to this day. Few people have attracted such a broad range of admirers, including those with starkly contrasting religious, philosophical and cultural views.
The idea of Rabbi Loew as the personification of the mystery of the ghetto, a miracle worker, mathematician and creator of an artificial being may not be historically grounded but it has provided immense inspiration for literature, drama and art. “The historical and the imaginary Rabbi Loew both have a right to exist, but there is a cavernous divide between the historical image of this figure and the way he is mainly seen today,” says the exhibition curator Alexandr Putík, a researcher at the Jewish Museum. “This fact is of such importance that it serves as the basic concept for the whole exhibition, which comprises two parts. The first part focuses on the historical Rabbi Loew and the authentic traditions connected with him, while the second part looks at the Rabbi Loew’s legacy and the origin of the legends that are linked to his name.”
Named for one of the Rabbi Loew’s works (Derekh Hayyim), the exhibition Path of Life features as many as 200 unique artefacts, books and archival materials from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, including seven items from the collections of Prague Castle Administration and a further 69 rare objects on loan from ten Czech institutions. Thirteen no less unique exhibits are on loan from seven foreign institutions.
Among the most important items on display are the writings of Rabbi Loew together with official registers and records associated with him. One of the unique items is a document from the State Archives in Vienna dating from 1597 that was signed by this Jewish scholar, whose fame spread following his meeting with Emperor Rudolf II at Prague Castle. Another rare exhibit is a table bell that was made from an alloy of seven metals on the basis of kabbalistic instructions and belonged to Rudolf II; this is on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The exhibition also showcases a number of items that were directly or indirectly connected with Rabbi Loew. These include a replica of the tombstone of his relative Lev the Elder from 1540, the original of which is in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, the chair that the rabbi is said to have sat on during religious services at the Old-New Synagogue, and a Kiddush cup that – according to oral tradition – belonged to Rabbi Loew. The original tombstone and chair obviously could not be put on view at the exhibition, but they can be seen on a tour of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Rabbi Loew’s work stands out for its complexity and depth – he dealt with not only Torah and Talmud exegesis and religious law, but also with mystical theology and education, and he had a major influence on Hasidism and modern religious Zionism. “Ironically, the general public now knows Judah ben Bezalel mainly due to the golem legend, with which he was not associated until the nineteenth century. This legend is also featured in the exhibition,” says the other curator of the exhibition Arno Pařík. On view at the Imperial Stables are Sippurim [Hebrew “Tales”] – texts by German romantics that were published in Prague in 1847 and raised broader awareness of Rabbi Loew and his golem – and literary works by Alois Jirásek, Josef Svátek and Adolf Wenig that dealt with the golem legends.
Legends about Rabbi Loew and his golem spread most extensively, however, at the beginning of the twentieth century, which is why the exhibition showcases a number of literary works on this theme by such authors as Yudel Rosenberg, Gustav Meyrink and Chaim Bloch. Rabbi Loew and the golem were depicted in art first by Mikoláš Aleš and then by Hugo Steiner-Prag, among other artists. A monument to Rabbi Loew was made by the sculptor Ladislav Šaloun for the front of Prague’s Town Hall; the model for this – which is in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague – is also on view at the exhibition. A play about Rabbi Loew and his golem was also performed at the Liberated Theatre. The greatest success, however, was with the film versions of these legends by Paul Wegener, Julian Duviviér and Martin Frič (in the film The Emperor’s Baker and the Golem). Selected excerpts from these films will be screened at the exhibition.
Path of Life also traces the development of the Prague ghetto and the Jewish cemetery during the lifetime of Rabbi Loew. Thanks to the City of Prague Museum and KIT digital Czech a. s., it is possible to see a 3D depiction of the most important buildings of Prague’s Jewish Town, as rendered in an 18th century model by Antonín Langweil. In addition to Rabbi Loew’s house, this shows the major public buildings and the tombstones of Rabbi Loew and other prominent figures from the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Prague Castle Administration: David Šebek, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel.: 224 37 2451, 724 371 075
Look for the symbol or word to revive him
A tactile sculpture for drawing with light
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1 (behind the Spanish Synagogue), tel. 221 711 553
4 June – 4 October 2009
Exhibition curator: PhDr. Arno Pařík
The 7th of September 2009 will be the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned scholar of Rudolphine Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew (Löw) ben Bezalel (1525–1609). This anniversary will be commemorated throughout the world. Prague, where the famous scholar is buried, will be the focal point of the celebrations. The Jewish Museum in Prague is now launching the first of many events connected with this anniversary – an interactive installation by artist Petr Nikl, entitled Golem – look for the symbol or word to revive him, which will be on view at the Robert Guttmann Gallery until 4 October 2009.
According to the famous legend, which only acquired its current form at the beginning of the twentieth century, Rabbi Loew created an artificial being – the golem – with his son-in-law and pupil on the banks of the River Vltava in order to protect the Jewish community, which had been threatened with pogroms. The exhibition curator Arno Pařík says: “As a metaphor of hope and fear in the modern age, the story of the golem continues to attract writers and artists, and to take on an ever new form.”
The golem is now given a new form in Nikl’s tactile sculpture, which is designed for drawing with light. In this show, the Jewish Museum in Prague gives everyone the opportunity to wake up their own imaginary golem – a golem hidden in Nikl’s sculpture and in their own imagination. Drawings can be made with fingers, light or music.
“After long consideration I inclined towards a disembodied light variant, as I am convinced that however attractive a solution using a Plasticine material for the body may be, it reduces the idea of the golem to a simple vision of a clay giant,” says the sculptor Petr Nikl. “I therefore opted for a minimalist solution – a sculpture composed of two parts, both of which have an abstract effect and are primarily surfaces for a depiction – to capture a face, symbol, sign, letter or word. This depiction, written record or note completely depends on the visitor. The project in this form is not intended only for children. By writing through the sand to the illuminated glass, each visitor, to the same extent, has the possibility of drawing a sign that will be projected by means of shadow play onto the projection surface. Later, the results will be processed in an accelerated animation edit, and in this way will facilitate the resulting film, which will depict a chain of the animation process, to which each active visitor will contribute. This is, then, a magical experience of writing in light and sound, a metaphorical contact with one’s own efforts at creation, bringing back to life or marking the face of the golem as energy in whose strength and existence we may hope...” added Nikl.
To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Loew, the Jewish Museum in Prague, in collaboration with the Prague Castle Administration, is also preparing a major prestigious exhibition, entitled Path of Life, which is dedicated to the life and legacy of Rabbi Loew. This exhibition will be on view at the Imperial Stables of Prague Castle between 5 August and 8 November 2009.
Exhibition images can be downloaded at http://220.127.116.11/zmp/golempress/.
Partners: CEZ Group, Prague 1 Borough (Městská část Praha 1).
Media partner: Czech Radio.
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