exhibition in the prayer hall of the Spanish Synagogue
This year marks the centenary of the infamous Leopold Hilsner Trial. Leopold
Hilsner was a Jew from the small Czech town of Polná, who was sentenced
to death for involvement in alleged ritual murder. The verdict was confirmed
by an appeal court in October of the same year. It was only later that
he was granted a reprieve, the death penalty being changed to life imprisonment.
Leopold Hilsner was given a general pardon in 1918, almost twenty years
The Jewish Museum in Prague has prepared an exhibition, Murder in Polná,
to mark the anniversary of this event. The exhibition presents a number
of interesting period documents and illustrations, which not only clearly
reflect the intensified anti-Semitic atmosphere of the trial, but also
the attitudes of the then Austrian and Czech society towards the Jewish
The curator of the exhibition, which runs until October 1999, is Dr.
Unique Jewish Museum
A rare work was acquired by the Jewish Museum in Prague at the end of
1998: a Passover Haggadah (Haggadah shel Pesach) illustrated manuscript.
Although there is no colophon and the author is not as yet known, it can
be said with certainty that the manuscript dates from the 18th century.
This is attested by the characteristic ornamentation and models used,
the binding, and indirectly by the ownership inscriptions on the endpapers.
The manuscript on vellum has 21 folios (196 mm x 160 mm) in 6 gatherings.
The Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Passover Haggadah is written in Hebrew
square script with instructions in Yiddish in ze’ena ur’ena letters
and is accompanied by decorative motifs, initials and full- and half-page
pen- and ink- illustrations.
The decoration of the title page is copied from the frontispiece of a
Passover Haggadah printed in Sulzbach in 1711. The illustrations of this
edition, which are otherwise based on the copperplates of the Amsterdam
Haggadah of 1695, were not, however, the only models used by the author
of the manuscript. The manuscript contains several other illustrations
(e.g. Elijah leads the Messiah riding on a donkey to Jerusalem), which
derive from other sources. All the illustrations and initials (e. g. archer,
soldier, postillion, musketeer and cherub figures) literally draw from
the typical Pesach iconography used in printed exemplars. Naturally, a
number of decorative features were added by the author: for example, incipits,
which were executed in decorative folded ribbon letters (possibly directly
modelled on the Prague machzorim of the 17th century), were flanked by
heraldic animals characteristic of Jewish symbolism (deer and griffin)
or by floral decoration and rocaille. The author made use of contemporary
art styles and sometimes employed folkish forms.
The contemporary binding, which is somewhat atypical for its striking
ornamentation, is a work of art in itself. The parchment cover, which
is light brown and cream in colour with complex blind tooling ornamentation,
is decorated with coloured cut-out Chinese motifs, which were applied
at a later stage.
The manuscript is among the works which were made in the 18th century
by Jewish folk scribes and illuminators for wealthy commissioners. This
revival of the manuscript tradition initially occurred in Moravia (with
the so-called “Moravian Penmen School”) and later in Vienna, Berlin and
elsewhere. Although it is not as yet possible to locate the origin of
this rare Museum acquisition, it is evident from endpaper records and
other data that the book belonged to a Moravian Jewish family from Loštice
and Olomouc, at least from 1812 to the second half of the 20th century.
(prepared by the curator of manuscripts and rare prints, Olga Sixtová.)
Origin of the Museum’s Library
In this and the next Newsletter issues we would like to familiarise our
readers with the basic historical events linked to the founding of the
contemporary library of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The following information
is based on extensive material prepared by Museum Library staff member
Mgr. Andrea Braunová.
The Jewish Museum Library contains approximately 100,000 books. These
extensive holdings originated and grew in close connection to a number
of specific historical events, in particular the Second World War and
the post-war development in the former Czechoslovakia. The
Jewish Museum Library is based
on the following sources:
1) library holdings
of the pre-war Jewish Religious Community,
2) library holdings established within the framework of the
wartime Central Jewish Museum,
3) wartime transfer of books from Terezín (Central Bohemia),
Mimoň and surrounding districts (North Bohemia),
4) acquisitions (purchases, donations, exchanges),
Jewish Religious Community
The Jewish Community (JC) Library was established in 1857 and opened to
the public in 1874. Its holdings came from bequests and material left
by prominent Prague personages. The predominant means of acquisition later
became purchases. In 1938 the JC Library contained around 15,000 books.
It was neither part of the pre-war Jewish Museum nor part of the Nazi-established
Central Jewish Museum, which came into being after the Library had been
seized by the German authorities. According to archive material, the JC
Library holdings were kept in the Oriental Seminary of the Prague Law
Faculty (then the SS Standart
-kommandatur). They were
later transferred to the Golden Crown Monastery in Southern Bohemia, from
where in 1946 they were sent back to the Jewish Museum in Prague.
At present, the Prague Jewish Community Library holdings form part of
the Jewish Museum in Prague Library and consist of around 13,000 volumes.
Approximately 2,000 books disappeared both during and after the war.
Library holdings of
the wartime Central Jewish Museum
From its inception in 1906 until 1939, the Museum was managed by
the Society for the Establishment and Maintenance of a Jewish Museum
in Prague. The Society was dissolved in 1939, after the occupation
of Czechoslovakia, and the Museum was transferred to Prague Jewish Community
management. The Central Jewish Museum was established in 1942 on the initiative
of Jewish Community representatives and only after difficult negotiations
with the German authorities. It was not, however, open to the public.
The Central Jewish Museum was established as part of the Prague Jewish
Community and consisted of the following items: collections of the pre-war
museum, in addition to Prague Jewish Community cultural relics, synagogue
objects, books and paintings that had been confiscated by the German authorities
from the liquidated Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia, and donations
and deposits left by individuals. A total of 213,096 items were sorted
and registered by May 1945. All items came from the area of the former
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, to be more precise from Jewish owners
- institutions or individuals in the Protectorate. Although certain artefacts
and books may have originally come from various localities, the fact is
that they belonged to people living in this region before the outbreak
of the war. Evidence for this is provided by the central card catalogue
of the Central Jewish Museum, which indicates the provenance of each item.
According to Jewish Museum material, the library holdings in the Central
Jewish Museum mostly consisted of traditional Jewish literature - rabbinic
and legal writings in Hebrew, prayer books, scholarly Jewish texts, specialist
literature and fiction by Jewish authors. There were very few early prints.
(to be continued in issue 3/99)
on Jewish themes – Boskovice
The Moravian town of Boskovice is situated 170 km south-east of
Prague and north of Mikulov, which we featured in the last issue. The
earliest written report mentioning the presence of Jews here dates from
the 14th century. Along with Mikulov, Holešov and Třebíč, the Jewish community
of Boskovice is one of the largest Jewish communities in Moravia. A major
Talmud research centre was also established in this town, where a number
of prominent rabbinic authorities were based, such as Samuel ha-Levi Kolon
(b. 1724 - d. 1806) and the Frankfurt born Chatam Sofer (1762 - 1839).
The Jewish community was revived for a short period after the Second World
War, but was later attached to the Jewish community of Brno (the main
county town of South Moravia) due to a lack of congregants. As with other
Jewish settlements, the demographic development of the Jewish population
in Boskovice was influenced by the process of emancipation. While there
were 1,603 Jews living here in 1804 and as many as 1,973 in 1848, there
were only 395 in 1900.
Most of the original Jewish quarter, which was developed from the 15th
century, has survived to this day intact and is now a heritage preservation
area. Of the prominent buildings here should also be mentioned the synagogue,
known as Synagogue Maior, which took form in 1698 through the complete
reconstruction of an existing 16th century building. In the course of
many years the synagogue underwent several alterations. Services were
held here until the beginning of the Second World War. During the Nazi
occupation it was closed down and used as a storehouse for furniture,
clothing and books confiscated by the Nazis from the Jewish inhabitants.
After the war the synagogue continued to be used as a storehouse and from
the 1960s has been in state ownership.
Following an ambitious reconstruction project in the 1990s, an exhibition
on the history of the local Jewish community was installed in the synagogue.
A number of synagogue items, dating mostly from the late 19th and early
20th centuries, were loaned by the Jewish Museum in Prague to the exhibition
organised by the Boskovice Museum.
Music in the Spanish Synagogue
On 20 March 1999 a concert was given in the Spanish Synagogue by the world
renowned cantor Joseph Malovany, who was accompanied by the Czech
organist Jaroslav Tůma. This performance marked the launch of a
regular series entitled Music in the Spanish Synagogue, which is
organised by the Dana Drtinová music agency. This series includes performances
by distinguished classical music performers (soloists and chamber ensembles)
from both the Czech Republic and abroad. The quality of the programme
is guaranteed by its being decided upon by a group of leading Czech musicians
and music specialists: the harpsichordist Professor Zuzana Růžičková,
pianist Professor Ivan Klánský and Professor Hana Arie Gaifman,
the organiser of the Musica Judaica music festival.
New issue of Judaica Bohemiae,
For information on how to purchase Judaica Bohemiae, you can write to:
The Jewish Museum in Prague,
110 00, Prague 1,
fax: +420 2 2310681, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
postcards write to:
Židovské muzeum v Praze,
110 00 Praha 1,
fax: 004202 2310681,