Jewish Museum in Prague
Findings in Bohemian and Moravian Synagogues
Spanish Synagogue 4. November 1999 - 30. January 2000
The exhibition Genizot documents one of the lesser known aspects of Jewish tradition. According to Jewish law, discarded Holy Scriptures which contain the name of God must be deposited in a safe place, where they are protected from desecration and subject to natural processes of decay. This also applied to other texts of a religious and even secular nature, written in the Hebrew language or script. The place of storage is known as a genizah (plural: genizot, from the Hebrew root GNZ - literally ”hiding, storing”).
Books and other objects were either gathered in a special place and later buried en masse, or were deposited in synagogue attics. Very few genizot have remained intact to this day, the majority being destroyed as a result of fire, rebuilding or expulsions of Jews. As part of research carried out by the Jewish Museum, genizah remnants were found in only 12 of over 50 synagogues examined. The most significant discoveries were made in Luze, Breznice, Zaluzany, Rychnov nad Kneznou and Holesov.
Alongside Torah scrolls and their remains, the genizot mostly contained 17th - 19th century Hebrew and Yiddish printed texts: prayer-books, editions of the Bible, Passover Haggadot, Talmud with commentaries, and other Halacha literature; and, to a lesser extent, Kabbalistic writings, popular Yiddish literature, textbooks of Hebrew, religion and even mathematics.
Among the most valuable discoveries are those of manuscripts - mostly transcripts of rabbinic writings or records of lectures by contemporary rabbis from Prague, Golčův Jeníkov and Bratislava, but also fragments of tablets with prayers and blessings for the synagogue and home and liturgical wall calendars. Also to be found in the genizot are official documents and private correspondence.
Damaged ritual objects and synagogue furnishings were also deposited in the genizot. Unique sets of textiles were found in Luze and Breznice: synagogue curtains, mantles and Torah wimples with folk ornamentation, tallitot of various sizes and design, and bags for tefillin, in addition to children’s skullcaps and shoes.
Rychnov nad Kneznou
These genizah discoveries provide us with valuable insights into the customs and interests, standards of living and craft traditions of the rural Jewish population from the late 17th to the mid-19th centuries. Bringing them to light is only the start of a long-term process of conservation and research. The material has to be sorted and identified, and the most interesting items cleaned, registered, conserved and restored. Damaged fragments and items of lesser interest have been buried. Only a small selection of this rare testimony to the past can, however, be displayed in this exhibition.
Exhibition curator: Olga Sixtova, Dr. Arno Parik