Collecting as a “Way of Life”

An Interview with René Braginsky

When did you start collecting and how large is your collection?

René Braginsky: I started collecting books more than twenty years ago. It was my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and I was looking for an illustrated blessing for the celebration. Since I could not find one, we made do with a copy. For his wedding, however, we were able to reproduce a blessing from our own collection. As I slowly acquired a taste for collecting, I bought more objects, and of increasingly quality, whenever possible. A good friend of mine, an older collector, encouraged me. The Judaica collection now comprises more than 700 pieces: books mainly, but also illustrated wedding contracts and Esther scrolls.

What motivates you to collect Hebrew manuscripts? Do you collect with a specific objective or mission in view?

Interior view of the special exhibition. A few book on blue painted slope wall

Interior view of the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Martin Adam

I’m interested, first and foremost, in the direct connection with Jewish history, with my view of Jewish history. I find the sheer variety of illustrations fascinating, as well as the regional and national influences they display. Jewish books in Germany are primarily German books, just as Jewish books from Spain are primarily Spanish and those from Morocco Moroccan. Jews lived in diverse regions, in a diaspora, and the illustrations in the books reflect this. And these old books so full of erudition bring me peace and make me confident, too, that whatever is really important will always survive. The mission, if there is such a thing, is my wish to share them freely, instead of hiding these treasures from the world. That is why we published websites (braginskycollection.com und braginskycollection.ch) , put two iPad apps online (Braginsky Collection und Braginsky Collection Berlin) and chose to exhibit a part of our collection in Berlin, for the fifth time. Over the years, the exhibitions and online sources have enabled tens of thousands of people all over the world—Jews and non-Jews —to share our enjoyment of the collection.

Do you believe the market for collectors of Judaica and Hebrew manuscripts has changed over the last few decades? Have you come across any counterfeiters or crooked dealers?  continue reading


In the Beginning Was … Scripture

An Interview with Cilly Kugelmann about the Exhibition “The Creation of the World: Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection”

Mirjam Wenzel: At the forthcoming exhibition, the Jewish Museum Berlin will present its first ever show of outstanding examples of the centuries-old Jewish scriptural tradition. What significance does scripture—the written word—have in the Jewish tradition?

Two women on a table looking on a paper

Cilly Kugelmann and Mirjam Wenzel
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Katrin Möller

Cilly Kugelmann: In early collections of rabbinic interpretations of biblical texts—the so-called midrashim—it is written that the Torah existed before the world was created. Some rabbis see the Torah quasi as a manual of creation that God drew on during his seven-day feat. Such interpretations demonstrate the extraordinary significance attributed to scripture in Judaism.
Following the loss of the geographic homeland Israel, sacrifices and pilgrimages to specific temples were abandoned in favor of prayer services that could take place anywhere—and the traditional texts themselves consequently became the most important, pivotal moment of the rite. To this day, the study and interpretation of biblical writings is the primary focus of Jewish intellectual life.

Why is René Braginsky’s Collection of illuminated manuscripts being presented under the title “The Creation of the World?”   continue reading


Shortly before Time Begins:

What We Won’t Be Showing, after All

In a few days, indeed in a matter of hours, our special exhibition “A Time for Everything” will open to the public: a display of both sacred and profane objects presented in the context of “Rituals Against Forgetting.” Almost all the objects kindly loaned us have arrived by now, walls have been painted, texts written, showcases installed, and the complete English version of the exhibition webpage will be launched in a few minutes.

Yet much looks very different now, from how it was conceived and planned initially. Up to the very last minute, we had to juggle decisions as to what should be done, and how, and to drop certain ideas that proved infeasible. We are currently shooting the exhibition trailer and already have some scenes ‘in the can,’ namely those which struck us as most interesting and promising. Yet doubtless also some of those will land on the cutting-room floor however — as did this statement from Cilly Kugelmann on the exhibition title and the meaning of time:

The theme of time, or, to be more precise, the Jewish perspective on times, is the primary focus of our forthcoming issue of the JMB Journal, too.  continue reading