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


Esther on a Roll

Detail of a scroll illustrated with a picture of a city

Detail of a Megillah, Germany, 18th century
© Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo: Michaela Roßberg

Today, 16 March, Jewish communities are celebrating Purim. On this holiday, the biblical Book of Esther is read aloud in synagogue. In keeping with tradition, the story of Esther—who saves the Jewish people in the Persian Empire from destruction by Haman, the king’s highest-ranking official—is read not from a book but from a parchment scroll. Commenting on the (Hebrew) reading, noisy hoots and rattles are sounded. (Alternative customs are described in our blog text for last year’s Purim).

Numerous Esther scrolls are currently in the custody of the Jewish Museum. The 32 works on loan will be on display along with other historical manuscripts from 4 April 2014, in the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection.”  continue reading


Food for Thought

Menurkeys for Thanksgivukkah?

A menora, flowers, and the book "Curious George"

Research under way in preparation for Thanksgivukkah
Photo: Signe Rossbach

Chanksgiving! As a family of German-American Jewish-Protestant-Catholic-Puritan backgrounds, we do like to celebrate as many holidays as we can possibly fit into our family schedule – with Halloween, our twins’ birthday and the classic German lantern parade for St. Martin’s day making for an action packed twelve days at the beginning of November.

After a bit of a breather we’re heading into the next holiday season – with a bit of a twist this year. Usually Hanukkah – the Jewish festival of lights and miracles – is associated with the Christian festival of lights and a miraculous birth: Christmas. And that makes sense, sort of, superficially at least. A few years ago we had an entire exhibition titled “Chrismukkah” – a cultural history of the evolution of the two holidays, and this year on December 3, Rabbi Daniel Katz will present a truly enjoyable talk on how they really don’t fit together at all.

But Thanksgiving?  continue reading