Collecting as a way of life

an interview with René Braginsky

When did you start collecting and how many objects are there now in your collection?

René Braginsky: I started collecting books more than twenty years ago, after being unable to find an illustrated blessing for our son’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. We had to make 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 gradually bought more things, and of increasingly high quality, too, whenever possible. A good friend of mine, an elderly 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

Of interest for me, first and foremost, is the direct connection with Jewish history, with my view of Jewish history. The sheer variety of the illustrations fascinates me, too, and the regional and national influences one can see in them. 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 worlds, 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 importantwill always survive. The mission, if there is one at all, is my conviction that one shouldn’t hide such treasures from the world, but rather share them freely. That is why we set up our 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, currently for the fifth time around. Over the years, the exhibitions and online sources have enabled many tens of thousands of citizens from all over the world—both Jewish and non-Jewish—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


Small, Yet Packs a Punch…

Or: How 300 Artifacts from our Collection Were Turned into a Cabinet Exhibition about the First World War

A spiked helmet in a showcase

Objects from our collections in the exhibition “The First World War in Jewish Memory”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mariette Franz

Our exhibition “The First World War in Jewish Memory” opened last week. It is based primarily on collections donated to the Jewish Museum by German-Jewish families and each exhibit tells a very personal story.
In total, 176 exhibits were selected, researched and arranged as a visual narrative by eight curators, six restorers, two exhibition technicians, a translator and a graphic artist. So, even before I mention our numerous willing helpers in the wings, in particular the student assistants and the Museum caretaker, this sounds like a big team for a big exhibition. In fact, our joint endeavor culminated in a small cabinet exhibition relating to the First World War, which can be viewed until 16 November in the Rafael Roth Learning Center.  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