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Torah Curtain


Torah Curtain
© Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Hans-Joachim Bartsch

Moses Mendelssohn, the great philosopher of the Enlightenment, and his wife Fromet presented a Berlin synagogue with this Torah curtain in 1774/75. In all likelihood, they had it made from Fromet’s silk wedding dress. Traditionally, a white curtain is hung in front of the Torah cabinet at the Jewish New Year Festival and the Day of Atonement, the two most important Jewish festivals. The Torah scrolls containing the text of the five books of Moses are kept in the Torah cabinet.

Above the dedicatory inscription, there are two lions symbolizing Juda, one of Israel’s 12 tribes. "Keter Tora" (Torah crown) is written beneath the crown. The columns adorned with wreaths of flowers and the small motifs on the pelmet are a reference to the temple in Jerusalem.

Some years after Moses Mendelssohn’s death in 1786, Fromet returned to her hometown of Hamburg. She took the Torah curtain with her where it then adorned the Torah cabinet in the synagogue in Altona. After the November Pogrom in 1938, the curtain found its way to Antwerp in Belgium in the hands of refugees. There it was honored in the makeshift prayer room of a small refugee community. Leo Rothschild, the community warden, kept the ritual objects at his home when they were not being used in services. Following German occupation of Belgium in May 1940, his wife Betty gave the curtain – hidden under household laundry in a washing basket – to a business associate of her husband for safekeeping. Betty Rothschild and two of their sons were murdered in Auschwitz. Leo Rothschild and their son Josef survived. The Torah curtain came through the war years unscathed.

Object Details:
Torah Curtain
donated by Moses Mendelssohn and his wife Fromet Gugenheim
Berlin, 1774/75, silk, embroidered
210 x 145 cm

Background:

A Jewish woman during ritual cleansing, illustration from a prayer book, Germany 1427-1428
© Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek »Carl von Ossietzky«, Hamburg

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