Eighteenth-Century Recycling: From Wedding Dress to Torah Curtain

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Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), the great Enlightenment philosopher, and his wife Fromet (1737–1812) presented a Berlin synagogue with this Torah curtain in 1774/75. In all likelihood, they had it made from Fromet's silk wedding dress.

Torah Curtain for the High Holy Days

Traditionally, a white curtain is hung in front of the Torah ark on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two most important Jewish holidays. The ark is where the Torah scrolls containing the text of the five books of Moses are kept. Above the Hebrew dedication, our Torah curtain bears two lions symbolizing Judah, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Keter Torah (Torah crown) is written beneath the crown. The columns adorned with wreaths of flowers and the small motifs on the valance are a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The History of a Torah Curtain's Migration

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 ark of the synagogue in the Altona district. Generations later, after the November Pogrom in 1938, refugees brought the curtain to Antwerp, Belgium. It received a place of honor there in the makeshift prayer room of a small refugee congregation. 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 linens in a laundry basket – to one of her husband's business associates for safekeeping. Betty Rothschild and two of their sons were murdered in Auschwitz. Leo Rothschild and their son Josef survived. The Torah curtain made it through the war years unscathed.

Torah Curtain; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Hans-Joachim Bartsch

The History of a Torah Curtain's Migration

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 ark of the synagogue in the Altona district. Generations later, after the November Pogrom in 1938, refugees brought the curtain to Antwerp, Belgium. It received a place of honor there in the makeshift prayer room of a small refugee congregation. 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 linens in a laundry basket – to one of her husband's business associates for safekeeping. Betty Rothschild and two of their sons were murdered in Auschwitz. Leo Rothschild and their son Josef survived. The Torah curtain made it through the war years unscathed.

November Progrom

More on Wikipedia

Title Torah Curtain donated by Moses Mendelssohn and his wife Fromet Gugenheim
Collection Judaica
Location and year of origin Berlin, 1774/75
Medium silk, embroidered
Dimensions 210 x 145 cm
Selected Objects (6) Judaica Collection Show all

Judaica Collection

Our collection of ceremonial objects ranges widely from a valuable eighteenth-century Torah curtain donated by Formet and Moses Mendelssohn to contemporary ritual items to small kitchen supplies for following Jewish dietary laws.

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Torah Ornaments by Kurt Matzdorf

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Torah Curtain Donated by the Mendelssohns

Moses and Fromet Mendelssohn commissioned a Torah curtain, probably using the fabric from Fromet's wedding dress, and donated it to a synagogue in Berlin in 1774–75.

Wedding

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Fromet Gugenheim

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Torah

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Moses Mendelssohn

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