Silver judaica, 18th – early 20th centuries
Volhynia, Podolia, Galicia and other Ukrainian provinces in the 18th - early 20th century, under the Austrian and Russian empires, were the greatest concentrations of the Jewish Diaspora in Europe. Jewish ceremonial objects, from that time, make a unique group of silver judaica that reminds the intensive cultural development of Ashkenazi people driven from the west. The ceremonial silver art, created in Ukraine, firstly followed the occidental patterns. Latter, lavishly crafted under the local artistic influence, these silver objects became very interesting examples of the Jewish silver ornaments.
Before 1920s these silver objects were used for the Jewish ceremonies in synagogues or homes. They were often offered to religious community, praying houses or synagogues in the cities of Bilopillia, Lokhvytsia, Kherson, Kyiv, Medzhybizh, Odessa, Tulchyn, Vinnytsia, Volochysk, Yampil, Zhytomyr, and others.
The Museum collection has about 400 exhibits that were created since the early 18th century to 1920s in the workshops of the kingdom of Poland, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian empires, but mostly in Ukraine. Some of them were offered to the Kyiv Arts and Crafts Museum in 1912-1914. Some items arrived to the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine from the Kyiv Customs in 1980s.
The most objects were expropriated in the synagogues and worship houses after the Decree from 1922 "On the seizure of religious values for the sake of hungry people fund”. Thus in 1920s-1930s the Jewish ceremonial objects made in precious metal as the cult objects of other confessions had been stored in the State Bank
We have to remember the great efforts by the scholars, museum professionals’ museums’ professionals such as Dmytro Scherbakivsky, Theodor Ernst, Anton Sereda and others, that made possible to save the precious cultural relics in the museums.
Many of exhibits passed from the All-Ukrainian Jewish Culture Museum of Mendele Mocher Sforim in Odessa organized in 1927 and closed in 1930s.
The MIKU’s Silver Judaica collections consist of the silver ritual objects that can reflect the Jewish annual life: the Torah’s crowns, rymmons, pointers and shields from synagogues and Chanukah lamps, scrolls of Esther, bsamims and others from homes. In the Jewish tradition these subjects had a dual function, ritual and decorative.
The ritual objects were created after the traditional patterns, but under the influence by the artistic tendency of the epoch.
The most important objects of Jewish art are special decorations the Scroll of Low – after the ruin of the temple and the palace of the Judean kings in Jerusalem religious zeal had been addressed to the Torah that consists of the main sacred text of Judaism.
Traditionally the scroll of Torah is coronated, its handles are decorated with rymmons and some silver plate, as a shield, is additionally fixed on the chain. For reading of the texte there is a silver hand-shaped pointer.
38 precious crowns of the Museum's collection, from the 18 – early 20 century, are considered as the pinnacle of Jewish ceremonial art.
The MHTU keeps the best collection of Torah-shields of Ukraine: 105 created in the 18th – early 20th centuries with many techniques in various styles.
The collection of pointers has got 60 different types: 58 made completely in silver, two others additionally embellished with bones or pearl.
Also there are 11 silver cups for kidush ceremony. The ritual cup are decorated with floral ornaments, images of lion, griffin and unicorn, or inscribed with prayers, wishes, names in Hebrew or Yiddish.
The Museum has got a fascinating collection of bsamims that feature. These silver containers for spices, created with the highest goldsmith’s quality, captivate attention by the variety of forms: flower, bush, tree, fruit, animal, box, tower.
During the eight days festival of Hanukkah the traditional Jewish family lights eight-flamed lamp. In the 18th-19th centuries the Chanukah was the subject of mass production. Since the beginning of the early 19th century In Ukraine was created the Chanukah lamp of special type, called after the name of the Hasidic leader – the Baal Shem Tov Chanukah lamp is a majestic temple-shaped construction.
Spring holiday of Purim is celebrated in memory of the events described in the Bible (Book of Esther: 9, 24). During the celebration the family reads the story about the Persian queen Esther. There are three examples of Mehillat Esther in amazing silver gilded cases.
In the 18th – early 20th centuries centers in the territory of Ukraine existed some great Jewelry centres of Jewish art.
The importance of Lviv was mentioned by Meyer Balaban in his study on the Jews in Lviv. During the pogrom in 1664 in the Old Synagogue disappeared 24 silver Torah crowns, the same time the New Synagogue of Isaac Nachmanovich lost 34 crowns. Despite the harassment the Jewish Jewelry survived in Lviv. According to the revision, in 1708 there were 44 Jews goldsmiths and 10 Christian goldsmiths.
In the second half of 18 – early 19 century many Jewish jewelers worked in Zhovkva, Brody and other centres of Jewish settlement. In the XIX century Zhytomyr was the main city for Jewish people. There existed an only trade school in the territory of the Russian empire that that had in its title “Jewish”. 1500 people studied in the Zhytomir Jewish Trade School in 1862-1884, among them graduated high-levelled silversmiths. The Zhytomir’s masters were the authors of interesting examples of Silver Judaica.
In the last quarter of XIX century Kyiv was flourishing artistically. From May 1881 to December 1888 the Council of Craftsmen registered 3584 silversmiths in the city of Kyiv. There were among them 484 local Christian, 711 nonresident Christians, 162 foreigners and 2227 Jews.
In the 19th – early 20th centuries splendid examples of Jewish ceremonial art were created in Berdychiv, Kamianets-Podilsk, other cities of Ukraine.
But in the late 19th – early 20th centuries the main city of the country was Odessa. That real cultural, economical and commercial centre was opened for Jewish people and in the end of the 19th they made 35 percents of the Odessa’s population.
The MHTU’s collection of Silver Judaica is a kind of unique precious monument of Jewish culture in Ukraine.
In 1989, the scientists and conservators of the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine began studying and restoration of the collection of silver judaica that had been kept in the depository.
Since the Museum's experts began their work to revival the Jewish silver monuments in Ukraine, there had been engaged scientists, art historians and restorers. We would like to thank the Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine Mr. Jacob Dov Bleich, the Director of Art Department at the The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Mr. Alizi Cohen-Mushlin, researcher and collector Mr. William Grosso, Vacheron Constantin Company representive in Ukraine Mr. Jean-Michel Spir, for the collaboration and helpful efforts.
Research and Restoration Departements made a huge work to present these objects at many exhibitions in Ukraine, Kyiv (1991, 2002-2003), Zhytomyr (1992), and abroad in Austria (1993), Luxembourg (1997), Italy (1998), USA (2000). In 1994, sixty items of Silver Judaica collection took foud their places in the permanent display exhibition in the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine.