Collection

The Jewish Museum of Switzerland houses objects spanning 2000 years from Basel to Riga, from Aleppo to Eilat and from Spain to South America. The collection focuses on ceremonial objects made of silver, ritual textiles from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and documents on the cultural history of Jews in Switzerland. With a steadily growing collection, the museum also collects contemporary Judaica, everyday objects and art.

The muse­um is gra­du­al­ly making its collec­tion acces­si­ble for rese­arch and out­re­ach on its web­site and in parts on the online ency­clo­pa­edia Wiki­pe­dia. An examp­le of this is the collec­tion of «Len­gnau Map­pot» com­pri­sing of 218 Torah penn­ants span­ning almost three cen­tu­ries, making it one of the lar­gest cohe­rent collec­tions of any known community.

The first items to be dis­play­ed in the Jewish Muse­um of Switz­er­land came from the Judai­ca collec­tion of the Swiss Muse­um of Folk­lo­re (now the Muse­um of Cul­tures, Basel). In sub­se­quent years, the collec­tion was expan­ded to inclu­de objects from Basel and the Upper Rhi­ne regi­on, from the two Surb­tal Jewish vil­la­ges of Endin­gen and Len­gnau, and from the rest of Switz­er­land and Europe.

The monu­men­tal medi­eval gra­ve­stones and the Basel Hebrew prints are his­to­ri­cal­ly uni­que. Docu­ments on the Basel Zio­nist con­gres­ses and ori­gi­nal let­ters from Theo­dor Herzl, the aut­hor of «The Jewish Sta­te», show Basel as a city that made world politics.

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Highlights

Circumcision Bench
from 1791

This circumcision bench was carved in 1791 and entered the museum's collection in 1973. It was used in a synagogue in Germany as a seat for the circumcision ceremony, the Brit Mila.

The sandak (god­f­a­ther) sits on one seat with the baby, while the second seat is kept free for the pro­phet Eli­jah. The inscrip­ti­on refers to this tra­di­ti­on with words from the First Book of Moses: «You must cir­cumcise the fle­sh of your fores­kins, and it will be a sym­bol of the covenant bet­ween us. On the eighth day after birth, every male in every genera­ti­on must be cir­cumcis­ed» (Gene­sis 17:11).

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Pocket Watch
from La Chaud-de-Fonds

This silver and brass pocket watch was made by Jules Levy in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1901, as can be deduced from the inscription: «Jules Levy. Chaux de Fonds. Tischri 5662. Mon cher oncle.» Levy's «dear uncle» was Aron Rhein.

Tishri is the first mon­th of the Jewish calen­dar year, fal­ling bet­ween Sep­tem­ber and Octo­ber. The hour nume­ra­ls are repre­sen­ted by Hebrew cha­rac­ters. The Jewish com­mu­ni­ty of La Chaux-de-Fonds was foun­ded in 1833 and quick­ly grew, coun­ting cir­ca 900 mem­bers in 1900, when the local watch manu­fac­tu­ring indus­try was at its peak.

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Lengnau Mappot

One of the most extensive collections of wimpels was found in the 1960s in the Surbtal in the Swiss canton of Aargau. The 218 textiles, which had been discovered in the women's gallery of the synagogue in Lengnau, span three centuries.

The oldest one dates back to 1655. In 1967 the wim­pels were exami­ned by Dr. Flo­rence Gug­gen­heim-Grün­berg. They are now part of the collec­tion of the Jewish Muse­um of Switzerland.

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Torah Mantle
from Endingen

This Torah mantle was found in the storage room of the synagogue in Endingen (Aargau) in 1967, and since it was no longer in use, was donated to the museum.

The mate­ri­al was a French eigh­te­enth cen­tu­ry silk ori­gi­nal­ly used as a ladies’ dress, perhaps even a wed­ding gown. It was repur­po­sed as a Torah mant­le, a con­tro­ver­si­al yet fair­ly com­mon prac­ti­ce befo­re the twen­tieth century.

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Collotype
of the First Zionist Congress

The collotype process of the mid-nineteenth century made it relatively easy to produce hundreds of photographs at a time. This collotype shows the 162 participants of the First Zionist Congress, which took place in Basel in 1897.

While most par­ti­ci­pants were men, some women took part as well. Their pho­tos are on the bot­tom row. Women were allo­wed to par­ti­ci­pa­te, but not to vote.

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J-stamped
Passport

On 30 December 1938, Agatha Süss's German passport was stamped with a J to mark her as Jewish.

Becau­se her daugh­ter mar­ried a Swiss man, the 63-year-old suc­cess­ful­ly pro­cu­red a visa for Switz­er­land and was able to take up resi­dence with her son-in-law in Basel, thus esca­ping near-cer­tain depor­ta­ti­on to a con­cen­tra­ti­on camp.

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