Lift the Curtain!
New Photos of our Torah curtains
In October 2022, our curatorial team photographed the 21 Torah curtains in the museum’s collection.
Torah curtains (parochot, Hebrew: פרכת) are ceremonial synagogue objects which decorate the Torah shrines. The Hebrew name refers to the curtain that separated the sacred space from the holiest space in the Biblical sanctuary. These richly decorated textiles are often the synagogue’s visual centrepiece. Starting in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Torah curtains were often inscribed with the letters כת as an abbreviation for Keter Torah, English: Crown of the Torah.
Among the Judaica in our collection, the Torah curtains are of particular importance, since they give insight into the history of Jewish women, which is otherwise sparsely documented. Besides tailors and embroiderers, who created representative pieces, Jewish laywomen processed existing textiles into cult objects. They resorted to precious second‑, third‑, or fourth-hand silk fabrics that they had previously worn as dresses for special events, most often wedding gowns. Many of the Torah curtains in the Jewish Museum’s collection show traces of their former use through visible stitching. The fabrics themselves also reveal former trading networks. In the rural communities of Endingen and Lengnau of the 18th and 19th centuries for instance, many Jews made their living by buying and selling second-hand textiles. They thereby transported not only goods, motifs and patterns, but also language and culture across regional borders.
In the urban Jewish communities, patrons often donated professional textiles for worship. Many included their names in the inscriptions.
In the 1960s, the Swiss-Jewish artists Régine Heim and Susi Guggenheim-Weil introduced modern materials and forms to Jewish ceremonial objects.
A diverse selection of photographs of our Torah curtains have been printed as greeting cards, available in our store. Each of the Torah curtains with their date and reference is searchable in our online catalog.
We would like to thank our curator Christina Meri and her team, Elwira Spychalska, Adina Feigel and Cornelia Lang.
verfasst am 02.01.2023
© Photos: Simon Mader und Christian Knörr