It happened so that there always was a considerable number of the Jewish people living in Ukraine since very early times of its history. Ukraine became for them their native land as well as for many other ethnic groups. The Jews have contributed a lot of their intellectual and physical effort to the development of Ukraine. This contribution of the talented and hard-working Jewish people, living in Ukraine, has been very valuable in the spheres of the national economy, science and culture, and thus they have also contributed their share of effort to make Ukraine independent and to strengthen it. 

From the address of the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma
Happy New 5757 Year to You!

  Shalom! Precious collection of Judaica ritual objects in Ukraine


The Jews are one of the big ethnic groups of Ukraine who have been living there since very early times. Areas of Ukraine, known as Volyn’, Podillia, Galychyna, Bukovyna and others, had sizeable Jewish populations in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century. Where the Jewish population was the densest, there sprang big Jewish cultural centres. Jewish culture, the way it had developed in Ukraine, was unique in many senses. It had experienced the influence of the local Ukrainian culture. One cannot help regretting the great losses that Jewish culture in Ukraine has sustained through the centuries in many wars and other calamities. On the other hand, one cannot help rejoicing at the changes that have been occurring in the past few years — the changes in the political set-up of Ukraine which made it possible for the process of revival of Jewish culture in Ukraine to start.
In 1989 the important work of classifying, arranging and restoring Jewish ritual and ceremonial objets in the Collection of Judaica in the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine began with the view of putting them on public display. Previously the entire Collection had been kept in the Museum storerooms. 
The Collection covers a period of time between the middle of the eighteenth century up to the early twenties of this century and comprises about 4OO exhibits which have come from three major sources, one of which was a state museum in whose storerooms many items that had been confiscated by the Bolsheviks from the synagogues throughout the country, had been kept. Incidentally, refusal to give up silver ritual objects and turn them in to special commissions set up for the purpose of collecting them, were to be punished by the Bolshevik authorities most severely. Another source was the former Mendel Moiher Sforim Museum of Jewish Culture in Odesa. In the Second World War, before the Nazis occupied Ukraine, the Collection was evacuated to distant towns in Siberia and then, after the war, it was returned back to the storerooms . 
The Collection of Judaica consists mostly of things made for ritual use at home and in the synagogue, though there are some purely secular objects too. Jewish ritual objects have their own special names, and their shape is determined by their purpose, their ritual symbolism and the influence of the styles prevalent at the moment of their creation, and also of local culture. The Collection shows different artistic trends, different ways of working silver . 
The Collection possesses a number of ritual silver objects which are indispensable in the synagogal ceremony centering on the Torah scroll which is deemed sacrosanct by the Jewish people. The Torah scroll is tipped by with crowns and rimmonim, rich in shape and ornamentation, and a special plate decorated in high relief, the Torah shield, is hung on a chain. Special pointers, the Yad (Jad), are used in reading the scroll.
The entire ornamentation of the Torah has a deep symbolical significance, all the details and parts of which are intended to remind the congregation of the most important provisions of the Law and evoke associations with the Temple in Jerusalem. The Collection of Judaica has in its possession 38 Torah crowns made by master craftsmen in Ukraine, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland and Russia, all of them dating from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. They can be safely considered as ranking among the best creations of the art of silver- and goldsmithery. The Collection has Torah crowns from Kyiv, Zhytomir, Odesa and other towns of Ukraine. The biggest of them is a three-tier Torah crown from Zhytomir made in 1875. It is decorated in the Neo-Baroque style, immensely rich in floral and zoomorphic patterns and of superb technical execution. In fact, it is the biggest Torah crown known to have survived from the previous centuries in Europe and one of the most lavishly decorated too. 
A number of silver ritual objects, made in Ukraine in 1860s and 1880s are unique in the sense that they, on the one hand, represent high achievements in the art of silver Judaica in the Neo-Baroque style and, on the other hand, they definitely show some features which have been borrowed from the Ukrainian folk art styles. They are surely a step in the development of the art of ritual-objects making which once flourished in Germany and Poland. Traditions live on only when fed from a variety of sources and the ritual objects exemplify one of such traditions in art. 
From the eighteenth up to the early twentieth century the towns of Zhytomir, Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa were the major centres where Jewish ritual objects were made. Several Torah crowns in the Collection represent the art of Lviv silversmiths of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though relatively few of such items have been preserved, there is enough documentary evidence to suggest that in fact many were made in the past. As early as at the beginning of the eighteenth century in Lviv alone there were 44 Jewish gold- and silversmiths registered with the authorities and 10 goldsmiths of Christian faith. 
Lviv was not the only town in Ukraine that could boast many Jewish gold- and silversmiths. Another big centre of the Jewish cultural life in the nineteenth century was the town of Zhytomir in the land of Volyn’ which was at the same time an important centre of Jewish education. The Zhytomir Jewish Crafts School, the first and the only one of its kind in the Russian Empire was in existence only for a short period of 22 years (1862 — 1884) but it trained more than 1500 students. 
Craftsmen from Zhytomir created beautiful Torah crowns and Torah shields. Of an especially delicate beauty is the Torah shield from Zhytomir of octagonal shape made of silver with embossed representation of a mighty bull. 

The Collection possesses a number of rimmonim which are decorative elements of the Torah scrolls. At the top of the two staves on which the Torah scroll is wound, two apexes are mounted — it is these apexes that are called rimmonim, Hebrew for «pomegranates» (and the staves are called Etz hayim, «Tree of Life»). In the Jewish communities of medieval Europe the rimmonim acquired the shape of stylized miniature bellfries. With pieces of Christian architecture, especially bell-towers and defensive towers, cathedral spires seen daily, the Jewish craftsmen introduced familiar shapes into the Judaic ritual objects. Bells were hung on chains from the rimmonim and their tinkling announced to the congregation the approach of the Torah scroll. Rimmonim from Zhytomir are of various shapes and of a special finesse in execution. 

Every Jewish household had a ceremonial object used to store aromatic spices and incense. They were miniature caskets called besamim (Hebrew for «spices») or hodas (Hebrew for «myrtle»). The smell of incense was expected to sooth and uplift the soul saddened by seeing the holiday of the Sabbath or the festival come to an end. Zhytomir craftsmen made these caskets in the shape of plants: sunflower, bluebells, hops. Odesa was another of big centres of Jewish culture in the second half of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth.The ritual objects they created were lavishly decorated with floral patterns and symbolic representations of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Arc of Noah, the signs of the Zodiac, of lions, swans, elephants and peacocks. The craftsmen from Odesa were evidently influenced by the artistic trends of the end of the century and their creations are easily recognized among other works of the same kind. 

Closer to the end of the nineteenth century came the turn of Kyiv to become one of the biggest centres where Jewish ritual objects were produced. 

In the early 1880s out of about 3600 craftsmen registered with the town authorities about 2300 were Jewish! Among the ritual objects in the possession of the Collection there are Torah pointers, the Yad (Jad), used when reading the Pentateuch. The Yad is fashioned as a hand with a thrust forefinger on a rod shaped like a small column, baluster or a figurine . These pointers were made of ivory, wood and silver, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The Collection has pointers made of all these materials, most of them of silver (some are gilded). There was apparently one jeweller in Kyiv who in the last quarter of the nineteenth century specialized in making Jewish ceremonial objets and hallmarked his wares with «ËØ». The Collection has pointers made of all these materials, most of them of silver (some are gilded). 
There was apparently one jeweller in Kyiv who in the last quarter of the nineteenth century specialized in making Jewish ceremonial objets and hallmarked his wares with «ËØ». They are characterized by high-grade filigree designs. This jeweller made magnificent pointers , Torah crowns and Torah shields. 
Besides ritual objects used in the synagogue, the Collection possesses a number of objects which were used at home on various festive occasions and ceremonies. These include candlesticks, the Hanukah lamp, cases for the scroll of Esther, cups and goblets and other objects. Candlelight is always associated with the Sabbath and all Jewish festivals. In keeping with the Jewish tradition, candles are always lit by women on the eve of the festival to signal its beginning. The Jews celebrate the Hanukah festival by lighting eight candles. As the Hanukah miracle originated in the Temple, craftsmen sought to make Hanukah lamps in shapes characteristic of Temple architecture. Purim (from Hebrew for «lot») is the most joyful of the Jewish festivals. The public reading of Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, is the central ceremony of the festival. The Collection has three scrolls in silver cases decorated with filigree and floral designs. 
Every major meal on the Sabbath and festivals, as well as on solemn ceremonies such as a wedding or betrothal, were preceded by a solemn prayer by the head of the family or the rabbi, involving the use of ritual silver cups. These cups from which wine was drunk , were considered to be an important possession of the household and were therefore guarded as a great treasure. The Collection has a number of traditional Jewish silver goblets and cups, decorated with characteristic ornamental motifs and inscriptions. 

The Collection of Jewish ritual objects amply shows that the art of making objects of silver and other materials, reached a very high level in Ukraine. The Collection is unique in the sense that it has brought together objects, created not only in Ukraine but also in other Eastern European countries. It demonstrates beneficial mutual influences of different cultures. A number of objects from the Collection were shown at special exhibitions in Finland and in Austria. Now 60 objects from the Collection are permanently displayed in the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine. 


  Materials for the article supplied by Tetyana ROMANOVSKAYA, Curator of the Judaica Collection at the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine Photos by Mykhailo ANDREYEV

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