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Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme

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Title: Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme  
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Subject: Brit milah, Le Marais, Pierre Bismuth, Jewish ceremonial art, 3rd arrondissement of Paris
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Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme

Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme (MAHJ)
The statue of Captain Dreyfus in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan
Location 71 rue du Temple 75003 Paris
Type Jewish museum, Art museum, History museum, Historic site
Public transit access

The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme (French; "Museum of Jewish Art and History") is a French museum of Jewish art and history located in the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan at 71 rue du Temple in the Marais district in Paris. The museum is open daily except Saturday (Shabbat). An admission fee is charged. The nearest métro station is Rambuteau.

The museum traces the evolution of the Jewish world via its artistic and cultural heritage, focussing on the history of the Jews in France since the Middle Ages and evoking the communities of Europe and North Africa. Its collection, one of the finest in the world, comprises religious objects, manuscripts, textiles and unique archive documents concerning the Dreyfus Affair. Special importance is given to the Jewish presence in the arts, featuring the painters of the School of Paris (Chagall, Kikoïne, Soutine…) and contemporary artists such as Christian Boltanski and Sophie Calle.

The Permanent Collection

Tombstones from a Jewish cemetery, 13th century, Paris

Introductory room

The visit begins with an introductory presentation of symbolic objects and fundamental documents, essential to an initial understanding of the permanence of Jewish civilization in spite of its geographical Diaspora. An audio-visual presentation of faces, famous and anonymous, from history, art and literature, portrays the diversity of the Jewish culture through time and space.

The Jews in France in the Middle Ages

Gravestones from a 13th century Jewish cemetery in Paris, set in a large wooden plot, comprises the room's central exhibit. At the far end, a glass-topped presentation counter contains valuable manuscripts. Four rare objects, a Hanukkah lamp, a wedding ring, an alms box and a seal, dating from before the Jews' expulsion from France, illustrate the painful contrast between the cultural wealth of medieval Judaism in Northern France and Provence, and its violent extinction following Philippe le Bel's edict expelling the Jews from France in 1306 and then Charles VI's edict banishing them completely in 1394. The visitor is given an initial picture of community organisation, knowledge networks and the Jewish presence in the Christian world.

The Jews in the Italian Renaissance

After a transitional space establishing the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 as one of the seismic events in Jewish history, comes the space devoted to synagogue furniture (including a Holy Ark from Modena), silverware and liturgical embroideries and the Italian Jewish world. Life's cycle - birth, circumcision, bar mitzvah (religious confirmation) and marriage - is illustrated by objects, jewellery and manuscripts. Illuminated marriage contracts (ketubbot) are displayed in mobile frames. Several paintings from the 18th century, attributed to Marco Marcuola, illustrates scenes (a wedding, a circumcision, a funeral…) from the Jewish life in Venice. A 1720 masterpiece by Alessandro "il Lissandrino" Magnasco depicts a Jewish funeral in Magnasco's dark, late-Baroque style.


An entire room of the museum is dedicated to the Hanukkah holyday, through an exceptional collection of Hanukkiyot (Hanukkah lamps), in a variety of shapes and designs, origins and periods. This panorama stands as a metaphor for the great diversity of Jewish customs throughout the world.

Amsterdam: the meeting of two Diasporas

The wanderings of the Spanish Jews are pursued in a small collection of 17th and 18th century Dutch engravings. It includes a series by Bernard Picard entitled Ceremonies and Religious Customs of all Peoples of the World and provides an introduction to the model integration of the Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam, London and Bordeaux. The accent in this space is on the importance of relations between communities. At the meeting point of these last two spaces, display cases are devoted to the development of Hebrew printing.

Next year in Jerusalem

One of the museum’s essential pieces is a 19th century Sukkah from Austria or South Germany, decorated with a view of Jerusalem’s old city. Along with other ritual objects and texts, it introduces the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, and highlights the central place of Jerusalem in the mind of the Jewish Diaspora scattered in the world.

The Ashkenazi world

The Father, Marc Chagall (1911)

Several scale models of synagogues from Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, most of them destroyed by the nazis, reminds the existence of a world now disappeared. Samuel Hirszenberg's masterpiece Jewish Cemetery illustrates the critical situation of the Jewish communities harmed by the pogroms in Poland and Russia, at the end of the 19th century. Two paintings by Marc Chagall, born in a Hasidic family near the city of Vitebsk (Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire), portrays the life in the shtetls. This collection marks the beginning of an exploration of the traditional framework of Jewish life in Eastern Europe through its key emotional moments and settings. The display cases contain works on the theme of the Shabbat, prayer and liturgy, and provide a brief picture of the organisation of religious study and the principal movements of religious thought in 19th century.

Jewish Cemetery, Samuel Hirszenberg (1892)

The Sefardi world

Silver Torah case and Torah scroll, Ottoman Empire, 1860

The Sephardic expression of the same themes is shown. These two symmetrical collections enable an appreciation of the formal kinship between the two traditions and the weight of influences. Textiles, among them a wedding dress (berberisca), synagogue silverware including a Torah case (tik), ordinary domestic objects, printed works and popular art, presented in large mural display cases, highlight geographic contrasts in religious custom.

This space contains a wide range of ethnographic objects illustrating the wealth of traditions, family ceremonies and the opulent costumes of the Jews of the Maghreb, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Orientalist paintings, engravings and ancient photographs complete this journey among the communities of the Diaspora.

Jewish Woman, Félix Barrias, 1890

Jewish Emancipation: the French Model

We now enter the era of the Emancipation, which began with the French Revolution. No longer thematic but more historical in nature, this panorama of French Judaism in the 19th century focuses on vital events in its integration into modern society. This theme is pursued in works depicting Jewish themes (Moritz Oppenheim) and genre paintings by French and European artists (France: Alphonse Levy, Edouard Brandon, Edouard Moyse ; Poland: Samuel Hirszenberg, Mauricy Gottlieb and Mauricy Minkovski). These works enable an initial reflection on the possibility of a Jewish art other than merely liturgical or traditional ones.

This section includes material from the Fonds Dreyfus, an exceptional archives fund donated by the grandchildren of Captain Dreyfus, which comprise more than three thousand manuscripts, letters, photographs, family heirlooms, official documents, books, postcards, posters, etc.[1]

Intellectual and political movements in Europe

This section shows the European Jews' flourishing intellectual life at the turn of the century, including the emergence and spread of the Zionist idea, the rebirth of the Hebrew language, the blooming of Yiddish culture and the creation of political movements in Russia and Poland, in particular the Bund.

The Jewish presence in 20th century art

A graphic arts room, highlighting the Jewish cultural renaissance in Germany and Russia, contains works on paper and books from the beginning of the 20th century. The museum fulfils one of its missions here, that of deepening our knowledge of the major formal and stylistic directions taken by important and sometimes forgotten artists. With the focus on folklore, ornament, Biblical subjects and calligraphy, these works represent the accomplishment of artistic expression linking Jewish themes and identity.

This look at the contribution of Jewish artists to the art of the early 20th century ends with works by artists of the School of Paris: Amedeo Modigliani, Pascin, Chaim Soutine, Michel Kikoine, Jacques Lipchitz, Louis Marcoussis, Chana Orloff, Moïse Kisling, etc. By the diversity of their individual artistic development and above all through their confrontation with modernity, these artists exemplify the transition towards a new, no longer exclusively religious Jewish identity.

To be a Jew in Paris in 1939

While wishing to avoid creating a collection devoted to the Holocaust, the museum felt it important to retrace the emblematic lives of a few Eastern European, Russian, Polish and Romanian Jews who came to live in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and whose individual paths all led to the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan. Using archive sources, the museum creates a documentary picture of the history of European Judaism, the end of the exterminated communities, immigration in Paris, Jewish life in the Marais quarter and crafts and community associations.

In conjunction with this presentation, Christian Boltanski has created a work for a tiny courtyard inside the museum. This installation, consisting of the names of Jews who, before being deported, lived in this mansion when it was merely a collection of workshops, reveals the building's other history, a history of humble people which the restoration has erased. The work fills the spatial vacuum of this courtyard, which rises through the museum's 20th century spaces.

The people of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in 1939, Christian Boltanski (1998)

The Dreyfus affair

In 2006, together with the exhibit Alfred Dreyfus, the Fight for Justice, the museum created an online platform dedicated to the Dreyfus affair, giving access to more than 3 000 documents, letters, photographs and historical archives donated by the grandchildren of Captain Dreyfus.[2]

The finest pieces of this exceptional archives fund are displayed in a dedicated space, as part of the permanent collection. Among them figures Captain Dreyfus's ripped off officer stripes, picked up on the day of his public degradation by police commissioner Charles Péchard and later given to the Dreyfus family.

At the center of the museum courtyard stands an 8 feet high statue of Alfred Dreyfus, holding to his honor and to his broken sword, made by French artist Louis "TIM" Mitelberg in 1986.

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