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March 08, 1985 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-08

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Friday, March 8, 1985




'Precious Legacy' Inspires Reminiscences About Shaarey Zedek Exhibit

"Precious Legacy" specifies the double
terms of the two words. It includes the pre-
cious treasures that were gathered by the
generations of Czechoslovakian Jews.
They are the treasures signifying our
people's spirituality. Now they are the pos-
sessions of a dominating nation that has
control to allocate only a partial view of the
art works to the limited communities
privileged to view them.
Detroit is among the privileged, and
there is a precedent of another exhibition
of Jewish ceremonial objects that lends
eminence to the location of the "Precious
Legacy" chosen for the current immense
From Nov. 15 to Dec. 30, 1951, the
Detroit Institute of Arts conducted an "Ex-
hibition of Jewish Ceremonial Arts." The
occasion was the 90th anniversary of Cong.
Shaarey Zedek.
It was believed then, and seems to
have been confirmed, that it was the first
time that an important American art
museum was displaying specifically
Jewish art.
Especially noteworthy about that im-
portant event was that the bulk of the
ceremonial objects exhibited were from the
collection of Charles Feinberg as well as
from the Jewish Museum of the Jewish
Theological Seminary of America.
The reminiscences should also indi-
cate that many items for that exhibition
were loaned by Henry Meyers and Temple
Charles Feinberg headed the commit-
tee that arranged the exhibition to mark
the Shaarey Zedek anniversary, and he, as
well as Rabbi Morris Adler, helped enrich
the explanatory documentaries about the
art objects with specially published essays
and brochures.
Noted world eminent scholars who
participated in the event as guests repre-
senting nationally important Jewish areas
were Dr. Stephen S. Kayser, then the
curator of the Jewish Museum in New
York, and Dr. Cecil Roth, historian,
authority on ceremonials and Jewish art.
Interesting, since the "Precious Le-
gacy" exhibit emanates from Czechos-
lovakia, Dr. Kayser was professor of art at
Masaryk People's University in Czechos-
lovakia before the rise of Hitler. From 1939
he was a research associate and lecturer in
the arts departments of Columbia Univer-
sity, the University of California and San
Jose State College, California. In the 1950s
he was lecturer at the M.H. DeYoung
Museum in San Francisco.
Dr. Kayser prepared the catalogue for
that 1951 exhibit at the Detroit Institute of
Perhaps the memorandum by Charles
Feinberg which was written explanatory
to the 1951 exhibit most uniquely de-
scribed the background of calling public
attention to Jewish ceremonial art. He
indicated that only several items had been
shown at the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington in 1903. He indicated that in
earlier years, "Jewish families did not

Charles Feinberg

bother much collecting the ceremonial art
that had been made by Jewish and non-
Jewish silversmiths in the Colonial days of
America: such as are in collection of the
first synagogues in New York or early syn-
agogues in the Carolinas and Louisiana."
The enrichment of the growing ten-
dencies to collect and exhibit Jewish cere-
monial art is evidenced in the catalogue for
the Nov. 15-Dec. 30, 1951 exhibit provided
by the Detroit Art InStitute. E.P.
Richardson stated in the foreword to the
I welcome the opiortunity of
the cooperation of Cong. Shaarey
Zedek to show in our galleries this
exhibition of Jewish ceremonial
art, which will include many works
of art not generally known to the
museum public.
Jewish ceremonial art is, in-
deed, a field unknown to almost all
of us and I am happy that we can
arrange this exhibition to make it
better known to the general public.
I hope also that an understanding
of the role which the visual arts
play in the ceremonies of the
Jewish faith may be a contribution
not only to our knowledge but also
to that feeling of mutual interest
and sympathy between people of
all faiths which is the expression of
the brotherhood of man.
Three essays in the catalogue have
special significance. One, by Prof. Kayser,
which served as a definitive introduction to
what had become an historic event. An
additional foreword was written by Rabbi
Morris Adler. Then there was a brief
statement by the historian Cecil Roth.
In an additional foreword to the
catalogue in behalf of Shaarey Zedek,
Rabbi Adler summarized the significant
event. He credited the local and national
participation in it, stating:

classifications are necessary, else
it would be impossible to reduce
the infinite multitude of
phenomena to proportions man-
ageable by the human mind.
Generalizations sometimes
achieve simplicity and organiza-
tion at the expense of complete ac-
curacy. One of the most famous of
generalizations, still widely held
and approved, attempts to suggest
the distinctive contribution of each
of the two great little peoples of an-
tiquity. The Greeks, it is said,
stressed the "Holiness of Beauty,"
the Jews, the "Beauty of Holiness."
There is enough truth in this
statement to make it credible;
there is enough error to dictate
caution. The religious spirit was
not absent in Hellas, nor was the
sense of the beautiful foreign to
Judea. Aesthetics was not the ex-
clusive possession of the Hellene;

Rabbi Morris Adler

Dr. Cecil Roth

Three Torah pointers from the 1951 exhibition at the

ethics, not the monopoly of the He-
The religious spirit which in-
formed the group life of Israel and
the personal life of its individual
members was too intense and
overpowering to be confined to
one channel of expression. It
poured over into many avenues —
study, song, philosophy, folk-lore,
law, poetry and art. The devout
soul ever seeks to fulfill the Bibli-
cal verse: "in all thy ways ac-
knowledge Him" (Proverbs 3:6).
Many are the paths leading to God
and many are the forms of man's
worship of Him. The moving and
impressive ritual, the beautiful al-
tar, the superbly wrought ceremo-
nial object are means not alone of
stimulating religious feeling, but
also, and perhaps primarily, of ex-
pressing it. One glorifies God
through the beauty with which one
adorns worship. "Worship God in
the beauty of holiness" is a transla-
tion of the Psalmist's words which
has captured this spirit.
The present exhibition of
Jewish • ceremonial objects
dramatizes the continuity of the
aesthetic tradition in the Jewish
religion. Many of these articles, in-
deed most of them, were fashioned
by unknown craftsmen and
anonymous artists whose talents
were devoted to rendering man-
ifest the "beauty of holiness."
Cong. Shaarey Zedek, now
marking the 90th anniversary of its
founding, has arranged for this
exhibition in fulfillment of its pro-
found interest in this significant
aspect of the religious life and as its
contribution to the cultural life of
Detroit, in the 250th year of its
May this exhibit contribute to
a deepening of the appreciation of
the sanctity and beauty of the tra-
dition it represents. May it stimu-
late the religious life of our great
city to render the holy, beautiful,
and the beautiful, holy.
Fascinatingly, the essay by Dr.

Kayser reveals that non-Jews as well as
Jews had produced Jewish art objects. He
outlined the synagogue's role in life and
history. He paid tribute to the initiators of
that historic exhibit. His inspired message
Throughout the ages, the day-
to-day practice of Judaism in both
the synagogue and the home has
called for the use of many objects.
No other religion has as many ob-
jects for its practice as the Jewish
faith and one would therefore
think that we would have inherited
countless ancient Jewish trea-
sures of early date. Yet it is a startl-
ing truth that scarcely more than
ten Jewish ceremonial objects
ante-dating the year 1500 are
known in the world today. After
4,000 years of Jewish history, a
spice box only 400 years old is a
rare find. The persecutions the
Jews have experienced, the mass
destruction witnessed in our own
times, have served to increase the
value of an old Torah curtain or a
Menorah, preserved through the
adversities of past centuries.
Although the objects on dis-
play here are not what can be
called of ancient origin, they
preserve in their shape an old tra-
dition. The motifs in their decora-
tion, which constantly reoccur,
connect them with Biblical themes
and the ideals and hopes of an his-
toric people.
One has to keep in mind that
the Bible, and particularly the Five
Books of Moses, the Torah, is not
the only constituent of Judaism. To
this written tradition was added
the oral tradition, as the Talmud.
Torah and Talmud together form
the Jewish faith, which developed
an array of symbolic expressions,
referring mainly to the sanctuary
in Biblical times, the Temple in
Jerusal.,,m, and the Messianic
hope. If on a breastplate for the
Torah two columns are featured,
they indicate the two pillars which
stood before the innermost

Continued on Page 11

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