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Jewish Art

Jewish Art

Jewish Art at the National Library

The Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was founded by Professor Bezalel Narkiss in 1979. The Center's archives and collections constitute the largest and most comprehensive body of information on Jewish art in existence, with approximately 200,000 pictures, sketches and documents. The digitization of the index is carried out in cooperation with the National Library of Israel and the Judaica Division of the Harvard Library. The project is funded by the Prime Minister's Office ("Landmarks" Program), Harvard Library Judaica Division's Judaica Book Fund endowments established by David B. Keidan and the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. Over 200,000 items have been digitized and are now freely accessible to the public.

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About the Project

The Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a repository for documentation of Jewish visual art through the ages. The documentary materials, collected by the Center's researchers over the past 34 years in 41 countries, span the entire range of Jewish history. They depict archeological artifacts found in Israel, illuminated Hebrew manuscripts created by Jews in the Diaspora, ritual objects and synagogues from all over the world, and modern art by contemporary Jewish artists. The full documentation of each item consists of photographic images, exact dimensions, architectonic drawings of structures, and verbal descriptions. Special attention is paid to iconographic elements, references to source texts, and local customs, some of which are now obsolete.

This documentary evidence is known collectively as the Bezalel Narkis Iconographic Index of Jewish Art. It enables researchers to trace the development of each iconographic theme and its chronological and geographic variations. In other words, the research facilitated by the Index anchors each object in the period and place in which it was created. Its extensive scope, which encompasses every aspect of Jewish visual culture, lends the Index of Jewish Art its status as the largest virtual museum of Jewish culture in the world.

At this stage, the project aspires to make core sections of the Index of Jewish Art available to the general public online. Thus far, some 72,000 images depicting Jewish art from twenty countries have been digitized. The digitization and cataloging are funded by the Rothschild Foundation Europe, the Prime Minister's Office ("Landmarks" Program) and the Harvard Library’s Judaica Division (through the Library’s Judaica Book Fund endowments established by David B. Keidan). This is a unique collection, of great importance to scholars of Jewish art, history and culture, as well as to members of the general public with an interest in the Jewish past and genealogy.

The project is a collaboration of the Center for Jewish Art with the National Library and the Harvard Library’s Judaica Division with the support of the Rothschild Foundation Europe, the Prime Minister's Office ("Landmarks" Program) and the Harvard Library Judaica Division (through the Library’s Judaica Book Fund endowments established by David B. Keidan).

Additional Support to CJA's activity is provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. (Claims Conference).

About the Center for Jewish Art

"While we can never resurrect whole communities, their synagogues and their artifacts, we can preserve their memory through the documentation and study of their remaining visual culture".

It was with this vision of preserving the artistic heritage of the Jewish people in mind that in 1979 the late Prof. Bezalel Narkiss, Israel Prize Laureate, established the Center for Jewish Art, a research center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

For over thirty years the Center has engaged in comprehensive documentation of Jewish art from all over the globe. All facets of Jewish visual art are included, and divided into five categories: Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, Sacred and Ritual Objects, Ancient Jewish Art, Modern Jewish Art, as well as Jewish Ritual Architecture.

Thus far, the Center has documented works in 41 countries, from India in the east to the USA in the west. Special attention was paid to the remnants left in the wake of WWII and the Communist regimes in Europe. Collapse and ruin have been the fate of hundreds of synagogues in Eastern Europe and thousands more worldwide. Hence, the Center documents Hebrew illuminated manuscripts and ritual objects that have been dispersed in libraries, museums and private collections all over the world.

The detailed descriptions and photographs prepared by the Center’s researchers preserve these objects for future generations. Since its inception, the Center has been in a race against time. In many cases the researchers reached sites just in time to document and photograph before a synagogue collapsed or was sold as a real estate commodity, or more ritual objects sold at auction or to dealers.

All the documentation, including detailed textual descriptions, architectural plans and photographs, is incorporated in the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art (formerly the Jerusalem Index for Jewish Art), the world's most comprehensive and systematic Jewish art data collection. At present, the Index comprises documentation of about 150,000 objects, ranging from coins to complexesf synagogues. The objects are also classified according to iconographic subjects, with biographic and bibliographic cross-references.

Through documentation and computerization, our researchers try to reconstruct the rich visual cultures of lost communities and preserve them for posterity. With the forthcoming digitization of the Center's archives, and their incorporation into the National Library's website, the information it has amassed for over thirty years will be preserved and made accessible to academic researchers. It will enable the young to learn about their heritage and the old to cherish and remember.


The digitization project of the Center for Jewish Art Collection is made possible by the support and partnership of: