Torah Ark (Aron Kodesh)

Vienna, 1707

Embossed, chased and gilt silver, coloured glass, 56 x 21 x 14.5 cm

On permanent loan from the Musée de Cluny-Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris, Charlotte de Rothschild donation, Strauss collection

Torah Ark, Vienna, 1700-1709

Torah Ark, Vienna, 1700-1709

Containing the Torah scrolls like all Torah arks, miniature arks like this were used by their wealthy owners while travelling or in their private oratory. This exceptional creation has an embossed leather case to protect it during transport. It was acquired in the mid-19th century by the orchestra conductor and composer Isaac Strauss (1806-1888) and donated after his death to the Musée de Cluny with other items in his collection by Baroness Charlotte de Rothschild.

The partially gilt silver cabinet is inlaid with coloured glass imitating precious stones. It has four legs, rounded doors recalling the Tablets of the Law, and is surmounted by a triple crown symbolising the three crowns of the Torah, the priesthood and royalty.

It was stamped with the hallmarks of the city of Vienna in 1707 and the Viennese silversmith Caspar Zacharias Raiman (active from 1692), and was probably made for Samson Wertheimer (Worms, 1658 – Vienna 1724). The Torah scroll kept inside is wrapped in a long linen sash (mappah) embroidered with the name of his grandson, Joseph ben Simon Wolf Wertheimer.

Allied to the powerful Oppenheimer family, Samson Wertheimer was the prototype of the “court Jew”. A banker and also the rabbi of the city of Eisenstadt, he established himself in Vienna in 1684 and became the financier of emperors Leopold I, Joseph I and Charles VI. Using his great influence, he intervened in favour of threatened Jewish communities in Worms, Frankfurt and Rothenburg, and also war-torn communities in Hungary before being appointed chief rabbi of Hungary. Erudite and a great philanthropist, he financed the building of synagogues, Talmudic schools and the printing of a complete edition of the Talmud in Frankfurt am Main (1712-1722).

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