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1. Introduction

As an introduction to the permanent collection, this room proposes fundamental references for an understanding of Judaism’s sources and permanence. 

Vue idéale de Jérusalem en bas-relief

Vue idéale de la Jérusalem antique en bas-relief, Europe orientale, 1892

It expresses the museum’s guiding idea: to give a broad-based picture of Judaism’s transmission, taking into account the environments in which communities developed. Seven religious and secular texts, fresco-painted, illustrate the permanence of the Hebrew language from the Bible to the 20th century and the importance of the written word in Jewish culture. They sometimes echo the objects next to them, each of which evokes an element of the cohesion of the Jewish people throughout history and its dispersion.

A passage from Genesis cites God’s alliance with Abraham, the foundation of the Hebrew people and its link with the Promised Land. Next to this text is a  bas-relief plan of Jerusalem, showing the attachment to the geographic root of Jewish history. A series of portraits evokes Jews and their diversity down the centuries. The origin of Judaism as the religion of the Book is represented by the Torah scrolls, the calligraphed texts of the first five books of the Bible.

Fidelity to traditions and rituals despite dispersion, symbolised by the lamp of Festival of Lights (Hanukkah), here a candelabrum called menorah, has not prevented Jewish communities from interacting with local cultures. These influences are strikingly illustrated by the Torah finials (rimmonimin the form of a pagoda, made in Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century.   

These interactions, which have existed since Antiquity, took on a new dimension with the French Revolution. In 1790, for the first time in their history, a decree by the National Assembly, granted Jews equal civil rights. The Emancipation set radical religious, political and cultural changes in motion, accompanied by a questioning of Jewish identity. Chana Orloff’s sculpture The Jewish Painter, conveys the anxiety into which the 20th century plunged us and poses the question of the future of a Jewish art.