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1. From Jerusalem the the Diaspora

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

According to the Bible, Jerusalem, the holy city for the three monotheistic religions, is where the first encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek took place. It is also the city chosen by King David more than 3 000 years ago to be the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and later of Judah. Solomon, his son, built the First Temple there – God’s dwelling place among humankind – housing the seven-branched candlestick (menorah) and the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Tables of the Law1. Destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, the Temple was rebuilt after the return from the Babylonian Exile. This Second Temple was razed by the Romans in 70 CE, and the Jews were expelled from the city in 135, after the defeat of Bar Kokhba.

The ancient form of sacrificial worship described in the Bible, based on the Temple and a priestly class, gradually changed to what is known as ‘Rabbinic’ Judaism, a religion focussed on the reading and interpretation of texts. The Temple having disappeared, its holiness was transferred to the Torah2, and the daily sacrifices were replaced by prayers.

Judaism’s only sacred object, the Torah scroll (sefer Torah) is an easily transported object, read during religious services. The manner in which it is made was codified in the first centuries CE, establishing its material form. In contrast, the synagogue (beit ha-Knesset), literally ‘house of the assembly’, a building already used for study at the time of the Second Temple but not sacred, is easily adapted to local constraints, which explains the extreme diversity of its architecture over time and in various locations.

Whether voluntary or imposed, the dispersion of the Jews, the Diaspora, began immediately after the destruction of the First Temple. Over the course of centuries, it was often experienced as a painful exile (galut), linked to the hope of a return summed up in the ritual phrase: ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. Nevertheless, in all the countries where Jews have settled permanently, they have participated in the local life and culture, so much so that some have stopped feeling like exiles.

Hebrew has traditionally been considered a holy language, that of God and of the Hebrew Bible, as opposed to languages used in daily life, like Aramaic, inherited from Babylonia, and, later on, languages spoken in the Diaspora, such as Yiddish, Judaeo-Spanish, and Judaeo-Arabic.


1Tables of the Law: stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments, dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, are said to have been written.

2 Torah: the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or Pentateuch; by extension, divine law.


The works on display:

- the bas-relief plan of Jerusalem

- the Torah scrolls

- the lamp of Festival of Lights (Hanukkah), here a candelabrum called menorah

- the Torah finials (rimmonimin the form of a pagoda, made in Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century.  

- the decree by the National Assembly, granted Jews equal civil rights.

- Chana Orloff’s sculpture The Jewish Painter