The most important object in a synagogue is the Torah, the parchment scroll upon which is written the Five Books of Moses, beginning with Genesis. The ends of the scroll are attached to wooden staves with handles and circular rollers to facilitate unrolling the scroll for reading. In the Ashkenazi (or Central and Eastern European) tradition, the scroll when not in use is wrapped or draped in a rich mantle. The protruding top handles of its staves are usually capped by decorative finials. The architectural form of these finials—ascending tiers of columns and arches surmounted by a gilded crown—is reminiscent of a church tower, such as the crowned steeple of Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk. The bells, which would chime like a carillon as the Torah was carried in procession during religious services, may recall the bells adorning the hem of the robe of the high priest of the ancient Temple.
Though these finials lack an identifying maker’s mark, they have been firmly attributed to Willem Hendrik Rosier. Like most Dutch artisans of the period, Rosier was Christian. A member of the goldsmiths’ guild in Amsterdam, he produced a wide range of luxury objects, including ritual silver for both churches and synagogues. This pair of finials was originally made for Amsterdam’s Grote Synagoge (Great Synagogue), the first and most prestigious of the houses of worship built by the city’s Ashkenazi community. During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the treasures of the Great Synagogue were plundered. Fortunately, these finials were recovered. Unfortunately, the Grote Synagoge remained closed, its congregation decimated by the Holocaust. In 2006 the Museum acquired these finials from the Jewish Community of Amsterdam.
tags: religious imagery, pattern, repetition, sound, function, communication, ritual
Purchased with funds from Margaret and Douglas Abrams, Marion and Stanley Robboy, Connie C. and Robert D. Shertz, Laura and David Brody, Joan and Kalman Cohen, David C. Falk Sr., Elizabeth Kanof Levine and Ronald Levine, and other Friends of the Judaic Art Gallery