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Threads full of history

May 8, 2023 | JMW News

The Jewish Museum Vienna preserves one of the largest and most valuable collections of Judaica in the world. Textiles such as Torah mantles or parocheths make up a considerable portion of this. Thanks to generous funding, these fabrics are now being digitized and partially restored.

Synagogue textiles from the eighteenth to the twentieth century

The project is dedicated to the synagogue textiles that often bear the inscriptions of the donors. Frequently recounting family events and sometimes even historical occurrences, these inscriptions are of great importance for further research into Jewish history. The oldest textiles in the Jewish Museum Vienna date back to the eighteenth century, i.e., from the time when Viennese Jews were not yet permitted to establish an official community. They had to wait until 1856 to do so. The majority of the textiles originate from the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century and therefore reflect the fashions of the era.

New insights into the history of Viennese Jewry

Not only do the objects bear witness to the so-called heyday of the Viennese Jewish community, but also to its diversity. Since cloth was a comparatively affordable material, such pieces were also donated by families with lower incomes. Traditionally, textiles were woven by women – often in elaborate and magnificent handwork. From the late nineteenth century on, these textiles were also prefabricated industrially. Research on them promises very special insights into Austrian history and the threads of relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish population. The museum has consequently seized the opportunity to shed new light on the history of Viennese Jewry with regard to migration, acculturation, and social diversity. As a result of the planned digitization, the textiles and the stories behind them can be shared online in the future, reaching an even larger public and research community.