Longing and hope are important motifs in Jewish tradition. The Wall in Jerusalem, also known as the Wailing Wall or Western Wall, is a special place of longing. Located on the western side of the Temple plateau, the Wall is a sacred site because it is a remnant of the Second Temple. This longing is also evident in the synagogue’s furnishings: in synagogues everywhere, the Torah shrine faces Jerusalem and each individual prayer is spoken in the direction of Jerusalem. Today, two holy sites of Islam are also located on the Temple plateau: the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Temple and Synagogue
In the synagogue, the curtain that protects the Torah is often embroidered with images of columns or of an altar. These, too, recall the Temple that stood in Jerusalem in antiquity until it was destroyed for the second time, in the year 70 A.D., by the Romans. The first Jerusalem Temple was built by King Solomon. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they destroyed the Temple of Solomon. After the Babylonian exile, the rebuilding of the (Second) Temple began.
Today the Torah represents the holiest in Judaism. This was not always the case: the Temple in Jerusalem was considered even holier because, according to the Torah, it was God’s dwelling place on Earth. Until its destruction, it was Judaism’s ritual center where priests performed the temple service and carried out the ritual sacrifice. Following its second destruction, the Commandments, which had previously been passed on orally, were gradually preserved in written form. From this point on, ritual acts in the temple were recorded through their continued evolution and interpretation of the Torah in the Talmud. The study of the Torah and Talmud replaced temple service and temple pilgrimage and remains the center of religious Jewish life to this day.
Commemorating the Temple
In ancient times, the synagogue was no more than a place of assembly, but with the destruction of the Temple, it gained importance as a ritual site. At the center of every synagogue, protected by a curtain, is the shrine where the Torah is kept. In Jewish ceremonial culture, the memory of the Temple is still present today: at the happiest moment of a wedding, for example, a glass is crushed underfoot because no happiness can be perfect, so the idea goes, as long as the Temple remains destroyed. But it’s not only the memory of this destruction that retains a presence; former rites have also been preserved: synagogues, for example, have a jug and bowl for washing, the use of which dates back to the ritual washing in the Temple. When the Temple was still in existence, an offering of barley was made the day after Passover. From that day on, 49 days were counted until the Shavuot holiday. While sacrifices are no longer performed today, the days continue to be counted, a ritual that serves to commemorate the former Temple.
Numerous Temple motifs can also be found on this Torah curtain, which you saw displayed in our permanent exhibition. Torah jewelry and Torah curtains usually contain motifs commemorating the Temple in Jerusalem. You can discover these here with the help of the following detail images of our exhibited Torah curtain.
Details that Refer to the Temple
At the center is the Holy Ark, demonstrating how the Tablets of the Law are kept—the Ten Commandments that Moses received from God and recorded on two stone tablets. In the synagogue, the Torah shrine is thus symbolically linked to the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies of the Temple.
The two columns are reminiscent of the entrance portal of the Temple and include images of the seven-armed Temple candelabra and Showbread Table. The seven-armed candelabra, the historical symbol of Judaism, is another reference to the Temple, which once housed the seven-armed oil lamp, the Temple menorah that burned day and night. The Showbread Table, also a ritual object from the Temple, was used to present loaves of showbread, which were presented as offerings on Shabbat.
The two cartouches (from right to left) on the columns bear the following inscription: "Donated by the Chevra Kadisha 'Holy Robes' on the day of the consecration of the synagogue 26 Adar in the year 1866." In the Bible, the term "holy robes" is also used to describe the garb of priests. This establishes another relationship between the Temple and the synagogue.
The curtain is adorned with a crown inscribed with the words “Crown of the Torah.”
The central cartouche in the apex of the arcade bears the inscription: "In memory of the sanctuary of that time." The sanctuary designates the Temple, which is once again referred to in the inscription in the arcade (from right to left): "Make me a sanctuary and I will live in it." According to the Torah, the Temple was God’s dwelling place on Earth.