Vatican lends world's oldest Hebrew book to first major exhibition for new Jewish Museum

By Culture24 Staff | 29 June 2010
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A photo of a woman looking at a book inside a case

(Above) Cherie Blair looks at a 15th century Spanish manuscript with Astronomical and calendarical tables, on loan from the British Library,
at the opening of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition

The Vatican has loaned a 9th century prayer book considered to be the oldest Hebrew publication in existence to the Jewish Museum in London.

The Museum persuaded the library of the Catholic ruling body to allow the biblical commentary feature in its Hebrew Treasures from the Vatican and Major British Collections display, a three-month show which is the first major temporary exhibition at the centre since it reopened in March following a £10 million rebuild.

In an impressive set of fellow artefacts, a decadently-illustrated bible from 15th century Spain and an image of the Temple of Solomon, the architectural inspiration for the Sistine Chapel, come as further highlights.

A photo of three people standing in front of a Jewish illustration at a museum

(Left to right) Alan Yentob, Rickie Burman and Simon Schama at the opening

Oxford's Bodleian Library has provided 11 of the 24 manuscripts and books in the show, with eight coming from the British Library. The Vatican and Lambeth Palace Library have contributed three each, revealing religious tolerance and cultural interaction between Jews and non-Jews in the Muslim and Christian Worlds from the Middle Ages onwards.

Designed by Metropolitan Museum of Art collaborator Patrick Kinmouth, the exhibition contains illustrations and decorative designs reflecting styles from gothic Northern Europe to Italy and Spain.

Historian Simon Schama and the BBC's Alan Yentob launched the show at a private view positioning Cherie Blair as the guest of honour. Her visit was backed by her famously spiritual husband, who said he hoped it would prove "another small building block in strengthening Jewish-Catholic relations in this country."

A photo of two men in front of an ancient book in a case in a museum

Alan Yentob and Simon Schama look at the Sifra or Torat Kohanim, the oldest Hebrew document in book form, which is part of the display having been secured from the Vatican Library

“At a time when religious issues are often portrayed as creating division and unrest around the world, this exhibition demonstrates how positive connections can be made between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” added Rickie Burman, the Museum Director.

“It is a reminder that in many cases our shared experience is stronger than our differences.”

Exhibition runs until October 10 2010.

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