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Sinagoga del Tránsito
Exterior of the Sinagoga del Tránsito built in the 14th century © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

Sinagoga del Tránsito
This imposing synagogue was built between 1336 and 1357 by Samuel ha-Levi, who held several important posts, including that of the Royal Treasurer, at the court of King Pedro I of Castille. At the time, ha-Levi defied the laws about synagogues being smaller and lower than churches. With its polychrome stucco-work, multiple arches and panelled ceiling, the building bears many characteristics of Iberian architectural and decorative style of that period. The building was not affected by the violent attacks in 1391, when the Jewish Quarter was partially destroyed. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the building converted into a church. The restoration began in 1877, when it was declared a National Monument. The museum opened its doors in 1971.

The Sephardi Museum in Toledo

The Museo Sefardí of Toledo was established in 1964 to strengthen the bonds which have linked Sephardi Jews to Spain for centuries. The museum collects the evidence that bears witness to Sephardi culture, which originated in the Iberian Peninsula. Its collection consists mainly of archeological and ethnographic documentation on the history of Sephardi Jews from all over the world. It has also an important collection of Hebrew books, documents and manuscripts relating to Jewish history and religion. The museum is housed in the 14th century Sinagoga del Tránsito.

Sinagoga Del Transito
Interior of the Sinagoga del Tránsito © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

The collection
A walk through the museum reveals a wide range of material culture from the early Roman period onwards, with an emphasis on the medieval period, the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain. The collection includes objects from the Sephardi communities all over the world.

trilingual pileta
Basin (pileta) with inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, ca 5-7th century, white marble, from Tarragona, Toledo © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

This remarkable marble piece dating from the 5-7th century, may have been a ritual basin or a child’s ossuary or sarcophagus. A menorah, a tree of life and two peacocks can be seen on the front face. It bears inscriptions in three languages. The Hebrew inscription reads “Peace be on Israel, on us and on our children”

Purim engraving
Festival of Purim, engraving made in Amsterdam in 1701, Louis Fabricius Dubourg (1693–1775) © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

The festival of Purim
This hand-tinted engraving from the workshop of Louis Fabricius Dubourg in Amsterdam is titled the Festival of Lots (Purim). The scene shows the interior of a synagogue in neo-classical style with groups of people dressed in the fashions of the 18th century.

Megillah of Esther, early 20th century © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

The megillah of Esther featured here is a beautiful example of an ornamental cylindrical silver case and scroll that is read on the festival of Purim. The scroll is richly decorated with geometric, plant and animal patterns. It tells the dramatic story of Esther and Mordecai and the deliverance of Persian Jews during the reign of King Ahasuerus, thought to be Xerxes, who reigned in Persia from 485 to 465 BCE. The scroll is read aloud in the synagogue on the evening before Purim and the next morning. The congregation follows along with their own smaller megillot. The festival of Purim is an occasion for rejoicing: there is a festive meal, drinking and music, charity is given and gifts of food are exchanged.

Online access to the museum’s collection via Judaica Europeana’s platform will be completed before the end of 2011.

The festival of Passover
Seder Haggadah
Seder hagadah shel pesaj: Im pitron belashon sefardi. Livorno, Shelomo Belforte, 1852 © Museo Sefardí de Toledo

This splendid Haggadah with woodcuts comes from the S. Belforte printing press (1838-1939) in Livorno, a centre of Jewish printing since the 17th century. The Belforte family published prayer books for the Sephardi communities of North Africa and further afield: Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and even India.

Haggadot are read at the Seder – the meal held in Jewish homes at Passover. The festival of Passover celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt in the late second millennium BCE and recounts their exodus. The scene above shows the preparations for the festival when the home is cleaned thoroughly to ensure no crumbs of yeast are left and when special dishes are prepared. The only bread allowed during the festival must be unleavened (matzah), as a reminder of the bread baked in haste before the flight from Egypt.

Wedding contracts and costumes
A ketubah is a marriage contract, which sets out the bridegroom’s obligations to the bride. The custom dates back to the first century BCE. The ketubot are often beautifully illuminated and are kept by the bride or her family. The document featured here records the marriage of Masud R. Abecasis and Raquel ben Asayyag. It was signed in the city of Ceuta on the 18th of the month of Siwan in the year 5664 (1904).

Ketubah, a marriage contract on illuminated parchment, Ceuta. North Africa 1904 © Museo Sefardí de Toledo
Moroccan wedding costumes
Traditional wedding costumes from Morocco, early 20th century (detail) © Museo Sefardí de Toledo, photograph by Rebeca García Merino
Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from Ben Uri - The London Jewish Museum of Art, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam,
Jewish Museum London, Sephardi Museum, Toledo | Contact us | Subscribe to Judaica Europeana Newsletter
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